Africa’s populists and strongmen are some of the first to welcome a Trump presidency

Everyone’s new best friend.
Everyone’s new best friend.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

While the world continues to react to the shocking reality of a Donald Trump presidency, some African leaders have rushed to congratulate the new president-elect. Although its not unusual for global leaders to congratulate newly elected presidents, a look at the first African presidents who have congratulated Trump reveals an uncomfortable theme.

Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, became an international pariah after staging a controversial constitutional amendment last year to win a third term in office. Nkurunziza’s insistence on a third term did not soften in the face of violence and a near-total breakdown of the country’s economy.

Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the first world leader to congratulate Trump according to some accounts, is a military dictator bent on suppressing dissidents and regulating public life. Sisi came into power in 2014 on the back of a military coup against Egypt’s first democratically-elected president. Sisi’s coup involved a crackdown on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in which over 1,000 people were killed.

South Africa’s embattled president, Jacob Zuma, who is facing yet another career-threatening scandal, was also among the first to congratulate Trump. For much of his time in office, Zuma’s presidency has been bogged by corruption scandals. Last week, a public prosecutor report uncovered large-scale corruption in the government.

Tanzania’s John Magufuli, initially commended for his focus on government prudence and accountability when he was elected last year, has seen his popularity diminish due to “undemocratic actions” like banning opposition rallies.  Under Magufuli, Tanzania has stepped up policing of public opinion, particularly on social media, with criticisms of government and political dissent defined as cybercrimes under a new controversial law. In September, five Tanzanians were charged with criticizing the president on social media.

Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, while overseeing years of economic growth and prosperity for his country, is another polarizing figure. His status as one of the continent’s most forward-thinking, progressive leaders has been dented by claims of a stronghold on free press and for holding a controversial, albeit popular, referendum that would allow him to stay in power until 2034. 

Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has been in office longer than most presidents anywhere in the world. Put another way: Donald Trump is set to become the sixth president America has had since Museveni took power through a rebellion in 1986.

Only two months ago, Bongo was reelected to a second term after a disputed election which saw him win by a slim margin of 6,000 votes. With a number of irregularities observed during the elections (voter turnout was a staggering 99.9%), EU observers said the election lacked transparency. With Bongo’s rival Jean Ping disputing the result, violence broke out in the oil-rich Central African country. In response, Bongo’s government imposed an internet curfew and cracked down on the media.

Even before the elections, Zimbabwe’s longtime president Robert Mugabe had warmed up to the idea of a Trump presidency. In a July meeting with US lawmakers, Mugabe reportedly suggested Zimbabwe’s relations with America would improve under a Trump presidency.