One may fault the United States’ brand of democracy for many other things but not for the regularity of its presidential election that occurs every four years. This November 3rd will be the 59th presidential election. It is sometimes said that when Washington sneezes, the world catches a cold. To some extent, that cliché is true because of the USA’s enormous economic and military presence across the globe. As such, a US presidential election has consequences which go far beyond its borders. This year the expectation is even greater when one considers that the incumbent is the controversial real estate mogul, Donald Trump. Here, I will confine my comments to the effect of the election on Africa only.

It is a given that the US presidential election will have consequences on Africa. The question is how and to what extent? The answer can be as simple or as complex as one wishes it to be. To contextualize it, it is necessary to remind readers that Africa is not a single country but a continent of 54 geographically, linguistically, culturally, and economically divergent countries.  Yet it consists of various regional units such as IGARD, the Central African Community (ECCAS/CEEAC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and other types of configuration. Of course, the whole continent is united under the African Union (AU). Predictably, the US election can affect Africa at different levels. It can affect the AU, regional organizations, individual countries, non-governmental organizations or even individuals. To avoid sending you into a tailspin trying to keep track of the various effects, I will make it as manageable as possible.

Some people have argued over the years that Africans should not waste their time worrying about US elections because ideologically, the US is an imperialist capitalist country. Therefore, no good can come from such a country to formerly colonized countries. Others argue that Africans should not be concerned about US election because it is a distant foreign country where they don’t even vote, or that Africa is of no strategic importance to the US. With such arguments come varying expectations, some of which are purely subjective while others are objective.

First, contrary to what some people say, Africa is of strategic importance to the US for many reasons. Regardless of who wins the election, the US will continue to maintain its presence in Africa because of its economic as well as security interests. Though the USA is supposed to be energy sufficient, it would be fool hardy for it to abandon African oil and other valuable natural resources like coltan, diamond, gold, etc. to China, Europe, or Japan. In this regard, the cold war which died in the 1990s has been gradually but surely rearing its ugly head again. The main competitors are the US and China while Africa is the winning prize.

From the security point of view, Africa is important to the US. Recent history has shown that American interests would be in danger if America allows weak African states to become a breeding ground for terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, al Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya, al Qaeda in north Africa. More terrorist attacks also occurred in several other African countries including Tanzania, Uganda, and Mali. Such terrorist attacks killed both foreigners as well as local people, thus damaging the tourist industry from which many African countries derive some of their revenues. Therefore, it is in the interests of both Africans and the US president to work collaboratively to contain terrorism on the continent. The downside of such collaboration is that some African leaders use it as a pretext to silence dissent in their countries.

Regardless of who wins, the US will also continue to cultivate its brand of democracy in Africa. The rationale is simply that it will be easier for the USA to maintain its interests in Africa if Africa adopts its brand of governance than if they adopt that of Russia or China. To achieve this goal, the US will continue to support all kinds of programs such as the USAID, educational institutions, military quick response, etc. Again, the US often fails to call out the individual African governments or leaders even if they use US assistance to abuse their own citizens so long as they protect US interests.

US presidential elections also have some subtle effects on Africa. First, citizens in many African countries complain about their leaders overstaying in power. Such leaders use sham legislations to amend their constitutions to remove provisions such as term or age limits. The advanced ages of both President Trump (74) and Joe Biden (78) will simply be used by many African strong men to rationalize the removal of term or age limit to prolong their own longevity in power. That means that whoever wins the US election will not be able to strongly support the call for African leaders who overstay in power to step down. They will conveniently forget the fact that the US has term limit. Instead, they will focus on the absence of the upper age limit. Currently, there are 10 African leaders over 75 years old with the oldest being Paul Biya (87) of Cameroon.

Also, the US election process itself has and will have consequences in Africa. For example, the outcome of the 2016 election was found to have been influenced by Russia and this year, President Trump has been intimating that if he loses, it will be because the election would have been rigged. Besides, he has been using all kinds of measures (suppression of mail voting, threat to stack the supreme court to guarantee his election, intimidation, etc.) to disenfranchise people whom he thinks will vote against him. These activities together with President Trump’s bullying tactics will be music to the ears of African autocrats. Again, such unbecoming actions show Africans that the well touted American democracy is not what it is supposed to be. Thus, it will make it difficult for the US to promote its ideal brand of democracy. They will not even be able to effectively criticize African leaders for election rigging and violating the human rights of their citizens.

While it is true that the USA will pursue its interests no matter who wins, it is also true that who wins will be consequential in other ways. For example, some Africans, especially African evangelicals, pray for President Trump’s victory, which they will welcome because they believe that Trump is a staunch defender of Christianity. They completely disregard the fact that President Trump does not particularly revere religious values. Some autocratic African leaders will also be happy with Trump’s victory because they admire his strong man style of leadership. Besides, Trump often encourages violence against peaceful demonstrators and so is unlikely to call on them to respect human rights which they often violate with impunity.

In contrast, if Biden wins, he is predicted to restore civility, respect, and empathy not only within the US but also in how the US interacts with other countries including Africa. Besides, he is expected to push African leaders to respect human rights more than Trump has done. In this regard, some African leaders will not be as happy if Trump were to win. Likewise, the oppressive leaders will not be happy if Biden were to win.

Overall, the US election will affect Africa in different ways. Some of the effects will be positive while others will be negative.  For some, it will be the same regardless of the winner, whereas for others it will depend on whether Trump or Biden wins. Of course, the attitudes of the Africans also matter how they may be affected.