Putin ‘owns’ Trump: Africa, learn from a master at work

Thursday January 12 2017

US President-elect Donald Trump (left) and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. PHOTOS | DON EMMERT AND NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA | AFP

US President-elect Donald Trump (left) and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. PHOTOS | DON EMMERT AND NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA | AFP Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump

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We were curious young people and energetic fresh-legged journalists about this time 30 years ago.

Those were the Cold War days, and radical young people on one side were wearing Che Guevara berets, reading Karl Marx’s books and chanting “down with imperialism”.

And on the opposite side, the “capitalist” youth were in discussion groups with names like “The Free Thinkers” and reading Milton Friedman’s books.

But the Ronald Reagan years had turned the tide, and there was a creeping sense that the West was winning the Cold War.

In December 1986, Latvian youths had assembled in Riga’s Cathedral Square and marched down Lenin Avenue shouting “Soviet Russia out! Free Latvia!” The protests continued for days and later, in January 1987, the reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in another sign that communism was about to end, proposed a new policy of “Demokratizatsiya”.

Anyway, the Berlin Wall was to fall two years later, and by 1991 the Soviet empire was dead. The US and its western allies were triumphant, and quite a bit of chest thumping went on.

Fast-forward to 30 years later, and it is almost impossible to imagine that with its shambolic economy and all, Russia — a ramp of the USSR — is calling so many shots in global geopolitics.

I would never want to live in a country ruled by Russian president Vladimir Putin, but from a mid-level intelligence operative when the Soviet Union collapsed, he has exacted a masterly and peculiarly sweet revenge upon, especially, the US, for the humiliation of his country in the First Cold War.


The American intelligence community and its political elite (particularly the Democrats) are furious at Putin’s alleged role in the hacking of the Democratic Party servers and Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails.

The leaks of the emails, many seem to think, cost Clinton the election and favoured the obnoxious president-elect Donald Trump.

Trump is a tribalist, and he is doing all the “African things” the west used to criticise our dictators and corrupt rulers over, like filling government jobs with family members.

He has fired Barack Obama’s ambassadors in ways that we would recognise.

He has refused to cut off all links to his businesses, and will probably use his office to enrich himself.

He’s unscientific, hates women and fights critics who needle him on social media in ways that even a thin-skinned leader like Tanzania’s President John Magufuli doesn’t do.

Trump has been unusually reluctant to criticise the Russians over the hacking, and has at various points sided with Putin against America’s “mighty” intelligence services.

I cannot remember a time when an African leader did something like that. It is as if President Uhuru Kenyatta sided with Al-Shabaab against the Kenya Defence Forces.

Which brings us to the unthinkable: What if Trump knew what the Russians were doing, and even gave a nod to it in order to win the election?


Or in fact he didn’t, but Putin has privately indicated that he will claim that Trump asked Russia to hack the Democrats and leak the information in order to help defeat Clinton?

Because Trump, in one of his wild moments during the campaigns, invited the Russians to hack Clinton’s campaign, and with his reluctance to take on Putin, the Russian leader will be believed.
Whatever the case, it seems that Putin, to put it mildly, now owns Trump.

He didn’t need to take on America’s army, or to fight a long ideological battle. He recognised a weakness in the American political system, the opportunities its divisions presented, and saw a man who would do anything to win, and put a fix in.

If, say, in a year’s time Trump falls out with Putin, the Russian leader could basically destroy him by releasing fake or real documents claiming that the American president procured his services to help win the election.

It would also reveal American democracy as a sham that can be bought.

The genius of Putin is that he seems to have won the Second Cold War fairly quickly, without firing a single bullet at the Americans, and having spent only change.

This is not supposed to be how big power politics works. The superpower is supposed to be king. But here’s Putin, leader of a faded power, and he could have the incoming American administration in his pocket.
You have to respect men like that — and learn from them if you want to rule the world.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com [email protected]