‘Trump’s Presidency Might Be a Boon for Africa’: Views From Nigeria

A Muslim woman in Lagos, Nigeria, on November 10 reads a newspaper with the headline "Trump shocks the world.” (Sunday Alamba / AP)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Last month, a reader in Nigeria named Shayera Dark sent us a long note criticizing the culture of political correctness in the U.S. Her smart polemic didn’t have a place in Notes at the time, but after we began this reader series on global reactions to Trump’s victory, I thought of Shayera, so I asked her what she thinks of the U.S. election. Her response isn’t easily categorized:

As a woman, Hillary’s loss was a great disappointment. She came prepared but lost to an egomaniac. I believe Trump’s win only reinforces toxic masculinity and meanness. You can be a straight shooter without being odious.

The day after the election, I did a vox pop [an interview with members of the public] in a cafe in Lagos. Most people were surprised and disappointed that Trump won, but they didn’t think his presidency would affect Nigeria substantially. They had a let’s-wait-and-see view.

Personally, I think Trump’s presidency might be a boon for Africa. Say he decides to cut aid to the continent: That could be the beginning of the end of Nigeria’s perpetual debt cycle, and then perhaps true representation via taxation will finally take root. Nigerian leaders would be forced to listen to electorates instead of foreign donors.

Also, if he refuses to honour trade agreements, trade restrictions across the continent may loosen, and with free movement of goods and people comes the opportunity for African countries to grow their economies.

What else could a Trump presidency mean for Nigeria? He didn’t discuss Nigeria or sub-Saharan Africa on the campaign trail, so there’s not much to go on. Some Nigerians are worried he might pull support to fight Boko Haram. A secessionist group hoping to restore Biafra—a region of southeast Nigeria that existed as an independent republic between 1967 and 1970—cheered Trump’s victory. Nigeria has the largest Muslim population in sub-Saharan Africa—about 40 percent of Nigerians follow Islam—so they could be impacted by the Muslim ban that Trump campaigned on (but whose top advisors have dialed back following the election).

If you live in Nigeria, or sub-Saharan Africa more generally, and you’d like to share your take on the U.S. election, please send us a note. In the meantime, here’s that pre-election note from Shayera critiquing PC culture—a common sentiment of Trump voters in this popular Notes thread:

I’ll start this piece with a confession: I am Nigerian, not American, and I’ve never stepped foot in America. But I do follow American politics and culture enough to know a consummate salesman/former reality show host and a lawyer/former first lady/senator/secretary of state are both running for president. I’ve heard and read enough of Donald Trump’s empty speeches and sexist utterances to know he will feel right at home in Nigeria’s political sphere, where a senator allegedly threatened a female colleague with rape and the president’s speechwriter cribbed President Obama’s 2008 victory speech to launch President Buhari’s #ChangeBeginsWithMe campaign. So much for change.

As an observer of American culture, I’m intrigued by America’s obsession with political correctness and it’s knack for taking offense in everything and anything.

The word “fat” is a slight, and has now been replaced by the vague phrase “plus size.” But plus to what size? By that definition, “size” is the norm, and women (and I say women, because I’ve never heard men being called plus size) who fall outside this “size” range are the exception. The average American woman is a size 16, and it’s confusing that fashion labels and designers continue to use “plus size” to describe what is the rule. If anything, those models on their catwalks should be called “minus size.” (If minus size sounds ridiculous to you, so should plus size.)

In Nigeria, though, fat is just another neutral adjective used in the same manner as short, tall, slim, or dark. In contrast with American culture, women with large hips and thick thighs are celebrated and regarded as the norm. Which is why hip-less women like me—women who are slimmer than the national average—get teased. I’ve been called skinny (lepka, in local parlance) and I’ve had people, mostly women, tell me to put on weight because men prefer women with curves, as if satisfying the male gaze is a legitimate goal I should strive for.

Still, while I’d prefer not to hear such remarks, I know not to raise hell over it, because in the grand scheme of things it’s not worth my time or energy. It doesn’t have an impact on my life, unlike the menace of traditional gender roles.

Speaking of gender roles, the outcry by non-binary people in America who want to be referred to as “ze,” “sie,” “hir,” “co,” or “they” seems misplaced. Surely, we all want to be free from the constraints of gender and be recognised as human beings with individuals with distinct tastes and preferences, but using confusing pronouns or identifiers doesn’t solve the bias. (Imagine the confusion it would cause if, in the aftermath of a terror attack, law enforcement officers use “zie” or “co” to describe the suspect-at-large.) Traditional pronouns exist because human physiognomy is either female or a male. As such, shirking them is unlikely to bring relief, since their implicit meanings and the baggage they bare will still be applied to non-binary people based on how they look.

Another curious word making the rounds in American culture is cultural appropriation. I remember my bemusement at the story about the black women who had confronted a white man over his dreadlocks, accusing him of appropriating black culture. Now, if a white person choose to twist and leave their hair uncombed for years, I don’t see that as a problem, especially since black women have no qualms attaching Peruvian, Indian, and Brazilian hair to their heads.

And if black fashion designers, like British-Ghanaian Ozwald Boateng, can make money off Western-styled clothing, why can’t Marc Jacobs’ white models rock dreadlocks on the catwalk? Granted, white America continues to view blacks with dreadlocks as untidy, weed-smokers, and unprofessional, but decrying whites who want to rock the style is as ineffective in the fight against prejudice as trigger warnings. Most of us wear jeans, but when was the last time any construction worker or person with the same complexion as Levi Straus and Jacob W. Davis cry cultural appropriation?

Like bed bugs, trigger warnings and microaggressions have infested colleges all across America. With professors now duty-bound to warn thin-skinned students about offensive texts before proceeding with their lectures, one has to wonder if this is a conspiracy to create a generation of Trumps, who would protest every slight, both real and perceived, and demand their fragile egos be stroked and coddled at all times.

To my mind, microaggression is the PC term for intolerance. It is a word that lily-livered students have used to bar people with contrary views from speaking on campuses or silence differing opinions in lecture theatres. It is also another meaningless word minimizing the pain and horrors of prejudice because there’s nothing “micro” about prejudice. If something is racist or sexist, whether it’s covert or apparent, call it by its name.

Choosing to see injustice in everything is a mark of low self-esteem and victimhood. Power is choosing not to react in the way the offender intended. It means learning to differentiate between thoughtless jibes and nefarious actions and policies, and knowing where to invest one’s energies. Because senseless indignation is just that: senseless.

Update from another Nigerian reader, Abimbola, who is worried about our safety, not safe spaces:

I currently live in Lagos, Nigeria, and I believe in American democracy because I consider it to be sweet and fair. The Obama administration has been successful in upholding the core values of the States: freedom and unification of all peoples. However, the results of the recent polls have left me traumatized because of all the prejudice and bullying going on (before and after the polls). The ugly meme of bullying was instrumental to the success of the GOP. I fear that bullying and violence will continue to be employed more than ever as a means to a destructive end.

Another reader, Ebuka:

I am proudly Nigerian, not American, and I have personally loved the Clintons since Bill’s Presidency in my childhood. I supported and rooted for Hillary instead of Donald Trump, who I felt was not prepared to lead. The Donald lost all three debates, which I stayed awake to watch, but he managed to nip the electoral college due to the very divisive political rhetoric he championed focused on protectionism and anti-globalisation, thus awakening the angry nature of the majority of the electorate in decisive states.

I have great respect and admiration for President Obama and see him as the most popular icon of the 21st Century and a role model for African leaders, the black race, and the world at large. (I am biased in my assessment of him, as I was one of the beneficiaries of his flagship Young African Leaders Initiative, now the Mandela Washington Fellowship.) He has had a scandal free and largely successful Presidency and I wish him, Michelle, and the kids a beautiful life.

The Obama Presidency definitely affected Africa and Nigeria in very specific ways. (America always affects us.) First, the U.S. purchase of Nigerian crude has become negligible in the last few years, and this has impacted every Nigerian (wealthy, middle and low income) through the adverse effect on our exchange rates to the dollar and the unavailability of the greenback for various transactions which feed our import dependent lifestyle. Obama killed oil prices and Trump may bury it further with increased production (shale) and the increased focus on coal as an alternative.

In the area of defence and security, Nigeria citizens continue to suffer somewhat from the effects of the refusal to sell or authorise the purchase of American arms in the fight against Boko Haram. Trump’s policy in this respect remains largely unknown.

In the run up to the 2015 Nigerian Presidential elections, there was also a tacit feeling amongst Nigerians that the Obama administration supported Nigeria’s incumbent President and eventual winner of that election, even though no direct proof of this exists. Nigerians, however, continue to bear the brunt of an inept government which has failed to provide economic leadership and seems bent on settling old political scores. The killing of Shitte Muslims and pro-Biafra protestors in their hundreds is unprecedented and is beginning to attract condemnation from the U.S. Mission and questions from the ICC which is a departure from the past.

Although the trajectory of a Trump Presidency on Nigeria remains largely unknown and is dependent on his choice of Secretary of State, the United States continues to wield considerable influence on Nigeria and must be seen as a force for good for millions of Nigerians in need of a voice against hunger and repression.

One more reader:

I’m Nigerian, a medical student of the University of Ibadan, and in a weird way the American election has always being more fascinating to me and my group of friends than our local election (maybe I live in a bubble but who knows). Election night we stayed up to see the results, fell asleep, and woke up to a Trump win.

But now, I realise I just don’t care because it doesn’t directly affect me. I don’t think America is the best run country—I’m most likely to choose to live in Europe than to live in the USA—but I did hold the USA up as a paragon of democracy, so I never expected Trump to even win, because his rhetoric is completely undemocratic.

The Trump presidency is likely to worsen the African political landscape by legitimizing autocratic regimes. With the caveat being we don’t know how the Trump presidency will turn out, it could also give certain corrupt practices free rein, based on the way Trump’s family and business interests are linked with his presidency. (Note: I always thought tax declarations and creating a blind trust to run your finances were a requirement.) Nigerians look to the USA for an idea of what is politically acceptable, and well, if Trump, does something wrong ...