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President Biden: a new dawn for US, the world and Africa?

Cartoon: Bethuel Mangena/African News Agency/ANA

Cartoon: Bethuel Mangena/African News Agency/ANA

Published Jan 20, 2021


Mushtak Parker

Today beckons a new dawn for US democracy as Joseph Robinette Biden jr is sworn in as the 46th president of the US.

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At least that is the hope for most Americans who in November elected him by a 7 million majority or 51.4% of the popular vote.

The reality, however, is a sad indictment of the state of US democracy, self-styled as the world’s most powerful and enlightening liberal democracy.

The defeated President Donald Trump refused to concede and has continued to perpetuate the blatant lies that the election was “stolen” from him because of widespread fraud.

In a call to arms by the “commander-in-mischief” himself on January 6, hundreds of armed Trump supporters converged on the very symbols of US democracy – the Capitol with its House of Representatives and Senate – invaded inter alia by confederateflagged white-supremacist thugs bent on “taking back our government” in support of their irrational leader.

The result was as nefarious as its assault on democracy as it was tragic for the six people who lost their lives and hundreds of others injured.

In any other self-respecting liberal democracy such action would have been treason. To its credit, the US Congress impeached Trump last week – the only US president to be impeached twice.

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Time only will bear witness whether ex-president Trump will be convicted with the hope that he is disqualified from public office for life.

What was supposed to be an inauguration celebrating a “New Deal” for America ravaged by the twin pandemics of a nation divided to its ideological core and by a pervasive pathogen, Covid-19, has degenerated into a farce, “America – the sick democracy of the world”.

That process gained momentum on the fringes for decades but became emboldened and embraced into mainstream US politics as soon as Donald Trump against all odds, was sworn in as the 45th president in 2016.

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Persistent lies throughout his adult life, his presidential campaigns, his presidency and beyond, serve as the ideological oxygen for his motley of stormtroopers, including the Proud Boys, QAnon, Oathkeepers, Three Percenters and Boogaloo Bois. It is such lies, damn lies and sedition that was the slippery road to fascism and totalitarianism in the 20th century.

On inauguration day, Washington and US state capitals are characterised by a climate of fear in an atmosphere of heightened security in anticipation of a motley of high crimes and misdemeanours waiting to be unleashed by Trumpistas.

This may be a deliberate ploy to undermine the long-due gender and racial symbolism of the occasion – the swearing-in of the first woman vice-president Kamala Harris in US history – a woman of colour of Indian and Jamaican descent.

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Under normal circumstances, the outgoing president usually observes the next president to be sworn in.

This year it is a no-show for the “puerile president” whose narcissism would not allow him to attend, instead leaving it to his erstwhile vice-president Mike Pence to do the awkward honours.

Covid-19 restrictions, social distancing and the heightened security tempers the jollity associated with presidential crowning when millions of supporters embrace the promise and expectations of the incoming administration.

Thanks to the incompetence and criminal negligence of the Trump administration over its Covid-19 mitigation and vaccine procurement strategies, the US is plagued by a pandemic that has claimed over 94 million victims worldwide and 24 million in the US, by far the single largest incidence in the world, resulting in 2.03million deaths worldwide, of which more than 400 000 have been in the US.

But then US democracy is full of contradictions and precedents. Trump is the fourth US president to sit out on their successor’s inaugurations.

Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Johnson did the same in the 19th century.

The storming of elected officials by white supremacists is also not new. There is a sense of déjà vu. After state elections in 1898, a violent white supremacist mob, whipped into a frenzy by self-serving politicians, moved into the US port of Wilmington, North Carolina. They destroyed black-owned businesses, murdered black residents, and forced the elected local government – a coalition of white and black politicians – to resign en masse.

What historians have described as “the only coup in US history”, saw ringleaders take power the same day thanks to the “introduction” of black voter suppression laws thus stripping them of their franchise.

The Biden-Harris presidency will not be a panacea for the US and the world. There are too many Trump “legacies” to deal with. President Biden will deal urgently with Covid-19 mitigation and vaccine facilitation.

wHe could do the developing world and Africa a huge favour by strongly supporting equal access to vaccine supplies for all and lead a global preparedness initiative to meet any future pandemics.

No sooner he enters the famous Oval Office in the White House, he will be on record stressing his priority executive orders which will go a long way to resetting the tone and morality of US politics and policies relating to global issues especially the environment and climate action.

These include a US return to the Paris climate agreement; repealing the controversial travel ban on mostly Muslim-majority countries; mandating the wearing of masks on federal property and when travelling interstate; extending nationwide restrictions on evictions and mortgage foreclosures due to the pandemic and cancelling the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline from Alberta in Canada to Nebraska, to join an existing pipeline.

It is inevitable that South Africa will not feature prominently among the agendas of the US, EU

flagging economic growth, protectionism, attacks on multilateralism and threats of climate change which do not augur well for Africa’s well-being and its international cooperation.

In fact, it is inevitable that Africa will not feature prominently among the priorities of the USA and EU, at least in the foreseeable future, due to internal preoccupations and distractions.

It is against this background that the growing co-operation and solidarity between Africa and China, as embodied by the successful Wang visit, and is to be welcomed. In fact, during Minister Wang’s visit, China gave its unequivocal support to Africa in achieving the continent's immediate priorities within the AU Agenda 2063 framework, namely:

* Continued assistance to Africa on Covid-19, the improvement of health services and access to vaccine for Africa.

* With China already by far Africa's largest trading partner in the world, the country has offered targeted support to Africa as regards economic recovery by way of the ongoing “transformation” of the continent’s economy. Increased Chinese investment was pledged as well as strong support for the game-changing African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

* Continued assistance was also promised to Africa in implementing the “Silencing of the Guns” initiative on the continent.

It is, however, critical for Africa to have the ability to take its own decisions and to promote its own preferred home-grown development course.

Africa must ultimately take responsibility for its own destiny and would want to co-operate with China in a manner that enhances Africa’s key priorities.

Projects on the continent, based on Chinese financing and support, need to be increasingly linked to concrete benefits for Africans with a focus on economic industrialisation and diversification, sustainable and responsible financial co-operation, local job creation and procurement, as well as a stronger environmental awareness. China would accept this approach because it “listens to Africa’s voice”.

* Mushtak Parker is an economist and writer based in London. Grobler is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies at the Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.