As the 2016 United States presidential primary elections continue, there are a lot of things on everyone’s mind: issues such as health care, terrorism, immigration reform, and taxes; as well as questions about how to support a particular candidate.
This election season has been particularly chaotic, sometimes stressful, and full of opinion, information, misinformation, and emotion.
However, despite the plurality of issues, the candidates’ focus on them has depended on their political party, personal ideas, and what they perceive as important to the voters.
One issue, however, is almost absent from the debates: Africa. My colleague George Bamu discussed some aspects of this in the piece, GOP ignores Africa on foreign policy. As the election season continues we are continuing to track what is going on vis-à-vis the African continent.
“Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. Its average GDP growth of 5.2 percent consistently outpaces that of the rest of the world,” according to the International Trade Administration.
Why are issues affecting the African continent which has long-standing and consequential military, business, trade, and investment relations with the U.S. near-absent in the discussions?
Africa on its own has barely been mentioned in the debates thus far. The only mentions by the candidates have been scant references relating to issues of terrorism in North Africa, HIV/AIDS, or Ebola in West Africa. Even on the candidates’ websites, there is little to nothing there about what a potential African policy might be.
This is disheartening, but not surprising: Africa is all but ignored by the media except to discuss crises– so the Continent’s potentials, its economic growth, social change, and innovation are unknown to the majority of Americans. It’s difficult for people to care about something when they aren’t aware exists, and the candidates aren’t going to spend time on something that people don’t care about.
The Democrats, though, have spared some thought for the African-American community in the U.S. They have discussed systemic and social issues faced by many members of the African-American community, such as poverty, racial profiling, and lack of access to quality education. Every democratic candidate at least touched on these issues during the debates and discussed ideas for solving these issues – from former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton’s support of police body cameras to Senator Bernie Sanders’s plan for free college tuition.
Both Sanders and Clinton agree that criminal justice reform and educational reform in poorer areas are key to improving the lives of African-Americans. Although these challenges are not discussed in every democratic debate, they are talked about.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Republicans have opted to ignore such racial disparities. African-Americans and the challenges they face in society are all but ignored by most of the Republican candidates.
During the first Republican debate, Fox News anchor, Megyn Kelly asked Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker a question about what he would do to decrease incidents of police brutality towards African-Americans.
Walker’s answer was a vague statement about training police officers, never acknowledging that the police in America’s force is a cause of problems and that it is often directed at black citizens.
African-Americans have been mentioned a handful of times during the Republican debates, usually just in passing. During November 25, 2015, GOP debate, Ohio Governor, John Kasich mentioned “our friends in the African-American community” while discussing America as a land of opportunity, and on November 10, Senator, Ted Cruz discussed an African-American business owner who sued the IRS.
It appears the community is mentioned mostly just to let black voters know that the Republicans know they exist and offer no acknowledgment or insight into the social issues which affect them. In fact, of the original 11 GOP candidates, only Senator Rand Paul even mentioned the challenges faced by African-Americans.
Paul stated that sending a black or Hispanic youth to jail for smoking pot but letting a rich white kid off for the same crime is hypocrisy. Sanders has also made a similar statement.
Senator Sanders took plenty of criticism after an “awkward” response to a question about “racial blind spots” during the March 5 Democratic Debate in Flint, Michigan. By saying that “a lot of white people don’t know what it means to be living in the Ghetto’s,” Sanders was hammered by the media for the statement.
But at least the Democrats have shown an aversion and concern for the issues affecting African-Americans. The GOP has not been done the same.
Another question we have to ask while looking at the primary debates and town hall meetings is what is “Africa,” in this context? Although Africans living in America and African-Americans share a similar heritage, they are distinct communities that face distinct challenges.
This presents a bit of a challenge, and to further the complexity of this issue, Africa itself is a large continent with many cultures. There is also the diaspora to consider, not just those living in America, but those who have immigrated from other parts of the world.
Thus, do we mean the continent as a whole, the individual cultures, and groups that call it home, those who have left but retain their connection to the continent in a direct way, or those whose ancestors left generations ago and now have their own history and culture separate from Africa itself?
It could be argued that, in this case, “all of the above” is the correct answer. This is partly because there is overlap in the issues these communities face, and also because of the U.S. and the non-Western world’s approach to foreign policy.