Why Donald Trump is popular in Africa

Donald Trump has never set foot in Africa. And he has seldom been polite about the continent either, allegedly dismissing Nigerians as hut-dwellers and African states as “shitholes”. Yet he is more popular in Africa than in any other region, according to a 25-nation survey by Pew, a pollster. Some 59% of Nigerians and 56% of Kenyans believe he is a positive influence on world affairs. South Africans are less keen: only 39% express confidence in Mr Trump. But that is still 12 percentage points higher than the global median (see chart).

Granted, Mr Trump is less popular than Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan. But Mr Obama was also liked in Germany, where just 10% of respondents have taken to his successor. Can Africans really be so fond of a president who thinks “Nambia” is a country?

Ipsos, another pollster, found that 38% of Kenyans could not name the American president, so perhaps ignorance plays a part. It is hard to take against someone you have not heard of.

Richard Wike of Pew suggests that perhaps Africans say they like Mr Trump because they like America. Nigerians, Kenyans and South Africans are twice as likely to hold pro-American views as the average German. American culture is certainly trendy. “Black Panther” was a huge hit in Africa. Hip-hop and American fast-food joints are also popular.

Yet perhaps there is more to it than that. “As an African, there’s just something familiar about Trump that makes me feel at home,” said Trevor Noah, a South African comedian, in 2015. He noted that Mr Trump’s boasts about his wealth, power and brains are similar to those of the late Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. Others agree that Mr Trump’s style grates less on a continent that is used to bombastic presidents. “Somali parents like to name their sons after powerful men,” says Saddam Hussein Adani, a logistician from Mogadishu. “If Trump were a Muslim, I’m sure you would have a few baby Donalds today.”

In the pubs of Mai Mahiu, a settlement in Kenya’s Rift Valley, daytime drinkers praise Mr Trump for being tough enough to stand up to China. Kenyans prefer an American-led world to one dominated by China by a ratio of two to one.

Mr Trump has also tried to sound more conciliatory of late. “Africa is so beautiful,” he gushed ahead of his wife Melania’s recent tour of the continent. Even so, many of Mai Mahiu’s boozers prefer Mr Trump’s usual blunt talk over what they see as the insincere flattery of other Western leaders. “He’s only saying what the others think,” says Willie Wekesa, a truck driver, glancing away from the American wrestling show on the television behind him. “At least he’s honest about it.”

The Economist, Oct. 21th, 2018

 
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