The handmaid’s African tale: Voters think men like Donald Trump make the best leaders
By Tafi Mhaka
Margaret Thatcher must be turning in her grave after the widely reported failure of Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election of 2016 and the endless acquiescence of female voters to strongmen across the world.
When it seemed like a fresh milestone would be celebrated in November 2016, a sad, sober, reality settled in, instead – after voters rejected and abandoned Mrs Clinton, and a morally challenged former Reality TV star bagged a tough-guy role in Washington for four years ahead of a famed Yale Law School alumnus.
The stage had been set for Clinton to shine, so said many highly respectable pollsters and experts, yet a loud-mouthed billionaire stole the show at the last minute. Clinton failed to make the final cut in dramatic style, in spite of woeful allegations of vile misogyny and racism hounding her male Republican rival throughout the presidential race.
What torpedoed a sound leadership run for office by a former Secretary of State and tamed, in all honesty, a well-oiled political machine, which was buoyed by support from none other than a pairing of two-term U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?
Without muddying this gender-spiked debate in deep political dogma, here is the choice the U.S. had to make: Clinton looked like a safe bet, an old hand at the game – a smart, composed and somewhat considerate establishment-type leader, who happened to have a credibility issue.
Trump seemed utterly sexist and racist, boisterous and tough, irrational and larger-than-life – a latter-day Rough Rider who was ready to battle Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese or non-American people alike, and fight dirty for U.S. prosperity on every social, political and economic front his fertile imagination could muster.
Clinton supporters expected female voters to rally behind the former first lady, for she had the experience of working at the highest levels of politics in the U.S. senate and state department, and history appeared to be on her side.
And while Clinton did not blow her feminist horn or flaunt her female credentials much, Michelle Obama did make that groundbreaking case for her and attempt to help halt the election of a boorish Republican candidate in a stirring speech delivered at the 2016 Democratic Convention.
Trump, who attacked all forms of femininity, derided female journalists, TV anchors and analysts, and made fun of Clinton’s womanhood and physical frailties during the campaign, has evolved into Public Enemy No. 1 for feminist, anti-hate and anti-racist movements across the world.
Yet today, he still stands tall and proud, in [what his imagines is] unapologetic alpha-male mode, making fun of “shi*holes” in Latin America and Africa, because voters struggle to empower female candidates. Voters love to hear tales of lofty sounding nationalist ideals and steely fortitude coming from macho-sounding leaders like Barack Obama.
Chants of “Yes, we can” defined Obama during his presidential campaign in 2008. But even as a non-divisive Democratic candidate, Obama, probably the greatest orator of the 21st century, cast himself as a man of action in high-sounding speeches that reverberated across the world. So did Trump in 2016 [although his speeches were far from high-sounding], but in much less inspiring fashion.
Potency reigns big in politics when prosperity and security sit atop a national agenda. Men like Nicholas Sarkozy, Rodrigo Duterte and Trump tend to rise to power in such desperate times. So before you blame U.S. voters or Filipino voters for supporting hot-blooded men with extremely far-right political views and dangerous policies, ask yourself this question: who is the secretary-general of the United Nations?
Antonio Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal, began his tenure as U.N. secretary-general on January 1, 2017, after being elected in a secret ballot held by members of the U.N. security council. The U.N. general assembly officially endorsed him on October 14, 2016.
Guterres beat distinguished nominees like Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, Susana Malcorra, formerly foreign minister of Argentina, and Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian politician who is a former director-general of the U.N. agency Unesco.
The U.N. has not had a female secretary-general since its formation in 1945.
This is embarrassing, chauvinistic, and unacceptable – and sets the bar low for girls in primary school today. If the U.N., an organisation that is supposedly representative of both genders, has failed to elect a female leader in almost 73 years, does this mean the majority of female leaders are not born to lead at the very highest levels of society?
Furthermore, when the 30th ordinary session of the assembly of heads of state and government of the African Union officially opened on January 28 in Addis Ababa, there was not a single female head of state. That is how well female leaders have fared throughout Africa in the recent past, as voters – both male and female – seemingly prefer to elect male leaders.
But where are the thousands of daily, weekly and monthly protests against entrenched patriarchal biases and systems in African societies? Where are the focused, noisy and unrelenting campaigns to place women’s issues at the very centre of daily governance considerations?
I have not seen a broad coalition against the sustained domination of subjective men, much to the detriment of the female child in Africa.
So why are African women still happy to vote for men, unquestioningly, and dance to the asphyxiating drumbeat of patriarchy?