As soon as I landed in Tanzania, I wanted to see what people thought of things. I left pretty soon after the elections last year and really want to know what the political climate is like these days. I started with my taxi driver home from the airport, asking what was going on. He was noncommittal, and more interested in asking about the US election cycle. Fair enough. My half-hearted, jet-lagged thoughts on the nuance of the contest were quickly replaced by his full-throated support of Donald Trump. Swell. As I’ve learned in the last week from numerous Tanzanian Trump supporters, what really matters is that he speaks his mind and that he’s strong, bwana. Nevermind the xenophobia, Islamaphobia, sexism, racism and outright dishonesty for a moment. It’s strength! In a part of the world where many nations have languished under strongman politics for decades, I can’t tell if it’s surprising or par for the course.
Often, as well, there’s an unspoken disdain for a woman trying to be President. Other times, it’s quite clearly spoken. I do admit, my sample is made up pretty uniformly of men, but the taxi drivers and merchants and people in bars that I can freely talk to without raising suspicious eyebrows are generally men. Culturally appropriate behavior first, last, and almost always.
I was particularly surprised when a gentleman at a bar the other night managed to hold forth about US politics in quite articulate English for his level of intoxication. Sure, he too supported Trump, but he had seen his opening to approach in my friend’s bittersweet “Bernie 2016” t-shirt, and then proceeded to chide us for supporting Hillary, for being Democrats even, when Debbie Wasserman-Schultz would so blatantly betray the members of her party and help rig the primary. We were, suffice to say, impressed by his insight, if somewhat annoyed by the drunk interruption. A fun and unexpected encounter in retrospect, but less endearing when we were just trying to quietly drink a cold beer and catch up on each others’ lives.
This is all such a stark contrast to the views of almost all the Americans I know abroad. Of course, those people are pretty much either development professionals or volunteers, and it’s rare to find hard-line conservatives in those international communities. The ones there are tend to keep it on the low most the time. The big news lately was the debates, with groups in Dar getting together to stream them with plans ranging from “lets watch this seriously our democracy is at stake people” to “screw it, let’s play a debate drinking game!” My buddy and I opted for something of the former: lounging under fans during the heat of the day, drinking bootleg, instant-coffee cold-brew and playing with his cat while the candidates did their thing. It was underwhelming, I thought: who didn’t know Trump wasn’t as eloquent or as educated as Hillary? That’s not what his supporters are after. As I’m more “resignedly decided” than “undecided,” I don’t know what effect the debates had on swaying the middle, but I certainly hope the left gained some support. It’s good to see everyone out here getting their absentee ballots in order—in a country where elections are fraught with the threat of violence and worries about corruption, I’m glad we aren’t taking our process for granted.
Update: Ran into the guy from the bar at lunch the day after the debate and he hit me up for my thoughts. He agreed Hillary came away the winner, but thought Trump made good points about her stance on the TPP. I was still politely floored about his level of interest and understanding—what does this guy do other than hang around drinking in bars and accurately digesting US politics? I’m so curious.