Amid vote drama, Africans keen to help US with ‘electoral reform’
Social media users from different African countries react with mix of ‘schadenfreude and horror’ at this week’s events in the US.
In the early hours of Wednesday, at the height of the nail-biting election drama unfolding in the United States, the country’s embassy in Abidjan issued a statement urging Ivory Coast’s leaders to “show commitment to democratic processes” following last month’s disputed polls in the West African country.
The irony was hard to miss. Just hours earlier, incumbent President Donald Trump had called the vote a “major fraud on the nation” and declared himself the winner – even as ballots were still being counted.
“The leaders of Cote d’Ivoire should just cross out their country, write USA instead and send this straight back,” Chika Ejikeme, a 21-year-old Nigerian student said in a Facebook post, referring to the US embassy’s statement.
The irony in this is obvious to everyone except the US Embassy. https://t.co/c5vS2EJLFI
— Ayo Sogunro – #Transformist (@ayosogunro) November 4, 2020
Throughout this US election season, Trump’s repeated but unproven accusations that his Democratic opponents were trying to “steal the election”, along with the tense, days-long wait for the race to be called, have been both a cause for concern and amusement for spectators worldwide.
With much of it playing out online, people in African countries also took to social media to share their satirical, astute and often caustic views.
Two days before Election Day, Kenyan writer, cartoonist and commentator Patrick Gathara tweeted: “#BREAKING Polls are set to open in 48 hours across the US as the authoritarian regime of Donald Trump attempts to consolidate its hold over the troubled, oil-rich, nuclear-armed, north American nation. Analysts are sceptical the election will end months of political violence.”
#BREAKING Polls are set to open in 48 hours across the US as the authoritarian regime of Donald Trump attempts to consolidate its hold over the troubled, oil-rich, nuclear-armed, north American nation. Analysts are sceptical the election will end months of political violence.
— gathara (@gathara) November 1, 2020
The post swiftly went viral – some 23,000 people retweeted it and 47,500 liked it – and was just the start of many similar tweets.
“The thread was a satirical exploration of how the terms used to describe countries, people and events in the ‘third world’ by Western media would fit if turned on their home countries,” Gathara told Al Jazeera. “It was meant to be funny but also thought provoking.”
In the leadup to the November 3 polls, The Continent, a South Africa-based publication, also published a satirical piece titled The African Union statement on the US elections.
Mirroring the numerous declarations the US government has made regarding elections across Africa, the piece said, “The AU remains concerned about the worrying political developments in the USA and has decided to intervene in the matter, to ensure there is peace and order.”
In a similar vein, South African journalist and writer Khadija Patel on Saturday took to Twitter to call on Africans to “launch an NGO pushing for electoral reform in the US”.
Ready to launch an NGO pushing for electoral reform in the US. Africans, let’s do this.
— Khadija Patel (@khadijapatel) November 7, 2020
Within minutes, people began responding by offering their “services”, including launching donor campaigns, heading up the research department and composing songs to aid the cause.
Radio show host Dan Corder asked if they will create outreach programmes in which African students will travel to the US to teach children about voting and take selfies with them for Instagram.
Will you incorporate outreach programs for African university students to go to the US to teach their children about voting practices, and to take smiling photos with them for Instagram?
— Dan Corder (@DanCorderOnAir) November 7, 2020
“While the tweet was intended with tongue wedged firmly in cheek, like many others this week, I have been thinking a lot about the democratic deficit in the US,” Khadija told Al Jazeera.
“At the same time, you have the US secretary of state issuing statements denouncing the Tanzanian election. Now let’s not pretend that the Tanzanian election was at all free or fair, but the US has lost the moral authority it previously commanded,” she said.
As election results showing Joe Biden beating Trump began to come in, a video began circulating online showing the Republican president’s spiritual adviser Paula White leading a prayer service for his victory.
“For angels have even dispatched from Africa right now,” White can be heard saying, almost in a trance.
Once more, hilarity ensued.
“Due to lengthy US visa applications and hefty fees Africa’s angels can’t attend to your request right now,” Ejikeme wrote.
For her, the entire matter is a comedy of errors: “Angels from s***hole Countries?” Ejikeme asked, citing Trump’s past comments about African nations.
“From Trump’s behaviour to the entire electoral process, we’re seeing that many African countries could teach the USA a thing or two on how to manage polls,” she told Al Jazeera.
Another surge of responses came after former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, wrote on Twitter that Trump was “going full Robert Mugabe”, referring to Zimbabwe’s late longtime ruler.
There really is no Robert Mugabe comparison here. Accept your president https://t.co/17OEjSABoO
— Tomi Oladipo (@Tomi_Oladipo) November 6, 2020
“There really is no Robert Mugabe comparison here. Accept your president,” responded journalist Tomi Oladipo, with many others joining in and saying it was about time they accepted that he is “simply being Trump”.
Signal Risk Director Ryan Cummings told Al Jazeera that Power’s tweet “reinforced two themes which are held as absolute truths by many Americans: one being American exceptionalism and the other being that the idea that autocratic governance is somehow a condition inherent to African governance.
He continued: “However, the Trump presidency and his overall demeanour during this election has shown that strongman politics is not an innately African phenomenon.”
While the discussions on social media have provided entertainment and food for thought, some said they also served a greater purpose.
“I think that Africans have been watching the US election with a mix of schadenfreude and horror,” Kenyan writer and activist Nanjala Nyabola told Al Jazeera.
“Social media has demystified a lot of the more frustrating and sinister elements of democracy and US politics for a lot of ordinary people in Africa and that’s good, because for a long time we’ve been saying that democracy is hard and getting a sense of countries with longer histories of competitive elections not understanding our troubles,” she said.
“Now I think globally people are going to see the example of the US as a reminder that democracy is work and requires vigilance from everyone who hopes to live in it.”