In a recent article in The Atlantic, also widely used elsewhere, American journalist, Anne Applebaum, described the pathetic meltdown of US President Donald Trump, especially since the outbreak of the global health crisis, COVID-19. According to the journalist, not only has Trump become the butt of jokes in video games, the US President’s serial faux pas in managing the health crisis has also made him a laughing stock in memes and cartoons.
On April 29, the US President reportedly phoned his Nigerian counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari, and promised to help with some ventilators. The next day, an irreverent mascot in a cartoon strip in LEADERSHIP, a Nigerian newspaper, asked if Trump was also going to send “Dettol vaccines,” a sarcastic reference to the President’s claim that disinfectants could mitigate the effect of Coronavirus.
Now, something worse than being a laughing stock is happening to Trump and he could be merrily unaware. That idiom – laughing stock – was reserved for President George W. Bush, who was looked upon disdainfully in some intellectual circles because of his demeanour and his penchant for off-colour jokes. Yet, for good or ill, Bush still managed to keep the world riveted on America. It was difficult to ignore him.
Trump is making the Bush White House look like the golden era of US exceptionalism. Africa is not laughing at Trump. The continent is ignoring him.
It seems so long ago when his book: The art of the deal or How to get rich, was the companion of young wannabe millionaires. Or when his reality TV show was a favourite of millennials on the continent and those in diaspora.
It seems so long ago when his entrepreneurial skill and maverick essence were hailed by non-conformists as the only way to checkmate the status quo.
It seems so long ago when Trump’s underdog status and his story as the ultimate political outsider were regarded as the new model for recruiting transformational leadership and hailed as the cookbook to overthrow gerontocrats, sit-tight leaders and vested interests on the continent.
Yet today, even Trump’s promise to make America great again sounds so alien and so hollow, that all the catastrophes in between – from his shredding of the Paris Climate Agreement to his scuppering of the Iran nuclear deal to his trade wars with China – are like echoes from a distant past.
But they are not. These imprints from the Trump years created shock and consternation at first, then quickly gave way to sneering and laughter. Now, it seems some countries are no longer laughing, as Applebaum suggested in her article. They’re doing something worse: ignoring Trump and his America.
How do you deal with the President of the most powerful country in the world who decides that it is in the world’s greatest moment of the need for co-operation and solidarity that he must walk alone?
How do you respond to a president who despite multiple early warnings by his own experts that his country – and perhaps the rest of the world – could be faced with a pandemic decides to live in denial, only to be looking for scapegoats later?
How exactly do you handle a president who does not know the difference between bug and germ and microbe and yet would not listen to those who know? A president who, in spite of being surrounded by people who know, insists, with a straight face, that UV light, a bit of sunshine or perhaps ingestion of disinfectant, will make everything all right again?
From some of the world’s shitholes – so described and despised by Trump – answers are coming that ought to make the US President feel ashamed, if he hasn’t passed that point already.
South Africa is not looking to the US for help to combat COVID-19, as it once did at the height of its struggle against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Bush was US President then. He will be remembered for making the most consequential intervention through the provision of antiretroviral drugs at a cost of about $80 billion, which saved about 13 million lives, mostly in Africa.
Today, Washington and Pretoria have grown apart, with President Cyril Ramaphosa rebuffing Trump’s request to slam the door on Huawei over 5G. And in the fight against Coronavirus, instead of going to the US, South Africa has engaged Cuban doctors, as have Togo, Cape Verde and Angola.
Ghana has been quite exemplary in its testing, tracing and treatment, and even deployed drones in delivering test results from rural areas to some hospitals at a time when deaths in the US were mounting, tests lagging and yet Trump was locked in a bitter quarrel with China over what to call the virus.
Senegal, traditionally France-leaning, has set its own modest example accrued from its experience in managing dengue fever and Ebola six years ago. It has developed a $1 test kit, which gets the job done in 10 minutes and has joined the global race in the search for a vaccine.
And though COVID-organics from Madagascar may sound like the herbal version of Trump’s disinfectant, it’s a measure of the desperate times that Nigeria, Tanzania, Guinea-Bissau and even Liberia have ordered supplies. Nigeria’s President could not even wait for Trump’s ventilators before lining up!
It’s a tragic irony that Liberia joined the train to Antananarivo for a suspicious herbal remedy, even though its historical ties with the US should have made Washington its first port of call. Those days are gone.
Those who are not looking to Cuba or Madagascar are going East, inviting Chinese help in spite of the recent upsurge in racism against Africans in that country.
Sure, China is not exactly a sterling example in managing Coronavirus. It has more to account for than it is willing to admit. But Trump’s incompetence has managed to make President Xi Jinping look like a messiah. That is what the Chinese Coronavirus response team around the world has been called: messiah.
The void created by US absence, compounded by Trump’s personal hubris, has left others with no choice but to take their fate in their own hands – the very opposite of the lesson history teaches about how the world overcame some of its greatest trials in the past.
Some may argue that the response from many parts of the world, especially the unsparing criticisms of what appears to be Trump’s congenital flaws, have been unfairly exploited by his opponents in an election year.
Conspiracy theories on both sides have had a field day and Trump may have been hard done by a section of the liberal press. In the end, however, he only is responsible for his own fate.
If instead of using his own experts he chooses to rely on anecdotes and instead of following the facts he decides to invent his own reality, how can even his allies defend or save him, much less his enemies?
Even in Nigeria where Trump had a sizeable following among evangelicals who believed Barack Obama was the anti-Christ (mainly because of his stance on gay rights), the US President’s mismanagement of COVID-19 has left his reputation in shreds. And Nigeria’s President whose encounter with him in Washington Trump once described in morbid terms, must be wondering who really needs a life now.
This could be the moment when the continent rediscovers itself and redeems its shambolic healthcare system. The voices calling for China to pay reparation for its malicious negligence are as resonant and determined as those asking the continent to look beyond the US to protect and save itself and its citizens. That is good.
Fewer and fewer people are concerned about what the US does with itself in November – whether it would be Blue or Red, Joe Biden or Donald Trump again. Trump is not a laughing matter anymore.
We’re past caring.
. Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview.