The United States of America elections have come and gone. Republican candidate Donald Trump will as of January 20 2017 take over as America’s president in what most analysts have described as historic.
guest opinion BY NIGEL NYAMUTUMBU
Many Zimbabweans at home and abroad have been keenly following the unfolding elections since Trump and Hillary Clinton were confirmed candidates to replace the incumbent President Barack Obama. For one reason or the other, the generality of Zimbabweans were rooting for Clinton.
Women activists in Zimbabwe and indeed around the world warmed up to Clinton and their support was driven by the desire to see a woman steering one of the world’s leading nations. Others were persuaded to support Clinton on the basis of her close working relationship with Obama, who up to this day, is hugely popular among Zimbabweans and in Africa.
I personally was inclined to support Clinton not because I believed her manifesto would have any direct bearing on my socio-economic needs, nor was it for the reason that I am charmed by her personality; rather, my wish for the Democratic Party candidate to land the world’s biggest job was premised on my reservations of the now president-elect Trump.
My strong reservations of having Trump as the leader of one of the world’s most influential nations emanated from how he carried out his campaign, the racist undertones of his messages and some very reckless foreign relations statements.
Unlike his political opponent, Trump has no governing experience and the fact that he has already been charged with corruption and accused of multiple sexual abuse cases did not augur well for me. After all, he promised to enact policies with the potential to violate human rights, making him my least favourite candidate.
It gets really worrying when you get a presidential candidate shooting from the hip in the manner that Trump did. I tried to theoretically place Trump from my experience studying international relations but realised that the businessman is in a class of his own and perhaps is going to change world politics.
Take for instance his statements on dealing with terrorism through mass destruction and his stance on the use of nuclear weapons.
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families; when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families,” Trump said.
On the use of nuclear weapons, Trump said “We’re going to hit them and we’re going to hit them hard. I’m talking about a surgical strike on these Isis stronghold cities using Trident missiles.”
He passed a lot more disturbing remarks and now that he has won the elections, one hopes that he was just but bantering and politicking. To his credit, he mellowed down as he presented his acceptance speech and for the first time, he sounded more like a statesman ready to serve his people and to engage with the world.
Zimbabweans can, however, draw lessons from the US elections, both in terms of analysing the results and in so far as future engagements with the global power is concerned, more so in light of Trump’s ascendency to power.
The first lesson for political actors in Zimbabwe relates to electoral legislation.
In the case of the US, one has to assess the import of the 2013 Supreme Court decision in the Shelby County vs. Holder case, which overturned key provisions in the voting laws.
This ruling basically stated that states within the US no longer required clearance from the federal government when enacting voting laws within their bounds. The decision resulted in some states enacting laws that potentially suppressed some African-Americans to vote. This was particularly so in North Carolina.
While this may not necessarily sway voting patterns and was by no means a way to deliberately disenfranchise African-American voters, the effects of electoral legislation on voting cannot be understated.
Zimbabwean political actors are currently grappling with aligning electoral laws to the Constitution and the hope is they can draw lessons from the US elections in so far as paying attention to detail and ensuring that the agreed legal framework will encourage optimum participation of citizens.
The second lesson relates to the conduct of the media during the elections.
Although opinion polls hinted that participants felt that the US media was biased in favour of Clinton, observers noted various media inadequacies in how the elections were covered.
Granted, the contesting parties had equal access to the media, something worth learning in Zimbabwe, but the US media could have done more in terms of sourcing electoral stories and investigating some of the claims by the candidates. For example, the US media did not make a deliberate effort to speak to American people directly; neither did the media strongly challenge outrageous claims by the contesting candidates.
This also probably explains why the opinion polls misled the US populace and indeed the world that the Democratic Party candidate had the electoral victory firmly in her hands, only to learn that they were basing their polling on the very same opinion leaders dominating the media.
As Zimbabwe heads for the 2018 elections, it is going to be of paramount importance for media supporters to strengthen the sector such that there can be elaborate and comprehensive coverage of the elections. The media should be capacitated to reach out to a wider source base and to independently interrogate electoral campaigns.
The third and final lesson for political actors in Zimbabwe in this installment pertains to the significance of understanding the needs of the rural population, especially drawing parallels with the needs of citizens residing in urban areas. Recognising the voices from the so-called marginalised areas turned out to be Trump’s trump- card.
American political science professor, Kathy Cramer shares interesting perspectives on how the rural population in the US voted on the basis of their anger and how they were disheartened as a result of unfulfilled promises.
“First, people [in rural areas] felt that they were not getting their fair share of decision-making power,” said Cramer. “For example, people would say: All the decisions are made in Madison and Milwaukee and nobody’s listening to us. Nobody’s paying attention, nobody’s coming out here and asking us what we think. Decisions are made in the cities, and we have to abide by them.”
The more the rural populace in Zimbabwe feels the same, the more chances that the rural vote is going to be manipulated. Zimbabwe needs to enhance citizen participation, particularly those in marginalised areas to ensure that they make informed electoral decisions. I wonder whether people in my rural Murewa are aware of the proposed changes to the Electoral Act or to the potential changes of the electoral system to biometric, for example.
While it may be too early to call in so far as ascertaining the implications of the US elections results on Zimbabwe, two things are highly likely.
First, an increasingly conservative American government that is likely to overturn liberal policies domestically will set a bad precedence for developing countries such as ours. Take for instance the Republican conservative views on abortion and gay rights. They resonate well with the Zimbabwean government and we can be rest assured that our government’s stance is going to be harsher.
Secondly, the incoming US president has made it no secret that his foreign policy is going to be driven by pursuing American interests in what he has been terming “America First”. This will result in reduced interest on how Africa and indeed Zimbabwe are running domestic affairs such as elections and where local supporters for democracy had an ally in the US, the global power could play a subdued role in helping our country.
It shall be interesting to assert how Trump and his incoming administration are going to handle the long-standing sanctions and whether there are going to continue to provide huge-scale aid to the Zimbabwean government and civil society. Either way, it is clear that whatever engagement the governments of the US and Zimbabwe are going to enter into, Trump is going to ensure “America comes first”.
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