Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
Ladies and gentlemen, the time we had been waiting for finally came: United States President Donald J Trump at the global podium of the United Nations.
Trump made his inaugural address at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, September 19, and he was true to form as a maverick politician who can undo every convention and only compete with himself. And it was just as everyone expected and feared at the same time.
Trump’s speech, or generally the unconventional bluster that it was, immediately became the talking point. And you can guess that it was just as he wanted it.
Analysts had a field day. For some of us, here in Africa, an analysis of Trump’s speech ought to begin with how we find the continent and its future in this matrix of “Global Trumpism”.
Here is the shock of our life.
In his inaugural speech, Trump did not once mention Africa, whether for good or bad, something that is apparently an extension of his foreign policy. Africa simply does not exist in Trump’s world.
Quite tragic, the Trump administration has apparently been reviewing US relations with Africa with a view to scaling in major ways both diplomatic and aid engagements. At best, it has seen Africa as a bit-part player in the global fight against terror and has acknowledged this by militarising its relations. As Grant T Harris argues (Ignoring Africa Endangers America, US News & World Report, Sept 8, 2017), Trump’s Africa foreign policy is misaligned.
Says Harris, “From its hasty proposals to slash diplomacy and aid, to its glacial pace of filling key posts, the Trump administration is dangerously underestimating Africa’s importance to American interests. To the extent that there is a current ‘Africa policy,’ it is devoid of high-level leadership and increasingly militarised. As a result, the United States is essentially ignoring an entire continent replete with far-reaching challenges as well as economic opportunities . . . ”
That Trump ignores Africa as a global geopolitical player is shocking: just how can he pretend that a continent with 1.216 billion people, making it the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent, does not exist? Or that last year, the US and Africa exchanged goods worth about $500 billion between them, with the figure being about $200 billion so far?
Or are we to forget that the US is involved in some breakneck competition with China and other countries such as India, Japan and Turkey over access to and trade with Africa? We may yet one day get to the bottom of this curious lack of mention of Africa by Trump.
Trump did not mention climate change, either, despite beginning his speech with acknowledging the devastating effects of hurricanes that are lashing America which, among other extreme weather events, have been linked to climate change. But Trump believes that climate change is a hoax and has sought to undo global agreements and American commitment on the issue. So he completely ignored it.
Many countries affected by the phenomenon, including the majority in Africa, will not be amused. But then, it will be amiss to expect to be humoured by this particularly American President. And as the world saw on Monday, he is determined to throw all caution to the wind and even risk a war.
His world is so narrow and Manichean, something quite dangerous for a man with the power next to that of God. He seems to have a boyish mentality of good guys/bad guys deriving straight out of comic books. Which explains his unusual rant at North Korea, for example, which is the major talking point of his speech.
The media is describing his speech as the “Rocket Man” speech. He has just called North Korean leader in that term, with reference to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapon experiments and war games in response to US threats.
“’Rocket Man’ is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary,” he said. That was supposed to be funny! It was a new diplomatic low.
In fact, Trump’s whole speech was so highly opinionated and full of undiplomatic descriptives. He described countries that he does not like as “depraved”, “criminal”, “corrupt dictatorship”, “oppressive”, “destabilizing”, and so on. Of course he did not relate that to such countries as Saudi Arabia, which would fit such descriptions, on top of being sponsors of terror. But what is an American president without hypocrisy!
This hypocrisy is what reeked all over the place when Trump told us that America was “a responsible neighbour and friend” when it came to Venezuela or Cuba. Yet, Trump believes he is the best thing to happen after powdered milk, declaring that, “Fortunately, the United States has done very well since Election Day last November 8.”
It will also be critical to note how the media reacted to Trump’s speech. An article on CNN website noted that, “No American President has ever spoken to the world like this.”
In his United Nations General Assembly debut, Trump applied the disruptive, bellicose, nationalistic persona that shattered US political norms and signalled an attempt to transform America’s role in the world and the international system itself.
It was dark, desolate, had a whiff of authoritarianism and pulsated with threats: None of his predecessors, for instance, stood in the well of the UN chamber and threatened to wipe a country — in this case, North Korea — off the face of the planet.
It was the “axis of evil” on steroids as the President blasted “rogue states” and trumped George W. Bush-era rhetoric to put Pyongyang, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba on notice.”
The Guardian called it “A blunt, fearful rant” which “left presidential norms in the dust”. Guardian noted that: “Like Bush, Trump offered the world a black-and-white choice between the ‘righteous many’ against the ‘wicked few’ – but his choice of language was far blunter than his predecessor.”
The New York Times said “Mr. Trump offered the General Assembly a strikingly selective definition of sovereignty, threatening to act aggressively against countries like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, whose policies he opposes, yet saying almost nothing about Russia, which seized territory from its neighbour Ukraine, and meddled in the American presidential election.”
Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, tells the paper that, “It looks like we will respect the sovereignty of countries we like, whether they are dictatorships or democracies, but we will not respect the sovereignty of countries we don’t like.” In a Washington Post vox pop, Margot Wallstrom, foreign minister of Sweden, said Trump’s speech was “a bombastic, nationalist speech”.
“It must have been decades since one last heard a speech like that in the UN General Assembly . . . This was a speech at the wrong time to the wrong audience.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times — not the 21st Century UN — unworthy of a reply. Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one.”
Trump’s speech marks his formal entry into global geopolitics.
It is a significant marker.
That gods are getting crazier.