Keep Calm and Love Trump – History Tells Us Good Could Come From This

So last week, that obnoxious man Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

Barack Obama, America’s first African-American president, and one of its suavest and most intellectual leaders exited the scene. Sometimes I felt Obama was a genetically modified politician, engineered to commit no social fault. As one article noted, in the week preceding Trump’s inauguration, he was enveloped in more scandals than Obama had over eight years.

The world is worried that Trump will take it, and indeed America, to hell. I think even if that happens, it would still be a good thing. In other words, Trump is not aberration, a cancer upon a less racist, less misogynist, more scientific environment-loving, caring world.

He might just be what we need to progress. To begin with, to worry too much about the damage Trump will do is to take a narrow, American-centric view of the world.

So while Trump might be regressive in nearly all respects, it serves to remember almost exactly a year to the day Trump was elected in November last year, next door in Canada they elected one of the world’s most progressive and liberal leader in Justin Trudeau.

The two are in contradiction, they are essential to each other. The forces that produce a leader for a bold new world (a Trudeau), also produce a leader (Trump) who embodies the fear about the unknown, and a movement to cling to the uncertainties of a dying past.

Historically, the world had seen great powers rise and fall through war – hot or cold.
We are in strange times. China is set to overtake the US as the world’s undisputed economic (and surely political) power without first defeating it in a military battlefield.

The fact that Trump really doesn’t care much about the Asian allies previous American governments had heavily backed, means without Washington’s military umbrella, they could sue for accommodation with Beijing. This would grant China a bloodless hegemony.

Trump’s “Only America First” and isolationist streak, means China will rise to the top without a world war, to fill the vacuum.

As a good Ugandan who I will not name said, for a deal to happen, you need to have a good offer. But for the best deal to happen, you need to have a fool on the other side of the table.

In other words, if some African country drives a hard bargain and grants a licence on an oil well on which you will make 25 per cent profit, that is good business. But a far better would be to have an ignorant and greedy government that doesn’t appreciate the value of its oil wells, and gives you a licence on which your profit is 55 per cent.

Let us see how these things play out in Africa. While in Uganda last year we had another violent fraud-plagued election as President Yoweri Museveni sought to extend his rule beyond 30 years, last month in the same Africa, Ghana’s president John Mahama graciously conceded defeat to the opposition Nana Akufo-Addo. He became a rare creature in Africa -an incumbent who accepted defeat after only one term in office.

Not too far away, last December the brutal crank Yahya Jammeh lost an election to the opposition’s Adama Barrow. To everyone’s surprise, he conceded defeat, but a week later changed his mind, and said he was not leaving. Last week, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS sent in troops and chased him.

But how come ECOWAS can do that, but our own East African Community (EAC) can’t crack heads in Burundi and South Sudan?

One reason is that West Africa and the Sahel faces the threat of terrorism, in ways East Africa doesn’t. In Uganda, in recent elections Museveni and the NRM have faced the threat of losing power to Kizza Besigye and the FDC.

In Nigeria, as 2014 closed, it looked like Boko Haram could overrun the government. Boko Haram would basically burn the place down. The threat of terrorism, and lately climate change, has pushed the West African countries to pursue the kind of internal consensus politics, and for governments to seek levels of legitimacy, which no regime in East Africa needs to survive.

But that is not to say these bigger issues don’t play a role. My own sense is that the August 1998 bomb attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam spooked, especially, Kenya so much, it started the security sector reforms and gave impetus to the political shifts that led Daniel arap Moi to retire, and Mwai Kibaki to come to power at the head of a victorious opposition in December 2002.

While terrorism is a horrible thing, a lot of political progress has come from some state’s response to it. It’s always important to keep an eye on the big picture.

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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