By Azu Ishiekwene
The day after the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, won the U.S. presidential election, the response on the streets of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, was just as surprising as the news of his victory.
“I’m very happy that he won,” said a newspaper reader at a newsstand in the Nigerian capital. “In fact, I can hardly contain my joy. Now, I hope Trump will keep his promise to send foreigners, including Nigerians, home. We need them back to help rebuild our country. If they had been here, our country would not be this bad.”
This emotion contrasted sharply with those of the elite, exemplified by winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Professor Wole Soyinka, who, in an interview on the same day, repeated his vow to trash his U.S. green card on the Jan. 20 inauguration day to protest Trump’s victory.
What does a Trump presidency really mean for Africa or, more specifically, Nigeria, which has an immigrant population of nearly 400,000 (or 25 percent of the total number of African immigrants) in the U.S.?
During the campaign, both leading candidates—Hillary Clinton and Trump—hardly mentioned Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy. When Trump did at a rally in Wichita, Kansas, in January, it was for the wrong reason.
He said the tough job of making America great again would be incomplete without getting rid of Nigerians who had traveled over 9,000 miles to “steal jobs from honest, hardworking Americans.”
Trump ended the statement by saying that if Nigerian leaders had not learned anything but stealing and corruption after British colonial rule, it would be his pleasure to teach them the hard way—by shipping Nigerian immigrants back to their homeland.
His threat to ban and deport Muslims only worsened the anxiety among Nigerians, a country with a nearly 50-50 Muslim-Christian population.
Should we expect Trump to keep his words?
While there are a few people, like the newspaper reader, who don’t mind Trump putting all Nigerians on the next flight back home, there are many, especially among the elite, who believe that his rhetoric during the campaign was more than just rhetoric.
“Trump has a long history of resentment for blacks and minorities going back to the 1970s,” said Kessington Idonor, a lawyer. “That is not likely to end with his election.”
Since Trump’s election, Nigeria’s social media has been awash with comments suggesting that Nigerians should expect the worst in the days ahead. More than a few are concerned that racial backlash, harsh immigration control, and deportation could be the hallmarks of Trump’s presidency.
“We are now well and truly on our own,” one Tweet said.
In the last two decades or so, there have been different Trumps for different Nigerians. There was Trump, the moneybags and property tycoon. Nigerians read about him in high-end U.S. business magazines, especially in Forbes lists of wealthy individuals.
There was also Trump, the author. In the early 2000s, when mobile phones first arrived in the country and the rising oil price was creating a voracious middle class, Trump’s books were a hit. The Art Of The Deal and Think Like A Billionaire: Everything You Need To Know About Success were among the fastest selling in corner shops and church bookstores.
Here was a man who had not only made it big, but was also generous enough to share his secrets and show others the way.
Then, of course, there was Trump, the celebrity host of the reality TV show, The Apprentice.
“He may have come across as mean or capricious,” said Ademola Ariyo, a fan, “but I learnt a thing or two about how to make a big idea fly from watching his show.”
That was Trump, the celebrity happy to open the competitive door of the corporate world to hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs.
But Trump, the candidate, was a nightmare; he was the poster boy of “the ugly face of the U.S.” as Bolaji Akinyemi, a former minister of foreign affairs and professor of political science described him the day after the election.
If it were up to Nigerians, Hillary would have been spared the misery of winning the popular vote and losing at the Electoral College—America’s uniquely paradoxical gift to electoral politics.
We would have been very pleased to pay back Hillary with a clear win for the warm and robust relationship that her husband had with Abuja during his presidency and beyond.
Under President Bill Clinton, the U.S. was the biggest importer of Nigeria’s oil, the country’s main foreign exchange earner. Even though Nigeria did not take full advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, it was the biggest chance in decades for African commodities to enter the U.S. market at a time of relatively high trade barriers in Europe.
And long before dodgy Chinese money started pouring in, American values and generosity helped to save Nigeria from decades of military dictatorship.
Of course, under President Barack Obama, global priorities and challenges had changed from those of the Clinton era, with terrorism and the rise of China becoming major issues. Yet, in the last two decades, no U.S. leader—not even Obama, the first black president—has won Nigeria’s heart like the Clintons.
“Nigeria has just lost a massive influence in the White House in the person of Hillary Clinton,” a Nigerian friend based in the U.K. said in an email to me. “I don’t see Trump being the least interested in Nigeria.”
The U.S. president-elect is not pretending about that, and we might as well accept that the matter is out of our hands. Trump made it clear in his acceptance speech that it would be America first and—well, better get used to it—America last. That was what carried him over.
Whichever Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20, one thing is sure: It’s not going to be the United States of America that we all used to know.
Azu Ishiekwene is the managing director/editor-in-chief of the Abuja-based The Interview magazine and member of the editorial board of World Policy Journal.