Trump, As Africans see him

Last March, the African-American website TheGrio ran a tongue-in-cheek article listing the five best places for black Americans to move if Donald J. Trump won the presidency. First on the list was Ghana, which the article identified as “one of the more stable democracies” in Africa.

That’s true. But as Ghana prepares for its own presidential elections in the Fall, Trump’s critics might be surprised to learn that some Ghanaians wish they had a leader like . . . Donald Trump. That speaks to Trump’s international appeal, which isn’t something that you hear a lot about in the West. With opinion leaders around the world ridiculing Trump, who accepted the Republican presidential nomination last week, you might think that the only people warming to him are right-wing nationalists of the Vladimir Putin variety. But Trump remains a political inspiration to many ordinary citizens, for one simple reason: he’s not a politician.

“Where is our ‘Donald Trump’ when we need one?” Ghanaian journalist Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi asked, back in March. Corrupt “professional politicians” had ruined Ghana, Adu-Gyamfi wrote. “He gets under the skin of corporate giants, politicians, lobbyists, and the media,” Adu-Gyamfi wrote, praising him.

Other Ghanaian supporters point to Trump’s business background, which allegedly gives him the real-world experience that most politicians lack. “For Christ’s sake, this man is an American business mogul who cannot fathom why Africa still wallows in despair in the midst of abundant precious mineral resources,” one blogger here wrote. “He is shocked to see corrupt African leaders engineering Africa’s sufferings of epic proportions.”

Here the blogger referred to reports from last December, that Trump had threatened to “lock up” Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe and Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni. The story turned out to be a hoax, but even reactions to false reports speak volumes about Africans’ impatience with their poor leadership. Trump “has already pledged to deal swiftly with Africa’s dictators”, an enthusiastic Rwandan journalist wrote in April.
At the same time, though, many commentators across the continent have noted similarities between Trump and these same African leaders. The Daily Show host Trevor Noah fired the first salvo late last year, comparing Trump’s eccentric, self-aggrandising personality to Mugabe, deposed Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gadhafi, and South African president Jacob Zuma.
“For me, as an African, there’s just something familiar about Trump that makes me feel at home,” quipped the South-African born Noah, whose comic sketch superimposed military regalia on a picture of Trump. To other observers, however, the comparison is no laughing matter. African leaders have too frequently used propaganda and xenophobia to sway voters, as Nigerian journalist Chude Jideonwo warned in May. “Trump follows in this distressing tradition, a politician in a fact-free zone,” Jideonwo added, “telling people what they want to hear without the interruption of reality.”
And that’s precisely what so many Ghanaians see in their current presidential contest. “It’s that time again, when people go crazy, create weird slogans, promise chickens and give us nothing but the false hope of a better life,” one blogger wrote last month. “Gosh I hate Politics.” Meanwhile, the politicians are spewing hate at each other. Earlier this month, a parliamentary minister from the opposition party claimed that the woman directing the country’s electoral commission—and a member of the ruling party—got her job via “sexual favours”. And ruling party members have charged that the opposition’s presidential candidate is a charlatan in the mould of – you guessed it. Donald J. Trump.
Like Trump, one critic claimed, opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo believes that “a falsehood repeated over and over again” will be “accepted as the truth”. And, again like Trump, Akufo-Addo is known “to demonise all of his opponents as weaklings and lightweights”
Even as some voters here long for their own Donald Trump, then, others invoke him as a weapon to, yes, demonise their opponents. And that erodes politicians’ legitimacy still further. The less that people trust their government, the more likely they are to put their faith in demagogues like Trump.
In that sense, the Trump phenomenon really is a global one. Around the world, Ghanaian economist Lord Mawuko-Yevugah observed last month, “the political establishment” is under fire. The real question, in Ghana as well as the US, is whether it can offer people anything better than what the Donald Trumps are promising. We’re about to find out.