It’s all about the Benjamins

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One of America’s most celebrated social philosophers of the 20th century, John Dewey, is credited with saying that politics is "the shadow cast by business over society".

John Dewey died in 1952. That was long before the grotesque pageantry of modern politics had become as overtly and unashamedly more about big business and even less pretentious about the people.

As far back as more than half a century ago, Dewey was already aware of how businesspeople controlled the economy and how they also controlled the country's political superstructure. It was something akin to Karl Marx’s even older observation that the dominant ideas of any society have often been the ideas of the dominant class.

Dewey would have observed from history books how the people who held the purse strings in the industrialised north of the United States and those who held the purse strings in the agro-economy of the south the country went to war over what kind of slavery to pursue.

He would also have been intimately aware of how Theodore Roosevelt was propelled to the Oval Office in 1901 on the back of strong support from America's industrialists.

Also, Dewey would have been aware of the insidious influence of what some call the Gnomes of Zurich when Woodrow Wilson came from almost nowhere to become president in 1913 and then take the United States into the First World War – something that lay the foundation for a global economic hegemony.

Examples of how politics is the shadow cast by business over society abounded then and abound today.

But even then, if Dewey were alive today his eyes would probably pop right out of his head if he were to hear that candidates have spent more than US$14 billion on this year’s US general election. That total is more than US$10 billion spent in the 2008 elections.

What this simply means is that if you do not have more money than the annual national budgets of many countries, then you are not going to become the president of the United States.

And this is the most important lesson Africa must learn from the self-appointed guardians of democracy in the world: it’s all about money.

Just before this year’s general election, the Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo, had the temerity to lecture Africa and the rest of the world about what he said were acceptable standards of democracy.

The West even had the nerve to say unflattering things about the elections in Tanzania, where President John Magufuli secured a landslide victory.

What does Mr Pompeo have to say about the shambles of an election that was held in America and has unfolded before the eyes of a watching world?

As people start to learn more about how undemocratic the electoral college system in the United States is, the scales are falling off the eyes and the true nature of beast is being unveiled for the caricature of democracy it is.

The American system is premised on the extremely elitist idea that the general public is too stupid and too poor to be allowed to directly vote for a president and it needs other people to make such important decisions for them.

Africa must start appreciating America for what it is – a shameless hypocrite that places money over any other value.

That is why America’s idea of human rights is all about the rights of the wealthy and privileged so as to protect – nay, advance – the status quo.

Just a month ago, the majority of the world was talking about reforming the United Nations so that it better reflects the diversity of the global population.

Is there any wonder why the United States is not in support of democratising the UN? Should anyone be puzzled as to why the so-called leader of the free world wants to have nothing to do with UNESCO and the World Health Organisation?

The US cannot be expected to respect the UN and the international system it stands for and yet back home the interests of the rich take precedence over those of everyone else.

This arrogance is reflected in the way the United States treats the poor both at home and abroad.

The businessmen-politicians have criminalised poverty in the US to the extent that prisons are overflowing and incarceration is a multi-million dollar industry that is very quickly being privatised!

Abroad, the US has arrogated for itself the right to determine who should be the political leaders of poorer countries, how those countries should use their natural resources, and whom those countries should befriend.

It is a dangerous arrogance that Africa must start standing up to, must start asserting itself against.

The people of Africa should rest assured of something: despite the pretence at democracy exhibited this past week, despite the demonstration of how broken America’s electoral processes are, Washington is brazen enough to very quickly ignore its domestic shame and resume its habit of sticking its nose in African affairs and telling us who to vote for and how to run our countries.

Africa must learn the lesson of the US election. When it comes to Washington, it’s not about human rights, democracy, rule of law or any of those political platitudes it loves to mouth of.

It’s not about any of that. As the urban saying goes, it’s all about the Benjamins. 

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