It was telling that Nkrumah invited Reverend Martin Luther King to attend Ghana’s independence ceremonies. Both Kennedy and his deputy Lyndon Banes Johnson responded by linking diplomatic relations with Africa to ending shackles that held down black peoples in America – even if it did not include South America and the Caribbean. They used federal troops to protect black students entering colleges in the states of Alabama and Mississippi. More importantly, they introduced legislation to give the right to vote to blacks. The Civil Rights Act benefited from Johnson’s long experience as a Senate leader and a senior politician from Texas – a major state in the racist South.
On becoming President, Johnson rolled out his dream of “The Great Society’’ to end poverty among both whites and blacks all across America – particularly his native South. His use of the presidency frightened the majority of whites. The British-Trinidadian novelist, V.S. Naipaul would affirm in his travelogue titled A Turn in the South, that neo-feudal leaders in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Missouri and Texas deliberately kept the majority of whites illiterate and impoverished as a strategy for keeping them as loyal voters. These so-called “Red Necks’’ sang their despair in their mournful ‘’Hill Billy Songs.’’ They remained loyal to political leaders who kept African-Americans down, thereby giving them some folks to feel superior to.
President Johnson’s policies frightened both this ruling class and the poor whites. While the “Red Necks’’ turned away from voting for Johnson’s Democratic Party, leaders crossed over to the Republican Party. The party gratefully harvested the venal racism expressed in popular regional disgust and fear of progress as articulated in Johnson’s “Great Society’’ vision. Congressmen like Huey Long and Wilbur Mills tirelessly amended Johnson’s federal legislation meant to inject social benefits and income for businesses to exclude African-American communities as beneficiaries, including widows, single mothers, the elderly and school children.
With the election of Barack Obama to the White House, the racist fuel in the Republican Party inside Congress was ignited on several fronts. Since 2012 States of Alabama, Florida and Texas enacted laws to deny as many as 600,000 African-Americans – in the State of Texas alone – the right to register as voters. Blacks who are generally too poor to travel outside the United States are asked to produce American passports as voter identity cards. Those who cannot afford to pay for transport to registration centres are not allowed to register through phone calls or Internet.
The explosion of white policemen gunning down black young men; raping and beating to death black women arrested and held in police stations, were clearly meant to recall old practices of lynching blacks as a way of mobilising racist prejudices and notions of keeping white communities safe. Moreover, the drawing of constituency boundaries to ensure that racist legislators have “safe seats’’ ensured that the Republican Party won comfortable majorities in federal and local legislatures despite their uncompromising opposition to public welfare bills sent to Congress by President Obama.
In economic doctrine, the Republicans were allergic to federal investment similar to a “Marshall Plan’’– that would support small and medium scale businesses by African-American communities who were trapped in poverty and low local taxes in “inner city” areas of major cities after richer middle class whites fled to suburbs. Paradoxically, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the threat of communism gaining ground among Americans, the advocates of the “Washington Consensus’’ abandoned middle class Americans who saw factories closing in their cities and relocating in China, Mexico, India and elsewhere where wages were low. Advocates of “let market forces reign’’ were indifferent to governments merely watching millions thrown into unemployment; losing their houses to mortgage companies, and becoming unable to pay for college education for their children.
The advocates of the Washington Consensus offered Africa intensifies poverty and collapses of internal industrialisation with no option of being an alternative frontier for keeping jobs in Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere.
Into this picture of despair enters Donald Trump as the “outsider’’ who had not been tarnished by the betrayal of the white middle class and the “Red Necks’’ by the leadership of the Republican Party. He has updated the old racism of the Republican Party of the Southern states by including hatred for Mexicans, Muslims and women who abort pregnancies. He offers his followers the “recolonisation of Africa’’ and the deportation of Africans, especially Nigerians, because Africans have failed to rule their countries well. In this he is avenging the panic which Nkrumah, Balewa and Obote aroused among America’s white racists in the 1960s.
Trump has not yet articulated the panic among current American officials – led by Hillary Clinton while she was the third highest ranking official in President Obama’s government – about China’s diplomacy of promoting economic development in Africa on terms acceptable to its leaders. His offer of nuclear weapons to Japan and South Korea might echo this subject.