Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 January 2021:
Trump has finally succeeded in toppling Covid from the charts, months after competing for front page news. The death throes of Trump’s administration have been mired in the infamous “attempted coup” or insurrection aimed at overthrowing Joe Biden, the democratically elected President of America – by “any means necessary”.
Last Wednesday’s spectacle at Capitol Hill left the world in shock and horror, considering that America has prided itself with preaching about the imperfections and failures of other democracies.
America’s democracy came under attack from within, and the world has not passed on the opportunity for an orgy of schadenfreude (gloating).
The 6th of January 2021 will go down as one of “America’s darkest days” in history. But is the world’s love affair with this day a testament to America’s strength or demise?
While many have compared the events to the beginning of the end of America, like kingdoms and empires before, declaring this as the death knell and disrobing of the High Priest of Democracy may sound a bit hasty. If anything, the events of January 6th, may well turn out to be the recalibration of the American society, a watershed. To all intents and purposes, Donald Trump has turned out to be the Emperor that Africa never had.
Africa is familiar with the playbooks of leaders who refuse to concede defeat, carry out coups or incite violence. So, when Donald Trump said that “Africa is a sh…hole” the continent was understandably in arms; how did he know? For Trump to make such a “crass “statement, you might think that he had inside information. Little did we know that he was likening himself to our own very leaders, with whom he shares similar traits; it takes one to know one. Judging by his behaviour, you would be forgiven to think that Trump was born in Africa and raised in America.
Trumps “reign” bore all the hallmarks of the typical African leader. He proved that he is a despot, a totalitarian, an autocrat, dictator, and downright emperor. He lost the election but tried to do a “Lauren Gbagbo”. Just like African leaders, he tried to fix the elections when a voice clip revealed how hard he tried and failed to squeeze Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “to find 11,780 votes” to give him victory in Georgia. How many officials in such capacity will defy their leaders in Africa?
Law officials, including the Attorney General William Barr served as his bridesmaid through his impeachment process and other legal minefields. Sounds familiar? Do you recall how Former President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Koroma got the all clear from the Attorney General’s office to unceremoniously sack the then elected Sam Sumana? But Trump’s love affair with Barr reached its nadir, when dozens of his frivolous court claims were flushed out of court; by even some Trump appointed judges.
So, when all else failed, like any typical African leader, Trump resorted to violence and summoned the power of stupid people in large groups. Do the terms “grass roots” and “youth wing” sound familiar? Trump employed his whole family in his administration and bypassed the law, by stating that they were unpaid positions. In Africa, they call it “nepotism. Sounds familiar?
When he assumed power, he got rid of former White House employees and other areas of his administration. He brought in his own crew, irrespective of their merits. Have you seen that before? Are you thinking what I am thinking? Well, in my neck of the woods, they call it tribalism. He hired and fired anyone that failed to show loyalty to him. In my back yard, you get fired for not carrying a party card. Are you still with me?
Meanwhile, the authorities, his Republican party, the conservative leaning media, religious leaders, and many more stood by, served as sycophants and cheer leaders, until Trump attacked the very essence of America as we saw on Wednesday.
So, the world might gloat, that due to travel restrictions, America had decided to organise the coup; this time at home. But have we learnt anything from all this? What happened in America is not a world novelty, but rather than sound the death knell of this “great nation”, let us look at some of the takeaways from it all.
The universal reaction to these events is testament to America’s standing in the world; that an attack on the High Priest of Democracy is an attack on its congregations. America’s exceptionalism of democracy cannot be denied; hence Wednesday’s event was a litmus test for, and yardstick to measure its resilience and values.
What happens in the coming days, weeks, months and years will give the true meaning and balance sheet of this uneventful day, as a blessing or a curse. I am beginning to think that it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It is not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning. Just indulge me a bit.
In the last 2 decades, there has been a rise in populism as leaders of populist views swept into power across the world. The likes of Hugo Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, Evo Morales, Victor Oban and Recep Erdogan, to name but a few all rode on the horseback of power, saddled with populist views and ideologies.
Trump just perfected the art of that deal. But if anything, January 6th exposed the inherent existential threats associated with embracing populist ideas which at best, promote divisions, racism, immigration-phobia, paranoia, distrust, hatred, jingoism, etc. You can find all these in Trump’s playbook, the 2nd edition.
Many of us may have hastily stripped America of its moral authority on democracy. But have we jumped the gun here? For starters, the insurrection did not succeed, the repercussions and fall outs are still rolling in, with more to come. Unlike other nations, America has stood up to the threats of populism.
Some would say America’s stance should have come earlier. A close look at Trump’s political scorecard shows the irony of democracy. Because of democracy, Trump was given the platform to free speech, the right to free assembly (despite Covid) the right to contest the election results, etc. He was allowed to trust and follow the process.
Despite all that, was he not impeached, once? The chance of another impeachment growing by the minute. He used the law to bend the law to win the election. The Judiciary stood firm and demonstrated its independence, when his frivolous lawsuits were thrown out of courts right across the country, even by his very own appointed judges. In the end, his scorecard will read as follows: Impeached, lost re-election, Republicans lost the White House and both chambers of the legislature. Ignore the others.
So, what are the chances of witnessing such in Africa, when we have the Guinness Book of Records for the longest serving leaders in the world? In Africa, our leaders ensconce themselves comfortably in power, with growing margins for every election. Very Popular. Only death can depose these despots. Just ask Alpha Conde (Guinea), Paul Biya (Cameroon), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) etc.
So, what can we take from this January 6th? The management of protests by law officers is in similar situations is largely determined by the degree of melanin content of the participants. We all saw that on a bigger canvas that day. What is the colour of democracy in America? But on bigger scale, it shows that American democracy is archaic, and does not meet the modern democratic standards. If democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, how come the final outcome of the results is left in the hands of a “few good men” (The Electoral College) and subject to the approval of even “fewer good men” (Congress)?
The system has its origin in the fear of landowners losing power after the Unification of the states of America. They gave the people the right to vote, but they (Electoral College) retained the right to choose the next President. Imagine if there was no electoral college? The winner with the popular vote would have been certified earlier, and we would have been saved from the antics of the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and the 147 others. Perhaps, we would have seen the first female American President 4 years ago.
It’s not all doom and gloom. In Sierra Leone, Paolo Conteh was charged with treason; a charge that traditionally ends with a bullet or the gallows. The treason charge was dismissed by our courts and he was recently freed, courtesy of Presidential pardon. Sylvia Blyden’s charge of seditious libel was also quashed. It doesn’t make President Bio a saint. However, it shows some silver lining. It shows that with a collective will, may be, just maybe, we can keep our judiciary independent of political machinations, and our constitution could reign supreme. A President who is not held accountable to its laws cannot defend a nation.
America has shown some resilience in protecting the fabrics of democracy; to a point. As a watershed, this might just be a time for the recalibration of American democracy. But with Trump banned from Twitter and other social media, brace up for another slice of war, as they battle to claim the lost voices in public legitimacy to protect free speech. “The greatest danger to American Freedom is a government that ignores the constitution” (Thomas Jefferson). Now you know why others think that Trump is a hazard to the USA.
Trump, the man who could have been king in Africa. Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.