It’s that time again when Americans from all socio political backgrounds go to the voting stations to elect the person they believe will drive significant change in our country. But what many of us don’t necessarily realize is that the next American president has the chance to pave not only the future of the United States, but also the world.
Many American voters in this election are forgetting (or simply don’t know) that our President represents us not only at home, but in global forums. The President appoints ambassadors, who can create, build, and destroy geopolitical relationships. Having someone respectful, intelligent and poised is crucial if we expect to be taken seriously in trade deals, peace agreements, and other international negotiations.
I have experienced how Presidents can affect our reputations abroad. I first arrived in Cameroon during the Bush administration, where I was often made fun of as being a gun-toting, Iraq hating “Bush lover.” I was asked why we didn’t take to the streets when he “stole the election” during the Florida Recount. People judged me, and my country, simply based on the man in charge.
.This worked in my favor arriving in Senegal in 2009, where I saw shops named after Barack Obama on streets and fabrics with his face from Mali, Tanzania and more. I received praise for being a citizen of the country that elected their first black president. In this CNN article about how the world views the US election, a South African journalist sums up how Africans viewed Obama by saying that “when [he] was running for the White House, it felt like a home race — and then a home run — for many South Africans. We were transfixed, as was most of sub-Saharan Africa, at the sight of this young, lanky, beautiful, clever, black man stepping up to take one of the most powerful jobs in the world.” Even my friends from Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, Iceland, India and more all loved Obama. Our leader shapes the way we as individuals are viewed abroad.
This past August, I was in Uganda, and a man asked where I am from. When I said America, he looked at me concerned. He asked, “Aren’t you afraid when you go home? You have too many guns, people are dying every day. Here in Uganda, we have peace. I hope your next President will help you.” Uganda has a long history of armed conflict, so you can imagine my surprise to hear his fear for my safety. This simple interaction made me realize that we are heading in a dangerous direction for our international reputation again. Even a friend of mine from Nigeria has started writing to express his concerns about the US election, and has sent them to his American friends to urge them to vote.
Africans, both on the continent and living in the US, are mainly concerned with the issue of immigration. While most people would agree there is a need for immigration reforms in the US, many forget to put Africa in the equation. In 2014, Africans in the diaspora sent home $33 billion to their relatives to start a business, pay for education and healthcare. If immigration regulations become stricter, Africans who rely on money sent from their relatives living in the US will lose their access to education, health, and basic necessities. The new President’s immigration policy will not only affect those residing in our country, but millions of Africans living on the continent who rely on this money.
As my friends and colleagues in Africa await the election, they are also laughing at us with self-awareness and irony. The election has become out of control- petty campaigning, accusations of corruption and election rigging, and more. American media has a heyday when African countries have electoral issues, so Africans on Twitter have started their own hashtag, #Nov8AfricanEdition, to provide coverage as if our elections were being held in an African country. According to a Beninese community organizer based in New York City, “The United States has a lot better to offer in terms of leadership.” For us Americans, this should serve as a wake-up call. Our democracy is by no means perfect, and we must hold our leaders accountable to be positive examples.
Africans are following this election closely. Many nations, like South Sudan, are anxiously awaiting the results and they understand that the future of their countries rely on who the American people elect. Issues like immigration hit very close to home for many, particularly those hailing from majority Muslim countries.The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a US government initiative which started in 2013, provides online and physical resources to give young African leaders the skills and connections to make change in their communities. The network has grown to over 20,000 people, many of whom are heavily engaged in discussing the election on social media. Africans are speaking and sharing, and it is our responsibility to listen to them.
While Africa has not come up in debates, we can speculate what each candidate’s victory would mean for the continent. Hilary has a more liberal approach to international cooperation, and she realizes the importance of Africa in terms of trade and natural resources. She was behind the Obama administration’s Africa policy, involving trade and private investment, democracy building, and peace and security. She believes in building systems, not working with the “strong men.” She will likely keep the same deals intact. On the other hand, while Trump has not spoken much about Africa, he has been very adamant about keeping Muslims out of the US, which affects 1/3 of the African population. He has been vocal about China being an economic threat to the US, which could push him to strengthen his relationship with African “strong men” to combat Chinese influence. The reality for Africa- candidates will look at US-Africa relations to benefit American interests.
Because of the interconnectedness of the world today, it is possible for everyone who is affected by this election to have their voices heard. My message to Africans- please keep sharing your opinions and use social media and the internet to spread your views on this election widely. It is important that we hear you. My message to Americans- this is our country. We hold the power to change the course of history, and we are lucky to have a voice in this crucial decision in world history. I urge everyone to think globally about this election, listen to our peers around the world and consider their opinions and realities in making our decision.