Since the end of October, yours truly has been in the USA – as an African election fellow of the American Council for Young Political Leaders (ACYPL), studying the US political system in general and the 2016 US elections in particular.
We are studying the electoral system before, during and after the election held on Tuesday this week. Fast forward, the November 8 elections produced Donald John Trump as president-elect of the US, a development that sent shockwaves all over the world. Trump becomes the first American to be elected as president without previously holding a political office anywhere and at any level in the US.
By all measure, if the discourse of his campaign is to be considered, Trump was seen as not fit to hold office. What has effectively happened is that Trump moved from a reality TV celebrity to the White House, dwarfing American men and women who had dedicated years and their lives to the service of Americans in the political arena. This phenomenon is as serious as it is exciting to political scientists who are now given a full plate to indulge intellectually. It is not surprising nor far-fetched to imagine that African celebrities and uncouth businessmen are now encouraged by Trump and are convinced, thus positioning themselves, that it is possible for them to hijack politics and become president.
It will not be surprising if corrupt tenderpreneurs have developed presidential ambitions. If Trump, who is filthy rich, without political experience and flawed like them – can do it, they too can capture state power in Namibia, they will so conclude. The key question that is presently dominating public discourse is what the Trump triumph means.
Indeed, the minds of many are troubled by this question: What does it mean for Africa in general and Namibia in particular?
To answer this question, for Namibia that is, it is necessary to explore US-Namibia relations in order to provide proper context. The forget-not pens of history record US contact with Namibia even during the times of German colonial occupation. US fishing and mining companies such as Del Monte, Starkist, AMAX and Tsumeb-based Newmont Mining (the then largest copper mine in Africa) all played a major role in capitalist extraction of Namibia’s natural and mineral wealth.
During South African colonial occupation, American capitalists of Wall Street financed Ernest Oppenheimer who then went to incorporate the Consolidated Diamond Mines(CDM) of South West Africa Ltd – so as to extract diamonds from Oranjemund soil, something he continued to do more than 80 years later as part of the dominant mining conglomerate Anglo American Corporation.
When the fight for political freedom started the US did not get involved politically in the affairs of Namibia until 1966 when it supported the UN general Assembly Resolution 2145 that revoked South Africa’s mandate over Namibia. It was during the Cold War that the US got directly and actively involved in the affairs of Namibia – a period wherein the names of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Ronald Reagan are invoked, by the liberation movement, as those who stood opposed to the struggle for self-determination by supporting the Apartheid and through the Central Intelligence Agency support of Jonas Savimbi.
It was the Reagan government that forced a precondition of the removal of the Cuban troops out of Angola as part of UN Resolution 435 discussions. There was, as the late political scientist William Lindeke observes, support of Namibia’s liberation efforts by Americans such as Senator Edward Kennedy, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus who were understandably mobilised through the efforts of Swapo diplomats Hage Geingob (now president of Namibia), Theo-Ben Gurirab and Hidipo Hamutenya.
After independence, US-Namibia relations became more pronounced and formalised. The relations are often distinguished in the areas of health, trade and education where the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) played an important role in shaping the developmental and economic pragmatism that now characterises the relations. Although there is often political rhetoric on imperialism, this does not often overshadow economic pragmatism that characterise the relations.
What characterises the relations today? Yours truly openly presented this question to Aaron Martz, who is responsible for Namibia in the Department of State. The response suggests clearly that the status quo will remain.
He further added new areas of cooperation such as wildlife, environment, drought and entrepreneurship.
Although thin on details, he pointed out that the two nations will start cooperating on value addition as it relates to AGOA. The Americans seems to be of a belief that Namibia has strong institutions. When the questions were further pressed on uranium and relations with North Korea, the Americans indicated that although they are concerned about these matters there seems to be consensus in terms of Namibia’s obligations under international law, treaties and obligations.
The US seems to be using these instruments in pressuring Namibia particularly in terms of its relations with North Korea. It is, therefore, no surprise that Namibia seems to have retreated in terms of its engagements with North Korea given this subtle pressure from the US. The triumph of Donald Trump, in terms of its implications for Namibia, should be assessed against what exists between the two countries and what he is likely to introduce.
There is nothing immediately suggesting that there will be a significant change, if any, in Namibia-US relations as part of Trump’s triumph. This is so for a number of reasons. Trump has not articulated a clear and coherent plan, strategies and perspective on US-Africa relations. In fact, one can state without any fear of contradiction that Trump has never mentioned the name Namibia in any of his public foreign policy discussions.
There is, therefore, nothing that should significantly suggest that Namibia occupies even a small space in Trump’s mind. Since Trump’s Africa policy, with the exception of terrorism and the Democrats’ mishaps in Libya, remains a subject of speculation there is little evidence that US-Namibia relations would change significantly. If their words are to be taken seriously, it is also the view of US foreign policy bureaucrats dealing with Namibia, those not subjected to Trump’s hand, that not much is expected to change in terms of US-Namibia relations. It is, however, possible that if Trump pursues what some are calling an ‘isolationist’ foreign policy, this may see a reduction in development aid.
• Job Shipululo Amupanda is presently in the United States of America as an ACYPL African Election Fellow for the 2016 US Elections. He teaches political science at the University of Namibia.