PALESA MORUDU: Nomaindia Mfeketo faces undiplomatic manoeuvres in the US
Our new ambassador to Washington will have to convince a sceptical Trump administration that SA is no China
SA’s new ambassador to the US, former Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo, lands in Washington DC next month. She arrives in a country engaged in a raucous conversation about its future. On November 3 Americans will cast their votes for the next president. Will they decide to keep Donald Trump in office, opt for a middle-of-the-road Democrat or embark on a “political revolution”?
Mfeketo’s immediate task will be to convince the US government that SA is a “developing nation” and should continue to get special trade access to the US market. The Trump administration has removed SA — along with countries such as China — from a list of those considered “developing” and “least developed”. Trump believes some countries are gaming the international trade system by pretending to be poor. Mfeketo needs to make the case that SA is not China by any measure.
She will also need to tell the US government if President Cyril Ramaphosa intends to sign into law the Copyright Amendment Bill. The US government is threatening to withdraw SA’s preferential access to its markets over concerns that this bill undermines US intellectual property rights.
In truth, Mfeketo needs to bring her A-team, and they will need to up their game considerably. After impeachment and after acquittal, Trump is on a roll, and his focus is on America First. Last week he launched his re-election campaign with a confident address on the state of the union. “Three years ago, we launched a great American comeback. Tonight I stand before you to share the incredible results. Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging, and our country is thriving and highly respected again,” he said.
He promised to “Make America Great Again”. Today, he just wants to Keep America Great. “New Stock Market RECORD. Congratulations, spend your money wisely. KEEP AMERICA GREAT,” he screamed in a tweet on Tuesday.
Trump will be riding on the back of a booming economy as he campaigns for re-election. The Washington Post recently reported on a Gallup survey that said: “Fifty-nine percent of Americans say they are better off financially today than they were a year ago, the highest since 1999 ... And nearly three-quarters predict they will do better a year from now, the most optimistic reading that Gallup’s annual ‘Mood of the Nation’ survey has ever recorded.”
Despite his generally vulgar conduct, the Republican Party is right behind Trump with the knowledge that he is the only one among them with the capacity to excite “the base” come November 3.
The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is going through a messy primary process. It is a contest between nostalgia, centrism, an American version of European social democracy (cast as “revolution”) or plutocracy. For a long time, former vice-president Joe Biden was the front-runner as the face of Barack Obama nostalgia. His campaign assumed that his experience working with the former president was enough qualification for the top job, but the front-runner tumbled into fifth position in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.
Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg is offering himself as the smart technocratic centrist — a millennial, McKinseyite Obama — and has emerged as a serious contender. A push by the US senator from the state of Vermont, Bernie Sanders, for a “political revolution” has made him the front-runner. He says the whole system is rigged against the poor and the working class.
Meanwhile, billionaire Mike Bloomberg is spending hundreds of millions of his own dollars to try to buy his way into the White House. His poll numbers have been climbing without even one vote cast for him. It is an unpredictable race that will likely end in a contested congress in July. What is certain, though, is that whoever emerges victorious will face a confident and formidable opponent in Trump.
• Morudu is a writer and director at Clarity Global Strategic Communications, based in Washington DC.