Goodbye to the West, and hello to China

Following a campaign that flew in the face of everything liberal elite Americans stand for, Donald Trump is now president-elect of the United States.

Considering that another anti-elite campaign, Brexit, had only months earlier successfully pulled the United Kingdom out of the European Union, perhaps we should not be so surprised that Trump won the US election.

But there may be more to come from this anti-elite wave in the West — the end of interventionism in Africa, which we could term Wexit.

Intervention in Africa — for human rights, democracy, protection of minorities or policing, such as by the International Criminal Court (ICC) — is very much an elite project. The Brits who voted for Brexit or the Americans who voted for Trump could not care less about these issues — although now they might. There is much in the behaviour of African leaders to galvanise their opposition to it.

Take Kenya’s two-faced relationship with the West. On the one hand, the Kenyan government expects and accepts huge civilian and military aid from the West. On the other, Kenyans, and their leadership in particular, have demonstrably turned their noses up at Western ideals such as the push for accountable democracy.

For example, in 2012, Kenyans elected to the presidency and deputy presidency Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto respectively, two men who had been implicated by the ICC. They were indicted with human rights violations relating to the 2007 post-election violence. But that didn’t matter to them or to the Kenyans who voted for them. If anything, it might have helped their popularity.

Add to this the fact that huge aid funding to Africa over the past 50 years seems to have done little for human development and is instead blamed for propping up corrupt governments.

The kind of Western citizens who voted for Trump and Brexit are angry about how hard their lives have become following the credit crunch and recession of 2008. As they revolted against the elite in Brussels (Brexit) or Washington (Trump), they could revolt against their government’s spending on foreign citizens.

Currently much Western aid is linked to the war on terror, an idea Western voters still have sympathy for although, at the same time, we are seeing that voters are increasingly in favour of their governments withdrawing from global policing and fighting terror at home.

In any event, the difference between some African government and terrorists may seem rather fuzzy to the population in the West, who only know as much as they see in their press. And both terrorists and African leaders appear to be above the law, less concerned with the public good than their own and both corrupt.

What if all this spurs the anti-elite campaigners in the West to revolt against the Western project in Africa? What will Wexit look like and what will its implications be?

There will be less support for the United Nations and other international organisations on the grounds that they are massive bureaucracies sucking up tax and goodwill money from already hard-pressed Western citizens, only to have little direct effect on the lives of people in Africa.

As a result, African governments and the African Union will need to figure out a way to fund their responses to security, political and humanitarian crises. Presumably, they will have China as an ally, which so far has mostly been a beneficiary in terms of business, public works investment and as a source of borrowing by African governments, though if needs be it might get more involved in security to protect its markets and regime clients.

Western companies will continue to invest in Africa, as the growing population and markets provide opportunities.

So, as the political and humanitarian West withdraws, it will be for Africa itself, its friends in China and the megacorporations to push the continent ahead.

How African governments respond to a Western withdrawal will be interesting. Potentially, Wexit may make African governments more dependent on their citizens and thus more accountable to them. On the other hand, they could take the path of least resistance, borrowing from and becoming more dependent on the new rich and less nosy Asian giants such as China.

But then Africa will find itself beholden to a new foreign power, with the same old timeless story of imperialism once again unfolding.

Eirik Jarl Trondsen is the deputy principal at the Nagenda International Academy of Art and Design in Entebbe, Uganda, and the founder of Affirmative Art. Lydia Namubiru is a Ugandan journalist and media trainer at the African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

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