US President Donald Trump’s speech at the 73rd UN General Assembly on September 25 was criticised by liberal internationalists as an attack on the international institutional order created after World War II and a call for protectionism at the expense of free trade.
Indeed, from his words and deeds, Trump is a populist who believes in the nativist politics of soil and blood!
That said and despite not mentioning Africa even once in his speech, Trump not only denounced some of the things African leaders often criticise but also spoke on ways the international economic and political system ails Africa.
In fact, with a few changes, Trump’s speech could have been given by any courageous African leader.
First, he denounced the ICC and the UN human rights Council’s ways of hobnobbing with human rights violators!
Then he criticised unfair trade and World Trade Organisation’s approach and called for reform! Above all, Trump called for non-interference in internal affairs of nations and respecting sovereignty and independence of nations!
Thus, despite his other disagreeable policies like proposing to give aid to “friends” only and his penchant for insults, methinks Africa would benefit from stroking his ego and devising a strategy to push for changes in the international systems where their interests coincide.
For example, on ICC, Trump told the world that “The ICC has no legitimacy and no authority. It claims universal jurisdiction while violating due process, violating justice, we will never surrender to this unaccountable global bureaucracy”.
He added, “ … around the world, responsible nations must resist the threats to sovereignty.”
In other words, like some African leaders have suggested for some time, Trump also believes that the ICC is used to undermine the sovereignty of nations.
To that extent then, it would help if Africa’s leaders used this momentous period in relations between nations to either make the ICC more fair and judicious or do it in.
On trade, the American president said: “We believe that trade must be fair and reciprocal” and “We allowed goods to fly in freely yet other markets were not open in return. Countries dumped their products, subsidised their goods, manipulated currencies.”
Again, on this point, Trump spoke for Africa. There is no single European or North American market that does reciprocal or fair trade with the continent.
It was however on his take for respect between nations, independence and sovereignty that Trump nearly stole my heart despite holding him in low regard.
On these, he told his listeners that “When nations respect each other, they can work together for prosperity and peace. Each of us here is an emissary of the (Note: their!) own culture, history, values that make our homeland like nowhere else on earth.”
And then he beautifully added: “The US won’t tell you how to live, work, or worship. We ask you to honour our sovereignty in return.”
And that’s as it should be; but isn’t?
While I never imagined I would live to see an American president decrying interference in affairs of other nations or calling for respect of American sovereignty, it’s on this point that Trump elegantly spoke for Africa.
As Mwalimu Julius Nyerere once argued, what most African countries have is a flag independence. Otherwise, foreign interference abounds in the social, political and economic life of most African countries.
And foreign interference is even more pronounced in the economic and political realms where foreign actors even determine or influence economic policy and some political decisions.
While this state of affairs is partly a consequence of poor economic management and dictatorial tendencies in many countries on the continent, Africa can’t develop viable polities with foreign interference.
Now that the US, which has been part of this foreign interference since independence is led by a man who proclaims non-interference, it’s time for our leaders to go to work and help Trump achieve his stated goal on the matter.
In other words, this is the time for our leaders to be more vocal and in deeds, this is the time to seek to strike deals with Trump that would nip-in-the-bud interference while facilitating free and fair trade, as Trump likes to say.
That said, Trump’s speech restated the enduring role of nationalism and the nation-state as major actors in global affairs despite globalisation and evidence of global governance at a scale never seen before.
Christopher Kayumba is a PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website: www.mgcconsult.come