On January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump took the oath of office to be the 45th president of America and I was glued to the screen looking forward to his inaugural speech.
I imagined that his speech would draw inspiration from the words of Kwame Nkruma, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara and in rounding up the ceremony he would deliver a profound poem inspired by Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African” speech.
So my daydream got thrown under the bus when he did not even mention Africa. But he came close enough, albeit morbidly when he proclaimed his “America First” vision which was full of vivid imageries of carnage, decay, crime, tombstones and ravages. This was a far cry from Mbeki’s scenes of Africa’s rolling hills, majestic rivers and dramatic mountains
You might be wondering what in my wildest imagination made me think President Trump would look to Africa for inspiration when he has at least 44 previous American leaders to draw inspiration from. Why would he marinade his vision for America with wisdom from Africa when he could actually just quote himself ?
Well, it is simple. President Buhari of Nigeria and President Addo of Ghana made me think this was possible. I refer to the 2016 drama of the “plagiarized” aspects of their speeches from America’s former Presidents Bush, Clinton and Obama. For a moment, I imagined that maybe there is a new USA-Africa memo to draw inspiration and vision from each other given the history that links our people. But clearly this is a one-sided fantasy.
However, the plagiary saga was a short-lived sore story for me because I read the rest of President Nana Addo’s speech and I found it inspiring and cognizant of the legacy paved by the pioneers of Ghana’s independence. And to be fair, these two leaders are not unique in the practice of trying to “copy and paste America” when envisioning the development and future of African countries.
I think the ‘plagiary’ is symbolic of us still harboring romantic ideas of the illusive American dream as a standard of our development in-spite our espoused pan-african vision . In other words, a part of us still looks to the west for charity, protection and self-definition. I remember that Julius Nyerere cautioned us that “Independence cannot be real if a nation (continent) depends upon gifts”
Therefore, I hope if we took anything from Trump’s inauguration speech and want to copy and paste, it should be the analogy or vision of “Africa First”. I don’t mean it in the trumpian style that leaves your mind restless about building walls and draining swamps. Infact, where they build walls, we should open our borders, where they close their doors, we should welcome others with a spirit of Ubuntu.
Trumps speech should be a loud wake up call to Africa. America is no longer going to baby-sit any country. Infact, to put my own positive spin on Trump’s speech, America will be taking a step back to reflect, renew, strengthen and redevelop itself and its people. We, beloved Africans should do the same. I know its not going to be easy, when we have been mentally and materially dependent for so long, but it is time the 54 of us become each others brother/sister’s keeper. Kwame Nkruma’s words still echo; “…a united Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world”.
“Africa First” should be a rallying call to get serious with looking within ourselves for a change. It is time to rebuild and strengthen our governance institutions, educate and empower our youth, promote ethical leadership, excellence and nurture peace.
Copying and pasting America has never and will never work because as the adage goes in my mother language (N-Sotho) “Dinaka tsa go rweswa ga di dule” – borrowed horns don’t stick.
It is time to put Africa First, by dismantling language and border walls and leveraging all the human and natural resources to reimagine and reinvent ourselves. “…it is time for Africa to write its own history of glory and dignity” – Patrice Lumumba
God bless Afrika!
Pearl P Mashabane