- Kumi Naidooglobal ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity, and a lifelong South African human rights and climate justice activist. He is the former secretary general of Amnesty International and also former head of Greenpeace.
We continue to look at the world’s response to the U.S. election with South African activist Kumi Naidoo, a global ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity, former secretary general of Amnesty International and former head of Greenpeace. Naidoo says President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden is good news, but notes that the world lost four crucial years to tackle the climate crisis and other issues because of the Trump administration. “This is a relief, but it is not something for us to — at this stage, anyway — celebrate with any great enthusiasm,” he says.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. This is The Quarantine Report.
As we continue to look at the world’s response to the U.S. election and President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden, we continue in the Global South. We go to Africa. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Foundation called the defeat of Trump a “relief,” saying, quote, “Now begins the daunting task for the US of undoing the Trump administration’s deepening of racism, xenophobia, Afrophobia,” unquote.
President Trump never visited a single country on the African continent during his time in office. He infamously praised the healthcare system of “Nambia” — mispronouncing Namibia — during a speech at the United Nations.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Uganda has made incredible strides in the battle against HIV/AIDS. In Guinea and Nigeria, you fought a horrifying Ebola outbreak. Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump also sparked outrage when he referred to Haiti and African nations as “s—hole countries” — but he used the full word.
President-elect Biden has said he will halt the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization and rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. Africa is likely to be the continent hit hardest by the climate crisis.
For more, we go to Durban, South Africa, to speak with Kumi Naidoo, the global ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity, a lifelong South African human rights and climate justice activist, former secretary general of Amnesty International and also former head of Greenpeace.
Kumi, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about South Africa and your own response to the defeat of Donald Trump, whether he accepts it or not, and what he has meant for the continent?
KUMI NAIDOO: The sentiment expressed with the Nelson Mandela Foundation will be shared by the overwhelming majority of citizens across the African continent. I would say that while many on the continent are relieved that President-elect Joe Biden has won, we are concerned that still so many American citizens chose to vote for somebody who’s clearly racist, sexist, xenophobe, Islamophobe and so on. But I think, as others have said, it’s a relief.
And now we find ourselves in a really unique situation, because I think our brothers and sisters in America are finding out that it’s much easier for them to change presidents in other countries than to change the president in their own country.
But this moment is one where we also have to recognize how much of time we have lost in the last four years as a result on climate, on inequality, on poverty alleviation and so on, as a result of the Trump administration. So, this is a relief, but it is not something for us to — at this stage, anyway — celebrate with any great enthusiasm.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Kumi, as you mentioned, Trump has not only refused to concede defeat, he has also, in the last week, instituted a massive reshuffle in parts of the security establishment, most notably firing the secretary of defense, Mark Esper. The New York Times has reported that some administration officials have said that the CIA Director Gina Haspel might be the next to go. And there have been remarks, in all kinds of quarters, about the fact that if this were happening in any other country in the world, there would be outrage, and people would say that it is Trump attempting a coup d’état. Could you respond to that?
KUMI NAIDOO: Well, firstly, it’s clear that Trump is attempting a coup d’état. He’s trying to do it through courts and malicious lies and deceit. And it’s shocking that the Republican Party establishment is standing by.
But let’s be very clear that this doesn’t come as a shock to us, because the United States administration, against the wishes of their own people, often have a foreign policy and approach to these things as “Do as we tell you to do; do not do as we do,” because — I mean, let me give you another example. Imagine a country in Africa, like in Georgia — let’s go back to the governor’s race, where the candidate for governor is also the person responsible for running the elections, as you have in many states in the U.S. where these are political party appointments. That would be completely unacceptable, right? That needs to change in the United States.
Secondly, the fact that you have an electoral system that will have 7 million more people voting for one candidate than the other, but technically that the minority candidate wins. So, essentially, the way I look at it, coming from South Africa, you almost have the potential, very easily, for minority rule in the U.S. And I think the Electoral College, for example, is not understood not only by people around the world, it’s not really understood by the United dates. What was a device put in place centuries ago clearly is inappropriate. And those are the kinds of changes — the absolute hypocrisy that we are seeing. And yeah, we have to be fair. We have to be fair that some of these inconsistencies were not [inaudible] Republican administrations. These inconsistencies, we’ve seen by both Republican and Democratic establishment administrations over a long time.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Kumi, can we talk now a little about what Africa’s response — how Africa — many countries in Africa have responded much better than the rest of the world, and certainly than the U.S., to the pandemic, and the fact that Trump, of course, has not — the U.S. has not yet joined COVAX, the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, which would work towards making the vaccine accessible to countries all across the world? Biden has, of course, said he will join the World Health Organization, not pull out. So, could you talk about that? First of all, what is the situation of the coronavirus in South Africa, but also more broadly, and how well the countries in Africa have dealt with the pandemic? And then the question of vaccine access.
KUMI NAIDOO: Thank you, Nermeen. If I might be permitted a comment on coronavirus in the United States and how it’s been handled, I think, first, we should say, as Africans, we are horrified at the lack of respect for human life, the fact that the biggest superspreader of this virus has been the president of the United States by irresponsibly holding rallies that violated the CDC guidelines left, right and center. And given the resources that the United States has, it should have been doing significantly better, with appropriate political leadership, than we have been doing in Africa.
So, let me tell you, yesterday in South Africa, President Ramaphosa went on television to warn our country and our people that we are still in serious times, the pandemic is still serious, we need to address it, and so on. And guess what our situation is in South Africa. We have a daily infection rate of 2,000 people per day, and we have a death rate of less than 50 a day, and declining. The hospitalizations and death rates are declining. But yet, our president goes on television and says we need to be vigilant, we need to wear masks, we need to social distance, we need to continue to treat this as a real threat.
I think if ever people wanted to get a sense about who President Trump — what he really cares about, it’s all really about himself. How the American people cannot see it sometimes is shocking to us, because, clearly, the way he has treated the coronavirus is close to criminal. In fact, I would argue, if I was a citizen of the United States, I would be pushing for President Trump to have been impeached as a result of the response to the coronavirus. It’s close to a crime against humanity.
But when we look at it in Africa, let me just say, we are anxious — right? — because we are dependent, in many parts of the continent, on tourism, on trade, and so on, for people’s livelihoods. And so long as the U.S. and Europe doesn’t get its act together and doesn’t get this pandemic under control, it means that normal economic activity will never be able to take place — for example, tourism and so on, which has huge impacts on many African economies. So, we are concerned.
Let me just say one thing, though. It’s very interesting, to pick up on your report here where you say Bolsonaro in Brazil, second-worst country after the United States. U.K. — Boris Johnson, another close buddy of Donald Trump — is the worst country in Europe per capita. Modi is doing terribly in India, and so on. And it’s very interesting to see a lot of these leaders who are authoritarian, fascist-like, and so on, are the ones that are showing that they will respond with the least care of their own citizens.
And I think it is important for us to note that women are suffering disproportionately as a result of this virus, because of the nature of the work, nurses and so on, but it’s also important to note that the countries that have done best in responding to the coronavirus, most of them are all led by women. And I think there is a lesson in that about how important it is for us to have much more equity in terms of gender in our leadership in all levels, in all countries, in all institutions.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Kumi — and, of course, we’re going to come back to you on issues of the Green New Deal, on issues of Biden saying he will immediately rejoin the U.N. climate summit, but I just want to ask: Why does who is president of the United States matter so much to the rest of the world?
KUMI NAIDOO: Well, if I might say that Julius Nyerere, the Tanzanian president that led us to liberation in Tanzania, once said, when we look at the United States, it’s weird to look at this country, because we have, seemingly, two parties, which generally advance the interests of big business and big capital. And he actually went on to say, “The United States is a one-party state, but with typical American extravagance, they have two of them.”
Now, in the current moment, we have been watching carefully — right? — because it’s easy for us to be triumphalistic and euphoric about President-elect Joe Biden because the incumbent is such a disastrous reality, but we will be vigilant, from our perspective, in recognizing that hopefully President Biden is in power by 20th of January — we would give fair notice that we will not — we will not be making an assumption that everything is going to get better. We expect things will improve, but it cannot but improve from the low bar that Donald Trump set.
It’s not a question of now whether things just improve. The United States has an obligation to the world to ensure that the four years we’ve lost under Trump, and many, many more years that we lost on climate action by previous administrations — there is catch-up to do. And we expect the next president of the United States to recognize that the United States has let the world down, has dragged their feet and has put the entire world, including the United States, at risk from climate, and therefore we would expect from this new administration not simply an improvement and not simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while humanity sinks, but serious structural and systemic change that addresses the challenge of climate change.
AMY GOODMAN: Kumi Naidoo, we want to thank you for being with us, global ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity, lifelong South African human rights activist and climate justice activist.
When we come back, we go to Istanbul, Turkey, and then to the U.K., for response to this historic U.S. election. Stay with us.