A letter to the USA from an African - By Joy Odera

Back to Home
A letter to the USA from an African - By Joy Odera
 Dear America,
 

I would like to thank you for the gift you dispatched on November 8th, 2016 and we received on January 20th 2017. You shouldn’t have, but you did and we kindly acknowledge receipt. How did you know that this is exactly what we needed at this point in our history to make us feel good about ourselves? We have been dancing and celebrating since that day. Our self-image, esteem, confidence or whatever you may choose to call it has never floated higher. We can now look in the mirror and smile. You could not have given us a better recompense for all the years we have been bonded to you as a subordinate partner. We pray for your health and long life.

 

You may be wondering about the gift you gave us that has Africa drumming from her cities, villages, jungles, mountains, deserts, rivers and oceans. Simply put, it was the election of Donald J. Trump as your 45th President and therefore the leader of the ‘free’ world. His meteoric rise to the highest office in the land, (a feat against many odds – I congratulate his strategists), has shattered the many myths and mystery that encased you and blinded us to your true self.

 

For long, we believed that the principles of democracy and a free society were tightly cemented in the hearts and minds of every American. We envied your ethos for individual rights, regardless of an individual’s race, religion or sexual orientation. We thought yours was the perfect egalitarian and equitable society where all can aspire to and achieve the ‘American dream’. That perfection pedestal, upon which we had placed you, is quickly crumbling. You have exposed your nakedness for the world to see. In your effort to make ‘America Great Again’, you may have replaced us as the laughing stock and pity pet of the world. How, I hear you ask?

 

A wise man once told me that the greatest damage a man could do to himself was to self-demystify, because once that ring of mystery around him is broken and his ugliness is exposed, it takes away the respect he commands. He is subjected to mockery, scorn and laughter – ‘that is why parents must never expose their nakedness to their children’, he concluded. At the time, I dismissed him and the liberal in me found his counsel quite archaic. Today, as I watch you and the blunders you have made in the last year, I am inclined to agree with that wise man.

 

America, you have demystified yourself. You have sprawled naked – exposed for the world to see. You no longer confuse or confound us. You have stripped naked and revealed all your flaws- ugly scars, wrinkles, scabies, armpit hairs, athlete’s foot, dragon’s breath and many others. We can now see that you are no better than rest of us, and in some instances, may be worse off.

 

We followed your recent emotive presidential election period with eagerness, wishing that we had a vote to influence the outcome because your choice as a superpower, ultimately affects the world order and the way we ALL live. We also enjoy watching the spectre of democracy at work – we are not oblivious to world affairs. However, what we did not expect was the viciousness, the spite, the lies, the violence and shame that crept into your campaigns. Woooooo, that was rough! Africa is used to all that because it has become the nature of our elections, remember all the Western media reports about tribal clashes, xenophobia, dictatorship, corruption, military coup d’états, poverty, disease and hunger in Africa? I never knew I would live to see the day when all this would be said, in some way, of AMERICA! You have proved that at heart we are all the same – good and bad. You have shown the world that Africa does not hold the patent for ‘ugly’.

 

As Africans, we have noticed some striking similarities in the character of the man Donald J. Trump and his rise to power to that of some of our past and present strongmen, dictators and tyrants - the ones you condemn and castigate. Remember the enigmatic Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada of Uganda or Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic – those narcissistic beings with a flare of grandiosity, the ones you called murderers and cannibals? Their flamboyance and inflated self-esteem masked insecurities that we have yet to unravel. Currently, we have the likes of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and until recently Yahya Jammeh of Gambia. These fellows market themselves as ‘walking the talk’ and anti-establishment. They promise to shake up things and rattle cages. They rise to power on a wave of overwhelming popularity through inciting fiery speeches and vitriolic attacks against perceived enemies (real or imagined). Does this ring a bell for you?

 

These leaders tend to be thin skinned and have very sensitive dispositions. They distaste criticism with a passion and any form of it must be crashed with fiercest force. They muzzle a free press and civil liberties. I hear that Donald Trump has also targeted the press and called it ‘the enemy of the people’ in an effort to silence it. I hear that he has also been threatening to prosecute political enemies using government resources and looking for moles in the White House who may be leaking information about his administration to the press and the FBI. How could you choose to put a man with such traits in custody of a nuclear arsenal big enough to wipe out the entire human race eight times over? You, my dear, may now be the most dangerous nation in the world.

 

The African leaders tend to attract cult-like mass following because they are compelling, outspoken, and impressive. They have a knack for manipulating divisiveness to suit their purpose. They adopt a very troubling strategy called ‘divide and rule’, by taking a fervent, autocratic and often radical stand on burning national issues of the time, and create a cult of staunch and viciously loyal supporters, some of whom are often willing to die or kill for ‘the cause’. In the process, they polarize their communities and their countries. In Africa, we often called this tribalism and xenophobia. In America, you call it racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, homophobia and many others.  We witnessed this rise, when Donald J. Trump took to the podium to vie for the presidency of the USA.

 

Our tyrants blame everything and everyone for anything except themselves. Idi Amin of Uganda, deported thousands of foreigners from the country blaming them for Uganda’s economic misfortunes. Mugabe of Zimbabwe has continually blamed the white settler farmers for the economic collapse of the country. In Trump’s campaign and administration, the targets for blame have been the Islamic extremists- for terrorism - but not the alt-right extremists who walk into a church and shoot down people because of the colour of their skin.  His other targets are racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and left-leaning individuals or liberals for varied motives. He blames China for your economic imbalances and seeks a face-off with China. He promises to twist China’s arm into renegotiating landmark trade deals. The man is a master of deflecting!

 

Something has been niggling me about your new leader, which our leaders in Africa do without a second thought, and that is the unclear lines between his children running the family businesses and their involvement in government! We watched as your new president bullied his way through 17 other Republican presidential hopefuls in the primaries to clinch the Republican Party’s nomination and then taunted Hillary Clinton with damaging insinuations and untruths or ‘alternative facts’, as his surrogate Kellyanne Conaway would have the world believe, to become the president of the most powerful nation on earth. His supporters have excused his spitefulness, misogyny, egotism, gaffes and other controversies. They called it tough love, assertiveness and tenacity.

 

We watched as his followers roared and cheered him on at rallies that were heavily packed by fans, cohorts and sycophants, just like those of our dictators. What surprised us most though was his strong hold on the evangelical Christians despite his ‘un-Christian’ like rhetoric towards the vulnerable people in your society. I don’t think I can trust them ever again and the lessons they teach about from the good book. Our own Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, once remarked on how Christians brought the bible to Africa and told us to close our eyes and pray, and when we eventually reopened our eyes, we were holding the bible and they were holding our land. America, our trust is eroding!

 

With the spread of daring global terrorism and successful terrorist attacks on you and your allies, it is understandable that you live in fear about the future, and therefore your support for Trump’s plan to take a strong and decisive stand against the ‘foe’, both foreign and domestic.  However, we can’t understand how you would support extreme and highly divisive proposals — like placing a wholesale ban on all Muslims entering the U.S., surveillance against mosques, establishing a database specifically for tracking and monitoring all Muslims living in the U.S., and branding Mexican and Latin American immigrants as drug dealers and rapists. Will building a 2,000-mile wall on the southern U.S. border really keep out migrants? I see certain qualities of an African strongman in your new president.

 

Other things that became clear to us during your election season were like the numbers of Americans, who like most of our population, are ignorant and uneducated about the world, politics, history, geography, and generally in the classics. I hear that many were learning about dystopia and George Orwell for the first time. Then there is this Electoral College monster, what is it? Our understanding of democracy, as we learnt from you and your friends in the West, was ‘one man one vote’ and whoever gets the most is the winner- otherwise known as simple majority. So, what is the Electoral College nonsense that rewards the loser? A flawed democracy is the way we see it.

 

America dear, I may sound gleeful about what has happened to you, but please understand it is only the delight of learning that we- the Africans are not peculiar after all. We are just like all other races of the world in our strengths and weaknesses. For a long time, we have been labelled a nuisance because of our inferred hopelessness. Because this has been hammered in hard for so long (centuries), we have come to believe it. When we looked in the mirror that is you, we mostly saw the nasty labels that you tagged us with. We were embarrassed at our difference. Psychoanalysts would probably label our collective bad feeling as low self-esteem. We have strived hard to be like you- the personification of perfection, but at times try as we may, it is never enough, so we slip back into the mode of self-harm. Even though we are very resilient people, it hurts when we are called ugly names.

 

Not to labour this point, last year’s hostile presidential campaign and election unmasked you and laid you bare. The veil of democracy that has always shrouded your ways and protected you from scrutiny came off. The mystery of a matrix of constitution, law and order that made you divine was violated. Your power, benevolence and beauty, which have been the focus of our envy and desire, have been tainted.

 

America, for long we worshipped at your altar. You became the mirror, through which we viewed and judged neighbours, friends, foes, and ourselves. You my friend was infallible. We wanted to be like you. We wanted a piece of what you had. That is why we lined up for long hours to go through humiliating visa exercises and interrogations at your embassies. That is the reason we stowed away on fishing boats and cargo ships under the most deplorable conditions to reach your shores. We sold all our most treasured belongings and inheritance so that we could get a chance to step on the soil you wrestled from the Native Americans. You my friend had done a sterling job at selling your realm as the ‘land of the free’. Your movies, your adverts (Coca cola, Pepsi, Marlborough, MacDonald’s, Kentucky, Levi’s) made you desirable as the land where ALL dreams come true. That is why many of us adopted or faked your twang.

 

We yearned for a piece of that ‘American Dream’. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Yes, we also wanted self-actualisation like your forefathers did when they left the shores of Europe some centuries ago. For the debacle of 2016, we thank you. You have freed us from our colonised vision of America and ourselves. The rise of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the USA has completely demystified you.

 

To understand why we may feel smug at what is happening to you, we must delve a little into the history of our long relationship, which has often left us feeling inferior. It has been a complicated relationship full of contradictions. You, being the superpower, have exacted on us standards, which we now know were too high for you to maintain as well. The capriciousness of our relationship has left us distrustful of American motives.

 

Our relationship goes back to 1619, when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown to aid in the production of the lucrative tobacco. Back then, you regarded us just as a source of labour, and treated us as such- with disdain. After the abolition of slavery, we were no longer a priority for you until the late 1950s and early 1960s when several African countries got independence from Europe. Coincidently, this was also at the onset of the Cold War.

 

From 1945, after you had helped Europe vanquish the evil of Nazism and fascism, we have looked up to you for leadership and protection- as a big brother. When you and your former ally in the WW11- the USSR, got a messy divorce and embarked on a decades-long cold war (1960 to 1990), we were young and did not understand much of why you were fighting over us for custody, like in the movie Kramer versus Kramer. For a while, you indulged us with Peace Corps, money, USAID, guns, scholarships and many other trinkets. We were content at the attention and the toys we received to buy our loyalty – your way of curbing the Soviet Union’s influence and containing the spread of communism in the Continent.

 

 We were happy to oblige but also play you against each other for more toys. However, as we matured into our teens, we started yearning for total independence. We began to rebel. Some us formed or joined neighbourhood gangs like the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the East African Community (EAC), others – the braver ones, went further and loudly declared that they had ran away from home and joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The others, who were more perceptive and understood the mechanisms of international relations, became more belligerent and sought to follow your archenemies – Socialism and Communism. They challenged your intentions and authority.

 

Do you remember those rascals – Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Milton Obote of Uganda? They dared to invite Russia, Cuba and Yugoslavia into their capitals. Boy, oh boy, didn’t you get mad at our newfound rebellious streak! You tried to discipline us and keep us in line with military and economic sanctions, CIA backed assassinations and military coup d’états! Do you remember Patrice Lumumba of the Congo and the rise of Joseph Desire Mobutu? During this period, a number of civil and interstate wars raged on the continent, most of which were proxy wars with your direct and indirect involvement.

 

Despite our proclaimed membership in NAM, like all addicts, we continued to seek your political, economic, and military support.

The way we see it, is that your interest in Africa was never an interest of helping us but of helping yourself to prevent the spread of communism. The paranoia brought on by McCarthyism and the Red Scare of the 1950’s had triggered a fear in you that made you go to great lengths to prevent what you perceived as the spread of communism. We don’t blame you for everything, after all we exist in a man eat man world, or as others would say ‘each man for himself and God for us all’.

 

What we are upset about is things like your participation in a brutal civil war in Angola in the 1970s and 1980s, supplying money, weapons, and support to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) while Cuba and the Soviet Union did the same for the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Another thing is South Africa. Despite the vast human rights abuses being committed through apartheid, you supported the apartheid government and saw it as a key ally in containing the spread of communism. The apartheid government consistently evoked the communist threat, asserting that the African National Congress (ANC), which was fighting for equality in South Africa, was working at the bidding of the Soviet Union. These incidences and many like them left us with a very bitter taste.

 

From the early 1990s, with the ‘death’ communism, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, America my dear, you remained the only Superpower. With no major competitor to contain, your interest in Africa waned. We no longer constituted a top strategic priority for you. A 1995 report by your Department of Defence, listed Africa at the bottom of the world’s regions in strategic terms! We were relegated to the periphery of your thoughts. This was worsened by your adventures in Somalia in 1993. Remember Black Hawk Down where 18 U.S. soldiers were killed? After that, you became very weary of any intervention in Africa, including the failure to actively take any measures to stop the Rwandan genocide less than one year later. To think of it, what exactly did you think you were doing in Somalia? We all try to leave Somalia alone!

 

Then came the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the ensuing war you declared on terror. You needed us to help you in this war, so once again you semi-abandoned your avoidance stance towards us, and swapped it for a strong, collaborating, and engaging foreign policy that you hoped would profit us both. However, we sense that beneath the new niceness, you are really trying to engage us in oil deals, as your need to become less dependent on Middle Eastern oil reserves intensifies. We believe that that is the reason you have developed close strategic connections with Angola and Nigeria in the last decade.

 

Around the rest of the world, your foreign policy operates from a position of old-established friendships and understandings of post-war alliances such as NATO, CENTO and SEATO, but in Africa, you are not bound by such positions or traditions, but by fixed agreements or ‘vested interests’. When all is said and done, Rwandan human rights activist Monique Mujawamariya best summed up our relationship when she said, “The United States has no friends, only interests”. This my dearest friend, may be the reasons why we may sound slightly thrilled at your recent misfortunes.

 

Before I end this long letter my dear friend, I want to ask you this, “Aren’t you afraid that a fiercely reactionary Trump administration will revive the political repression of the 1940s and ’50s, when dissent was treated as disloyalty, and many law-abiding Americans were punished, and many more scared into silence? Aren’t you afraid that you maybe returning to the era of McCarthyism? It is my earnest hope that Mr. Trump will not follow this lead. I also hope that his actions will not trigger a global epidemic of ill will and disdain for the U.S. or lead to a violent international incident.

 

I wish you all the best as you try to settle into your new role.

 

Yours truly,

 

An African.

 

2 comments
Level 1 (XP: 0)
4 months ago
A sumptous banquet of "food for thought" for the US!....
Level 3 (XP: 700)
This is a masterpiece. I am sure it will resonate with millions of Africans and millions more from around the world.

Recent Posts

Popular Posts

Category