Africa Reacts to Super Tuesday
March 6, 2020
As part of a new series, the CSIS Africa Program is asking prominent African journalists, civil society activists, and thought leaders to share their analysis on the U.S. presidential election process. Sub-Saharan Africa has not featured prominently in presidential campaigns, but the outcome of the election will have important ramifications for U.S. policy toward the region. By flipping the script—featuring African analysts’ views on U.S. politics rather than U.S. analysts’ opinions on African developments—we are seeking to start a new conversation about the future of U.S.-African relations.
In the second installment of our “Africa Reacts” series, we asked a new round of African experts to provide analysis on Super Tuesday. Many noted former vice president Joe Biden’s sweeping win—citing Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) sudden backing and the democratic establishment’s rejection of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Others raised the implications of securing votes from distinct ethnic groups, comparing it to elections in sub-Saharan Africa where support for candidates is sometimes based on identity politics. Finally, some analysts looked ahead to the general election, weighing the likelihood of a Democratic candidate beating President Donald Trump.
Read the first installment of Africa Reacts here.
The contributions in this commentary have been edited by the CSIS Africa Program for brevity and clarity.
Uduak Amimo, Kenyan Journalist (@UduakAmimo)
With every election cycle, the myth of American exceptionalism is eroded. Voter suppression and sexism are still very much at play, as they are in other parts of the world. With her plan for everything real and imagined, [Senator] Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) should be winning. I hope whoever secures the nomination has the good sense to pick Warren as running mate. While the Democratic Party whittles down its presidential candidate pool, there doesn't seem to be a similar energy applied to securing either the integrity of the process or the results of the November election.
Oumar Ba, Assistant Professor at Morehouse College (@OumarKBa)
Super Tuesday this year reminded me of the two-week interval between the first and second rounds of presidential elections in African countries that use the two-round system. In those countries, which tend have a plethora of presidential candidates, one needs to earn more than 50 percent of the votes to win; otherwise, a runoff is scheduled between the top two candidates. This is when all the other candidates realign themselves, usually behind the opposition leader, and they all gang up against the incumbent. Whether the endorsements translate into actual votes is another question. Mayor Pete, Amy Klobuchar, and [former representative Beto] O’Rourke joining the Biden coalition is exactly what we see in those African contexts, except in this instance, the target is not the incumbent president but Sanders, who is arguably one of their own. And should Biden win, Africa teaches us these folks will likely be invited into his administration.
Also, what’s up with American Samoa? The votes for [Michael] Bloomberg and [Representative Tulsi] Gabbard (D-HI) are what we call a “vote-sanction” in African French parlance. If you are going to deny your “nationals” the right to vote for a president, you might reconsider why they are asked to participate in the primaries.
Sheriff Bojang, Gambian Journalist (@Sheriffb)
In The Gambia, we were all Americans on Tuesday, as many of us stayed up all night tuned into television, Facebook, and other social media platforms to monitor and debate the Super Tuesday results as they trickled in. Personally, I have a soft spot for Joe Biden because as a black man and an African, I see him warming up to me. But I believe any Democratic president from the list of candidates this year can’t be worse than Trump. If I was [part of the U.S.] electorate I’d vote for a candidate who would look out for Africa and respect Africa. I trust Biden to do that.
Chiponda Chimbelu, Zambian-American Journalist (@chipondac)
Joe Biden may be the clear winner of Super Tuesday, but was it a fair fight? His current surge comes following endorsements from race dropouts Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Some voters will be asking whether Biden is really their choice or the party establishment’s. I was on the phone with my U.S.-based brother when news that Buttigieg was dropping out flashed on my phone. It’s clear that Bernie fans, like my brother, will be asking whether the Democratic establishment is conspiring to ensure Sanders isn’t their 2020 presidential candidate. The question is: is Biden the clear alternative to Trump? Definitely not—for some Bernie fans.
Mayra de Lassalette, Angolan Journalist (@mayralassalette)
For me, watching Super Tuesday was like watching a soccer game of a very competitive league where the favorite didn’t win. What happened on Tuesday with Biden brought up something I’ve wondered about since I began following American politics: the concept that according to your ethnicity or skin complexion you should vote in a certain way. It is interesting that the divide that everybody complains about is the same divide that brings them the victory. Regarding policies toward Africa, is it too soon ask the candidates what their proposals are? Aid, education, health, visa bans . . . ? I am looking forward to seeing what their policies are.
Bola Mosuro, Broadcaster, BBC (@bbcBola)
While the rest of the world talks about the African continent being replete with male, old-age pensioners as heads of state, the U.S. Democratic Party is choosing between two white-haired septuagenarians to replace a third. Joe Biden’s political clout and his stab at the White House was resurrected thanks to endorsements from previous contenders and the party machinery. Even more remarkable was the way “Sleepy Joe”—as seen in the last few debates—had life injected back into him on Super Tuesday. He was like a man reborn. Bernie Sanders’s rabble rousing had clearly been brilliant at attracting 18-30-year-olds. With pledges of ending student loans, Medicare for all, and increasing the minimum wage, he wooed the youth who voiced support and attended his rallies. Yet it didn’t translate to young votes. He received fewer votes than in 2016, and he certainly didn’t deliver a youth revolution.
The traditional Democratic Party establishment kicked into motion to keep out the maverick. It was a tour de force in uniting to keep out “an enemy”—only it wasn’t Donald Trump. Yet was it really a vote in favor of the former vice president in majority of the states, or was it more a vote against Bernie Sanders and his form of progressive, populist politics?
Moïse Mounkoro, Tam-Tam Media (@moisemounkoro)
Joe Biden confirmed that he has the black, elderly, and rural votes. And Bernie Sanders has the votes of young people and Latinos. Voting patterns for each candidate based on ethnicity reminds me of elections in Africa, where each ethnic group usually has its candidate and advocates for him in villages. Now we shall see if Joe Biden confirms in the upcoming primaries votes that he is the new frontrunner after that historic Super Tuesday for him. It is obvious that the Democratic establishment prefers Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders and that his big win yesterday is a big relief for many of them.
Michael Bloomberg—money invested for nothing or at least for a small result! By investing a lot of money in every state, Bloomberg is like some African presidential candidates. If he spent the same amount of money on ads while running a president campaign in Africa, he would win. Because the reality is that in many African elections, the candidate who has the means to show off everywhere and give some t-shirts to voters may have a higher chance of winning.
Aggrey Mutambo, Nation Media Group, Kenya (@agmutambo)
Joe Biden’s latest comeback may look like it’s all part of his strategy. But I believe he profited mostly from the endorsement of rivals Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar as well as the underwhelming performance of Michael Bloomberg. After Super Tuesday, it appears to me that Democrats will have to finally decide between a liberal politician and another who looks like a pragmatist in order to contest against Trump. My hope is it doesn’t reach the convention stage for them to do that as it could easily drain the energies needed to fight Trump (a resolute politician, by the way). The politicians haven’t focused on Africa policy so far, although this may be due to stronger domestic issues like healthcare and taxation. We expect that the issues of external policy, not just Africa but climate change cooperation and security, could become clearer as the polls go by.
Tope Templer Olaiya, The Guardian Nigeria (@TopeTempler)
African American voters and late deciders account for Joe Biden’s stunning last-minute surge on Super Tuesday. This reflects how African Americans and Africans outside U.S. shores view Barack Obama. I believe Biden will be competitive against President Trump in the African diaspora and African American communities. In Nigeria, issues like the tightening of immigration policy, the Muslim ban, and the recent visa restrictions are eating deep into Trump’s popularity.
If you are interested in contributing to future Africa Reacts commentaries on the U.S. presidential election, please email CSIS Africa Program Manager Marielle Harris (MHarris@csis.org).
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2020 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.