By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Zimbabwe (IDN) – Sitting in front of a heap of damaged shoes waiting to be mended, 32-year-old Evans Tirivangani, a graduate in accountancy but forced to work as a cobbler because of lack of job opportunities, is anything but convinced that the arrival of a new president in the White House will mark a change in his, and his country’s, prospects.
“We had always had hope since the time Barrack Obama came into power in the United States about a decade ago; we thought he was going to make so much noise about the dictatorship that has damaged our country, but 37 years after our country gained independence, we are still suffering and as you can see, I’m a cobbler even with my degree,” Tirivangani, who plies his trade in a makeshift shed by the roadside in Mabvuku, a high density suburb of Harare, told IDN.
“Now Donald Trump has taken over as the new US president and he is pushing for banning other nationalities from entering the United States. I also heard that prior to being elected he expressing his disdain for dictators, but I’m afraid that if we base our hopes too much on America’s successive leaders, we will continue to face disappointment,” he added.
Tirivangani said that with Trump at the helm of US politics, Southern African nations should forget about improved cooperation with the global superpower – and his views are echoed are echoed by many political analysts in this region, like Sibusiso Zwane, an independent political analyst based in Johannesburg.
“Trump is intent on closing off the world and building up America's borders to keep other nationalities out,” Zwane told IDN. “He has proved that he is not open and does not want migrants in the US, meaning that he does not care about expanding America's international standing.”
According to Zwane, “under Trump, US ties with South Africa could be strained and dented because he (Trump) may opt to alter existing cooperative trade arrangements such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and preferential trade agreements that have always enabled the United States to expand its interests here in South Africa and across the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.”
Disagreeing with the widespread pessimism about the implications of Trump’s election for Southern Africa is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Speaking to the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation ahead of his 93rd birthday celebrations this year, he begged the world to give Trump a chance.
"When it comes to Donald Trump ... talking of American nationalism, well America for America, America for Americans – on that we agree. Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans; Give him time; Mr Trump might even re-look at the sanctions on Zimbabwe,” Mugabe said.
Mugabe’s view is at odds with that of many Southern African economists like Kingston Nyakurukwa, an independent Zimbabwean economist.
“President Trump wants to make America great again and, in his bid to establish US global supremacy, he might just want unrestricted trade access without reciprocity towards other states, and what would this mean for us here in Southern Africa? The United States under Trump would certainly want to be the winner in all trade deals here, which would be unfair,” Nyakurukwa told IDN.
For Zambian civil society activist Hachikoko Namwanga, the Trump reign will probably mean little that is positive for his country.
“Unlike the Obama administration, which believed that it had to maintain a degree of responsibility for assisting development in other states, particularly here in Zambia, President Trump has shown no sign that he will care an inch for development even here in Southern Africa and so with President Trump at the helm of US politics, I have to say that US development assistance to us here in Southern Africa will also be affected, if not become minimal,” Namwanga told IDN.
Namwanga’s view resonates with that of Mozambique’s Aderito Humaira, an independent political commentator based in the Mozambican capital Maputo.
“Trump made it crystal clear even before winning the polls that his desire is to focus on America’s domestic infrastructure projects as a means of growing the global superpower’s economy rather than enhancing international cooperation agreements with other states like ours, which leaves us a bit disconnected from developmental initiatives meant for us,” Humaira told IDN. “The Trump era is bad news for us here in Mozambique.”
With Southern Africa reeling from the effects of climate change, many climate change experts in the region have also expressed concern that things may worsen with Trump in power given his noted disdain for efforts to combat climate change.
“It’s now in the public domain that Trump believes that climate change was invented by the Chinese, that it’s a Chinese hoax, which may result in curtailment of the commitment of the United States to the climate change war,” Happson Chikova, a Zimbabwean climate change expert with a degree in environmental studies, told IDN.
Concern is also being expressed on the human rights front, with some political commentators fearing that with Trump as US President, the human rights issue may be nipped in the bud.
“Trump’s reign in the United States obviously represents the rise of ultra-conservative Western nationalism, which basically puts the interests of capital ahead of any other concern,” independent Zimbabwean political commentator Pride Mkono told IDN.
“The Trump era for Southern Africa in particular means there is going to be muted condemnation of human rights abuse on the region. It may even mark an era of new relations with African dictators like Mugabe, one where concern is on seeking profits ahead of people’s rights.”
Zimbabwean political analyst Rashwit Mukundu believes that Trump’s reign may be a blissful era for dictators in Southern Africa. He told IDN that “under Trump, US and Africa relations will likely focus more on trade and less on human rights and governance, and this is good news for African despots.”
Back in his cobbler’s shed in Mabvuku, Tirivangani sees a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario for the future. “I wish US President Trump could say a word about Zimbabwe, but it seems he won’t care about Zimbabwe; we may have to endure a bit longer under an unjust system that has perpetuated economic inequalities and human rights abuses.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 February 2017]
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.