WITHOUT THE BENEFITS of historical hindsight, younger generation of observers witnessing the controversies trailing the US election held nearly a fortnight ago might be tempted to think this is the first time Americans squabble over election results. For once, many distant observers would see that elections in the US are not 100 per cent error-free, fraud-proof or outright perfect. The result of a presidential election two decades ago was challenged up to the Supreme Court. But, in the end, it was resolved without much rancour. What is strange this time is a culminating crisis arising from a combination of factors, heightening tension and muddling up the outcome of the election that has proven inconclusive, probably by design, with emerging circumstantial – and some compelling –reasons to believe that there are some built-in errors and that the votes were manipulated to a certain extent. But while these controversies are yet to be settled, an aspirant has rushed to claim victory contrary to the pledge he made on a debate stage and is already and presently readying himself to form a government. This embarrassing decision presents a troubling signal in its own right, particularly when the General Services Administration (GSA), a government department vested with the duty of announcing the winner of presidential elections, is yet to make any pronouncement – calling for ‘clear’ winner. The media harassment and decision to take over the calling of election winners in the process has become obvious.
Accurate readers of diplomatic barometers therefore are not expected to have trouble deciding how to decode the true message in the cacophony of noise coming from the American media and public commentators on either side of the political divide. The appropriate timing for sending congratulatory messages to anyone considered to have won the election has therefore not yet been set by the GSA. Of all the BRICS countries, only India and South Africa have welcomed Joseph Biden as president-elect. Brazil, Russia and China have kept their fingers crossed, waiting for ‘clear’ winner before extending their felicitations. But leaders of other members of the G7, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, have greeted and recognised Biden’s election victory rather prematurely as litigation upon litigation trail his declaration which still hangs in the balance as unfolding events show. Not to be outdone, the Nigeria’s President – in a rush – has extended his own felicitation to Biden. But all these country leaders seem to have done so, ignoring the obvious but ominous foreboding that characterise the immediate aftermath of the US election, with a build-up of tension and potential tumult. Is it interesting that China and Russia – two countries deemed adversarial to the US – have not congratulated Biden? And when China eventually did on Friday, it smartly added, however, that “we understand the U.S. election results will be confirmed based on U.S. law and procedure.” On the face of it, is China not expected to heave a sigh of relief at the prospect of Trump’s ouster and quickly call to congratulate his opponent? There are pertinent issues currently ignored or underplayed by those who have gone ahead to greet Biden, which will become significant in the event of Trump’s eventual confirmation.
The various reasons individual countries of the West went ahead to recognise Biden are not necessarily applicable to the emerging markets, or developing countries, of the global south, particularly in Africa. Many countries, especially of the European Union (EU) bloc, would like to see the US continuing to play the role of a ‘Big Brother’ economically, militarily and as a champion of globalisation – doling out huge sums of money as country contribution in furtherance of such ideals. That expectation misses the point about the prevailing political barometer in the US at present. Although ideologies were not put in strict intellectual contexts during the political campaigns and debates that preceded the recent election where altercations and verbal tirades were freely traded, ideologies nonetheless remained at the very core, with two opposing camps fiercely going for each other’s jugular. That the Americans are politically divided is not new. What is new is the level and scale to which the division has been elevated, to the extent that the right seems unprepared to see eye-to-eye with the left on anything whatsoever. While the US electorate became sharply split into strict right and left ideologues, with far fewer moderates in between, American citizens generally remain insular to outside events on the international turf which affect, or are affected by, their consumption lifestyles. But the politicians, mindful of the Americans’ voracious material appetite which must be financed by capital import, have identified this as an opportunity to manipulate the people and are exploiting it to advantage during the political manoeuvring and election campaigns, while trying to appeal to people’s sentiments. It has become obvious that many foreign developed countries, particularly the EU, also applaud this US consumer’s spendthrift culture, which they themselves don’t aspire to. They do so in their own enlightened self-interest because their own modest lifestyle would suffer serious setback if the biggest spender were ever to cut its expenditure and become more frugal. To them, therefore, Trump’s “America First” policy was clearly unpopular and needed to be done away with. Biden therefore would be a viable alternative, no matter how poorly he performs in piloting away from Trump’s seemingly unpopular, “eccentric” and selfish nationalistic policy, which has been interpreted by many analysts as xenophobic rather than patriotic. This position is convenient for any European country that has surrendered its sovereignty to the EU and sees itself more as European rather than as a particular country.
But the firmness and sturdiness of the EU bloc underwent a stress test in the Brexit saga and during the squabbles about EU members’ contribution to ease the burden of Italy and Spain at the height of COVID 19 lockdowns earlier in the year. The fragility of the union was particularly obvious in the responses of some countries to the idea of raising funds to support Italy and Spain. The lack of solidarity with Italy and Spain among EU countries highlights a larger problem and raises concerns about the uncertainty of what European countries would do in case one of them experienced an even greater crisis. Suggestion spearheaded by Germany’s Angela Merkel and other leaders for the EU to tap the €410 billion ($454 billion) left in the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a bailout fund established to help countries during the EU debt crisis eight years ago, did not seem to have gone down well with some southern European countries that associate the ESM with the tough austerity conditions attached to its bailout loans to Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Ireland. Other hurdles to negotiations, on the other hand, arose as Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands – four fiscally conservative northern nations – expressed worries about their prospects of having to foot the bill for southern countries like Spain and Italy that are perceived as being financially more extravagant. The four nations were critical of the recovery fund proposed by European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen at the time.
The reality within the US is that the 2016 and 2020 elections have aroused the curiosity of many Americans about the huge financial deficits their leaders incur on behalf of their country in the course of the adventure of playing the role of the “world policeman,” a role for which the US has taken a lot of flaks or condemnations and which has cost it the lives of many of its citizens, particularly the soldiers on foreign missions in trouble spots. The US will not forget in a hurry the exploits, the wastes and the defeat in Vietnam, nor will it forget the hard time it had in attempts to pull American military out of Iraq or Afghanistan. It didn’t seem many NATO members took kindly to Trump’s insistence that they must pay up their own contributions as a condition for America’s continued participation in the regional defence body. It is getting more widely recognised or speculated in the US that the country receives nothing other than criticisms, condemnation and other far-reaching backlash for its overseas interventions; an example is the September 911 onslaught against the World Trade Centre, a terrorist reprisal attack right within the US territory. It currently has to grapple with Iran’s recalcitrant regime, went after the ISIS and has been urging the Taliban to disarm. Allegations by the pundits and their criticism of America’s “dereliction of roles” do not adequately suggest that the world may automatically go the way of China as a result of the leadership vacuum created by the withdrawal of the US from many global strategic partnerships and platforms. Resentment against the combative rhetoric emanating from China and the suspicion about security risks associated with its flagship state-owned high tech communication giant, Huawei, are a pointer to the fact that China’s ascendancy is not about to eclipse even a diminishing US anytime soon.
Africa urgently needs skilfully hedge its bets and carve a prominent “ecological niche” for itself within the context of the unfolding political and economic realities. The wide variations in national and regional endowments of natural, physical and human resources and the efficiency of their utilisation present unique opportunities for Africa’s emergence as a global economic bloc, with less reasons to shudder about who emerges as a country’s president. There is room for Africa’s specialisation in the global value chains as well as supply chain and the emerging opportunities must be seized without delay. It is now clearer from the COVID-19 pandemic experience of 2020 that speed is of essence and supply chain disruptions could sometimes be inevitable in global trade. The new paradigm of green economy creates opportunities for Africa, waiting to be tapped. Countries producing technologies that drive green economy will need Africa for many critical raw materials. This should not be significantly affected by the politics of any particular country as various national players are jostling for their piece of the pie. The continent must therefore be laser-focused on strategies for positioning itself well to unlock the hidden potential to advantage. Africa needs therefore to plan for exigencies in the global economy and preserve its resources from inordinate exploitation even while frantically seeking foreign direct investments (FDI).
Africa needs to insulate itself from the damaging impacts of propaganda, disinformation or misinformation pushed by political and business interests as this can damage diplomatic and economic relationships between nations. The embarrassment of the mainstream media within and outside the US and absence of neutrality in their reporting since the Trump-Biden campaign is worrisome as many of them have been intentionally churning out malicious and misleading stories and editorial content rather than informing the public. Some of these may have informed the decisions of some countries’ leaders to prematurely congratulate Joe Biden on his purported election victory while emerging findings and electoral decisions daily erode his lead in many key battleground states upon which his victory was proclaimed. The discussions about such mainstream media and the erosion of their integrity, trust and competence as news gatekeepers are better reserved as another subject. If they are far-off the mark in the election polls figures they project, they may well be equally off the mark in economic statistics and policy analysis, which could be informed by motives. African leaders therefore need to be on guard over which foreign media information they consume or use for policy and diplomacy. It is not too late to have Africa’s functional equivalent of Chatham House, Council for Foreign Relations and similar think tanks that see things from Africa’s lenses. This is so important so as to avoid diplomatic blunders that could hurt the continent when the dust of other nations’ crises settle and diplomats meet at the negotiation tables.
Frontpage February 13, 2019