The US presidential election is barely a month away (Tuesday November 3) and as usual, the anticipation of who the masses elect as their leader has become the single biggest news item across the globe. With just weeks to go and with results of numerous election polls flooding in, the actions, inactions and every little utterance of the incumbent President Trump, continues to be blown up into one huge media spectacle.
What’s more, seeing as the US has the biggest media outreach in the world, other issues hinging on the election such as immigration rights, LGBTQ issues, racism, gun violence and various other (primarily American) issues are so constantly brought up by top media outlets that they have in fact become global issues as well. Talks of the upcoming elections take place in corners of the world you wouldn’t believe, and with a degree of passion that suggests that the fate of humankind is directly entwined with the name and policies of the next American president.
In Nigeria for instance, election debates often rage on social media (particularly twitter) between Nigerian “Trumpists” and liberals. On a personal note though, regardless of where these talks come up, before I dive in with my own views I question myself as to why I should care. I mean, my country has a ton of its own issues, I’m not American and so I am not even qualified to vote when it comes to it. So, why really do I, and other non-americans like me, care enough to encourage Americans to exercise their voting rights come November?
The first time I became aware that the US presidential elections even occurred, I was about nine years old. I watched my late elder brother follow the Bush and Al Gore elections so seriously that today, I still remember his conversations with my dad on how the elections may have been rigged. By the time I was in secondary school, I, like most black people, became a huge fan of President Obama. Together with my close friends, I followed his election so closely that we spent long hours swapping stories from CNN, and placing our bets on who would win.
Now back then, my infatuation with the US election wasn’t about policies, because they were a bit complex for teenagers to fully grasp. It was simply about who we liked, and how well the candidates spoke. By the end of that administration though, I was an adult and had witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of the American arms ban on Nigeria; a ban that made it difficult for us to nip the activities of the Boko Haram terrorist sect in the bud. The same American administration of 2015 also made its support for the then opposition presidential candidate crystal clear. That candidate won, and from then until now, to put it mildly, living standards have taken a nosedive for the average Nigerian.
Having connected the dots between US presidential elections and the ripple effects of policies arising from same in Nigeria, in 2016 I followed the Trump/Clinton election with resigned curiosity. Well, barely a year after Trump’s election as President, he had spearheaded a travel ban. By 2020, that ban had been expanded to include Nigeria. In fact, the Trump administration is currently still making moves to enact a study visa ban on poorer countries including mine. And oh yes, while at it, he declared African nations to be “shithole” countries. Talk about ripple effects!
Beyond these kinds of policies that affect mostly poorer and developing countries are other problems that affect us all, an example of which is the global issue that is climate change. Again, while it is an ideological issue for deniers in the US, and the issue of debates for politicians on CNN and Fox, the reality of climate change is glaring for some other parts of the world. Research has shown that climate change will disproportionately affect the developing world and in the last four years, we have seen the impact an election can have on the struggle for better environmental policies.
Many times the choice of a Presidential candidate is relatively clear-cut for US voters themselves; and if all else fails, you can always pitch your tent along party lines. Sure, there are valid ideological issues, party alliances, concerns for racism, abortion and gender rights but while these challenges are critical to Americans, to a lot of people outside the US, whenever American elections roll around, the dice that decide the fate of their countries are cast. Put differently, we can’t help but care because no matter the candidate elected by the US citizens, their party or ideology, chances are that whoever is voted in is responsible for making decisions that will end up screwing the lives of those of us outside of the US.
For instance, who gets elected as president often determines which countries will be bombed to ruins or which country receives aid in times of starvation or crisis. When you recall, for one, that Obama was more than happy to cuddle up to Kenya’s corrupt regime, you might understand me better when I say that the results of the election polls come November will determine whether countries like Libya remain viable countries or further break down into places of lawlessness. When you know that your country is at the mercy of the decision of people far away from you, there is the feeling of helplessness (stemming from being unable to vote to change this) as well as the frustration of seeing Americans vote for the wrong reasons or not at all.
Another reason why the rest of us care as deeply as we do about US elections hinges on the concept of democracy. For as long as I can remember, the US has always been a beacon of democracy and having been born into a military regime, I do not say this lightly. While the American election might be a spectacle, a reality TV show of immense proportion, it is an inspiring event to many around the world simply because Americans can vote to air their preferences in a demonstration of democracy and with the undeniable knowledge that their political views matter.
And so even if I am not American and technically shouldn’t care, my interest in the US elections is born out of worry and concern for what may be when the American people make their choice. We outsiders, show up on our social media platforms, engage with as many friends as possible and discuss the upcoming elections because we have no choice. We will be affected by the outcome one way or the other. We can’t really shrug things off with a lackadaisical ‘not my concern’ especially as most of our nations are still struggling to make their way towards a lasting democracy.
If you are an American reading this, please understand that to non-Americans like myself, the next few weeks will be pivotal in deciding whether the US will once again be a foe to our countries or an ally. It is not my intent to belittle whatever peculiar challenges you might suffer as an American if the wrong man gets elected and our interests shouldn’t take precedence over yours. What I’m trying to tell you though is to show up and vote not just for your sake, but for the rest of us who aren’t qualified to but who will still suffer for any poor voting choices you make (or did not make). If you haven’t already started, begin now to educate yourself on policies you want changed, whatever they may be.
Then on election day, when you show up to cast your votes, please remember that once it’s done it cannot be undone for the next four years. You have the power to decide on the quality of life you want not just for yourself – but for others.
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Cover image by Kirkchai Benjarusameeros.