Trump vs Biden: What Impact Will U.S. Presidential Election Have On Africa?

African opinion

Biden seems headed to narrow Electoral College victory and sizable win in popular votes. Photos: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons



History is cyclical. The United States is this week a clear new leader at the top of media charts with a large media contingent competing to beam the November 3 presidential poll worldwide.


Here in Africa, we too, have kept our eyes glued on the US poll, with the pervasive media doping us with misinformation and manufactured controversies about the politics of the global super power.


The US, in many ways, has streaked ahead in terms of global media coverage and hogging the limelight. A huge media turnout filled the polling and counting centers with a scrum of reporters jostling to cover the presidential race between incumbent President Donald Trump the Republican and former Vice President Joe Biden, Democrat.


Swarms of reporters have clustered around the two major US political contestants in much the same way crowds of reporters, photographers and hangers-on do often assemble around a celebrity or other prominent people. Africans have debated the elections intensively. Political analysts have written on it voraciously – tearing through America’s foreign policy towards Africa right from the Cold Era up to the latest ‘Black-Lives-Matters’ era.


Much has been said about Africa – US relations and what a change in administration could mean for the relationships. It is a fact that Africa needs economic and technological partnerships with the US including new military and industrial technologies. Democracy, good governance, accountability, rising Chinese dominance in Africa, aid and debt cancellation are still a major issue for the Africa – US relations.


Other African political analysts have probed the candidates with some arguing that even if Biden has seldom brought up the continent he could count on former Obama – era policy experts to restore the previous administration’s Africa policy. Many raised Trump’s blunt outspokenness which regularly ruffled feathers on this continent of more than 1 billion people. Most Africans have not forgotten nor forgiven Trump’s vitriol when he tagged all of Africa, along with Haiti, as “shithole” countries.


This angered many on the continent forcing some bolder African countries to summon US diplomats for a dressing down. There are so many unanswered questions as to what will be in there for Africa when a new administration is set up. We have seen US elections before. History is cyclical. Right now, there is so much chatter which passes for political debate in this US election.


No matter how hard we dig into the Africa – US relations – all issues and outcomes will remain unchanged. The status quo will always remain. I doubt if much will change for Africa despite the adrenaline rush of the latest US elections, the price and pride placed on the poll and above all, despite the US hitting the international headlines on a regular basis, keeping the local and national media contentedly busy.


Africa must not be fooled. We will soon return to being a backwater in global politics as the new US administration returns to its factory settings. South African political firebrand and leader of the Economic Freedom Fighter political party -Julius Malema aptly summed the 2020 race: “We do not have any expectations on the US elections — because whoever wins will continue with the same American agenda, which has no respect for other people in the world. … Whoever wins elections in the US will continue with the militarism, establishment and sustenance of military bases in different parts of the world and imperialism which does not respect other people’s lives and freedoms.”


Some political analysts say if Trump wins re – election, he will increase economic measures against Zimbabwe and Sudan here in Africa and elsewhere in Cuba, Iran and North Korean deepening the economic crisis in these countries.


Others say if Biden wins there is some measure of hope that he will return to the Obama – era deal that he was a part of  – finding ways to normalize relations with countries under US sanctions.


During his first four – year term, Trump has at best displayed his clear lack of interest in Africa and at worst a contempt for it. Africans don’t expect much from a Trump win while for a Biden win, they at least expect some respect and recognition, even if they know that American foreign policy hardly changes in a radical way.


Africans have been victims of Trump’s very restrictive and discriminatory immigration rules as he pursued his “America First” agenda. Given all this, Biden looks more – palatable for a new US president from an African perspective even though much will then be seen when he assumes the reigns.


Black Star News captures opinions from political analysts:


“The disinterest of the Trump administration in Africa has had the opposite effect and is emboldening many of them. With the US now engaged in a rivalry with China for influence on the continent, support for democracy and human rights may once again play second fiddle to securing reliable allies. In other words, the US may still prefer to stand with African states rather than African people.” – Patrick Gathara, Kenyan writer and political cartoonist


“I make two major arguments. First, while America’s electoral processes perennially attract African audiences and while its elections raise expectations about momentous changes in US-Africa relations, these expectations are often founded on false assumptions. Second, there has been remarkable continuity in US-Africa relations that transcends electoral cycles. It is important to grasp these patterns of continuity in order to set realistic expectations about future US-Africa relations. I conclude that Africa should be wary of fixating on who gets to the White House in November and instead plan collective African positions that it can engage the US administration on after the presidential inauguration in January 2021.”–Gilbert M Khadiagala


“Regardless of how the US elections play out the world’s largest economy will still have a huge influence on democracy around the world especially in Africa. It has both the carrot and a big stick to its advantage. US sanctions still carry significant bite and its ability to deny use of its financial system can still cripple any economy. But any role for the US in African democracy will increasingly become marginal and it would not be out of the ordinary for actors in African democracies to look less and less to the US for direction or support.”–W. Gyude Moore, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a former Liberian government minister.


Here in southern Africa, it is worth noting that most liberation movements or parties such as the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu PF), African National Congress (South Africa), the South West Africa People’s Organization (Swapo) of Namibia, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) and Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in Tanzania,  People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, Botswana Democratic Party (Botswana) which continue to dominate the political landscape in their countries, have radical positions that are rooted in socialist solidarity with the countries that backed them militarily during the liberation struggle.


The revolutionary parties have closer ties with Cuba, China and Russia and most of their views tend to be at odds with those of President Donald Trump’s administration over several issues that include the continued imposition of sanctions on Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Iran, the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the issue of Palestinian statehood. Most of the governments in southern Africa are vocal supporters of Cuba, Palestine and the Saharawi people.


As the deluge subsides and the waters fall short, we will see where the new US administration stands on Africa once more. We will see for ourselves whether the notion that we are valued by the US will comfort us or alternatively whether the realization of our traditional status will return to haunt us.


Africa is endowed with vast resources that America has a sharp appetite for. The US still needs Africa in its fight against Islamic fundamentalists, for its expansionist military bases and for its other wider needs. There is no free lunch for Africans. Everything happens at a price. And, for now, the truth is hidden in plain sight and discussed only behind the closed White House doors in whispered tones.


Sifelani Tsiko is a veteran journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. [email protected] 


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