Trump’s plague of lying, deflecting populism has infected Africa
From Tanzania to Zimbabwe, African leaders emulate the US president by ignoring the plight of their own people
The overwhelming consequence of populism, a phenomenon that now dominates our political lives, is that it distracts us from the real and urgent issues that confront us. I will tell you this for free: the world is going to hell in a handbasket. And the politicians who dominate our lives today are not helping us avert the disaster we face.
How many readers of this column, or members of the general populace, know that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report last month written by 90 scientists from 40 countries saying that if humans don’t take immediate, collective action to limit global warming by 2040 then hurricanes, extreme droughts, floods, wildfires, hurricanes and famine will spike, swiftly becoming a regular part of our lives. The report says we need to reduce global carbon emissions by as much as 40% by 2030.
Just stop and think about that. Some of the best brains of our generation are warning us that our children – the people we claim to love the most – will be living in a dying world in just 12 to 20 years from now. They have no future.
Yet, in the run-up to the US midterm elections last week President Donald Trump, the “leader of the free world”, opted to beat his supporters into a frenzy of fear by deploying troops to the Mexican border apparently because the US was about to be “invaded” (his words) by about 4,000 to 7,000 desperate refugees from Honduras. The election took place on Tuesday November 6. Trump and his favourite news outlet, the right-wing, racist Fox News, have said absolutely nothing about this alleged “invasion” since then. It is the invasion that disappeared.
Of course, we know why there is no talk of invasion now. It was never there in the first place. This was populism at its worst. It was a distraction, a manipulation of people’s feelings to deflect their attention away from the real issues that matter.
Issues such as the fact that last week 13 people were killed in a mass shooting in California. Issues such as the fact that it was the 307th mass shooting in the US this year. There is basically one mass shooting in the US every day now. It is so commonplace that some go largely unreported in the national press.
You will be hard pressed to hear Trump talk about these issues. If he spoke about the very lax gun controls in the country he would lose the humungous financial support he gets from the pro-gun lobby. If he spoke about climate change and its devastating consequences he would lose oil industry support. And so he chooses distraction, he chooses populist topics such as the mirage of allegedly criminal immigrants “invading” the country. The ugly, inconvenient truth is that the US faces more danger from mass shooting from white, American-born males than from the poor masses trundling through South America to find a life in the “land of the free”.
He is not the only politician who behaves like this.
You may know that there is a horrific crisis developing on the African continent right now. An Ebola virus outbreak is worsening in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At least 300 suspected cases have been reported, with 265 confirmed. Of those, at least 151 people have already died, according to the World Health Organisation.
Where are our African leaders? If one European had died of Ebola there would be speeches and action by African leaders. Yet when 151 Africans die there is a deathly silence across the continent. There is silence while at least 400 civilians and 160 state security officers have been killed in the conflict in Cameroon. There is silence while opposition leaders and activists are harassed and arrested in Uganda.
And the list goes on and on.
The Trump phenomenon we saw with the election campaign over the past few months has gone global. Whether it is in SA or in Tanzania, where the country is harassing gay people while nothing is done about the arrests of innocent opposition activists, politicians now open their mouths to speak about that which is neither true, urgent or useful.
They deflect. They lie. They move on to whatever it is that gets people’s real concerns diverted for a while. In Zimbabwe many still hail a “new dawn”, but say nothing about the fact that the entire Robert Mugabe infrastructure remained in place after he left – that’s why an opposition leader was nearly kidnapped on Saturday. Or why teachers are protesting to be paid in foreign currency.
Beware the populists. They are not speaking for you. They speak for their own small coterie, and for their stomachs.