Global Politics

As America's presidential race rages, Africans look on and wonder

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Kenya protest

A survivor of the August 1998 US embassy bombing holds a placard as he protests outside the memorial park ahead of a scheduled state visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, in Kenya's capital Nairobi July 24, 2015.

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Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

While Americans slowly go to the polls in primaries and caucuses, people overseas look on, their lives greatly affected by who ultimately wins in November, but having little input on that outcome.

Between ISIS, the Syrian War and the ongoing refugee crisis, Iranian nuclear ambitions and other issues, foreign policy will certainly have some influence on the 2016 election. And Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR’s Africa Correspondent — based in Dakar, Senegal — thinks the campaign thus far has been especially tumultuous.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton visits The World's studios in Boston.

Credit:

Marco Werman

“It’s such a bad-tempered election campaign. And also Donald Trump. I mean he is just so different from your average presidential candidate,” says Quist-Arcton. “On the democratic side, you've got Sanders. And so I think Africans are saying ‘Hey, is this really an American election?’”

Quist-Arcton says Trump’s comments on Muslims have struck a chord with people across the continent. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, with an estimated 1.6 billion adherents, 23 percent of the world’s population. 

“Senegal is a majority Muslim country. And when you get somebody who is trying to become president of the United States saying that Muslims should be kept out of the country, of course that is going to make headlines all over the continent,” said Quist-Arcton. “I wouldn’t say they are particularly worried, but they are certainly curious about how this can be part of a campaign to become president."

Quist-Arcton says who the next president will be is of great importance to US-Africa relations, comparing the Obama administration's foreign policy with the continent unfavorably to President George W. Bush’s.

“George W. Bush, who traveled extensively also in Africa, [implemented] PEPFAR for example, AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Those key policies, those key initiatives, came under his watch. So you have a few people saying that Obama hasn’t done as much as Bush.”

So which candidates are popular among Africans? Quist-Arcton says former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has always been popular in Africa.

“She traveled quite a bit through Africa. She championed women's causes. And of course they know her from before because she is also Mrs. Clinton, and she was here with her husband when he traveled around Africa.”

Although Quist-Arcton says Sanders isn’t making as many headlines as Clinton or Trump, she believes “the newness he says that he will bring to politics in the US” resonates with the continent's millennials.

“You have many Africans, especially younger Africans, who are saying ‘we're fed up with the status quo. We’re fed up with sit-tight presidents. We’re fed up of the elite that rules Africa. It’s time for change,” says Quist-Arcton. "It is those sorts of people ... the younger generation, who will know who Bernie Sanders is.”

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