Honest giraffe

To save his skin, Jacob Zuma disbanded the Scorpions. Donald Trump fired a giraffe, the creature with which two metre tall former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey associates himself in his memoir, A Higher Loyalty, published on Tuesday.

The book, in which Comey calls Trump “morally unfit” for office and says reminds him of the mob bosses he prosecuted at the start of his career,  is getting mixed reviews.

Among  the kindest was by New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani. Of Comey and Trump, she wrote: “They are as antipodean as the untethered, sybaritic Al Capone and the square, diligent G-man Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables”.”

From Trump himself came the inevitable twitter tantrum, closely coordinated with his Fox News mbongi chorus and nicely illustrating Kakutani’s comparison. Comey was a “slimeball”, the president said, and ought to be in jail for a range of (imaginary) offences.

Supporters of Hillary Clinton expressed their disapproval more delicately, though their underlying rage is scarcely less fierce. Comey, they are convinced, put Trump over the top in 2016 when he told congress, days before the election, that he was reopening the FBI’s enquiry into whether she had knowingly compromised US secrets by using a private email server while secretary of state.

Comey, to my mind quite convincingly, argues that of the terrible choices with which he was confronted he made the least ghastly to preserve the integrity of the FBI as an institution that must, for democracy’s sake, remain outside the political fray.

He had announced the previous July that while Clinton had been “extremely careless” with her email, there was no evidence she knew she was breaking the law, let alone that she intended to break it. Then, in October, police in New York  discovered a whole new trove of potentially incriminating Clinton emails on a laptop belonging the the estranged husband of one of her closest aides, Huma Abedin. The husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner, was under investigation for digitally exposing himself to an underage girl.

Comey’s critics argue he should have kept mum about this discovery until after the election. But he had every reason to believe it was about to be leaked by anti-Clinton cops in New York. If that happened before the election, as was likely, the FBI would be accused of trying to protect the Democrat. If Clinton won as the polls predicted and it then became know that the FBI had been sitting on incriminating evidence, the legitimacy of her election would be thrown into doubt and Trump’s charge that the result would be rigged validated.

In the event, Comey’s team had time to the examine the emails before  election day and confirm his earlier decision not to prosecute, but the reclosing of the enquiry came too late to unbreak camels’ backs broken by the last straw of its reopening.

If there is a case to be made against Comey’s handling of an impossible situation, it is that to protect the institution he loved he allowed himself to be intimidated by the howling heads of the rabid right.  The terrible irony is that in doing so he helped deliver the FBI into the hands of a man with zero respect for its independence.

Trump, in Comey’s telling, wanted the FBI director to act as one of his “made men” in Mafia parlance — to drop the probe into the Kremlin’s meddling with the election, go easy on Mike Flynn, his first national security adviser facing prosecution for lying about his Russian contacts,  even to find some way of disproving allegations that Trump had cavorted with urinating prostitutes in a Moscow hotel suite during the Miss Universe pageant in 2013.

Comey, a stiff-necked but honest giraffe with a nice eye for the telling detail, wouldn’t play.



Rag outrage

So Rwanda, an African success story whose president, Paul Kagame, currently chairs the African Union and just hosted the launch of the Continental Free Trade Area, faces US trade sanctions. Reason? Kigali has chosen not to import clothing woven and sewn in Asia, worn and tossed out in America, then sorted and cleaned in India before finally being dumped into East Africa.

Apparently the reluctance of Rwanda and its East African Community partners, their combined GDP less than Hawaii’s, to welcome unlimited container loads of the rich and careless world’s detritus has been doing the US a damage. We are told it is  threatening the livelihoods of some 200 000 Americans and costing the “industry” that would employ them $124 million a year in lost sales.

That, at any rate, is what the industry’s Washington swamp rat, the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, or SMART, would have the office of the US Trade Representative believe, pulling the numbers from one of its anatomy’s darker places. The lobby presents no basis for its claim other than untested “member surveys”.

Donald Trump’s trade enforcers have accepted this hogwash. Previous administrations, receiving similar petitions, have politely tossed them into their round files, suppressing gag reflexes as they did so. But not the minions of a president who describes the continent in scatological terms. Nothing can make them gag.  They have gone to bat for the scavengers.

Their bludgeon is denial of access to the world’s largest market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Do as we say or we will drive away the very investment in garment manufacture AGOA was meant to help you attract. We will force you to thrust back into poverty the thousands of women employed in the factories we gave you incentives to build.

What is particularly galling is the way in way the new US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, has used the AGOA cudgel to divide the East African Community, all of whose members initially stood together to protect their nascent industries from America’s degrading hand-me-downs. But one by one, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have been bullied into kissing Washington’s ring. Rwanda alone has stood firm.

It was alright for Alexander Hamilton, America’s first treasury secretary, now the subject of a Broadway musical to which no ordinary mortal can afford a ticket, to erect tariffs behind which a fledgling US industrialised. But let Africa erect a wall against products that America does not make, only soils, discards and sends to India to refurbish, and Africa must be punished.

Of course, the argument is made that used clothing is all many people in EAC countries can afford at this point and, besides, provides livelihoods to countless traders. But that is precisely the colonial paradigm from which Africa is surely trying to break free, which is why the EAC acted as it did.

Without industrialisation and the emergence of robust regional value chains and markets, the majority of African nations are likely to remain exporters of raw commodities and importers of goods to which value has been added elsewhere. Isn’t breaking out of that  dead end historical path what the Continental Free Trade Area is all about?

Not all of Washington is as narrow-minded as Trump’s trade heavies. Congress, thanks to the leadership of old-fashioned Republicans like House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Democrats like Delaware’s Senator Chris Coons (a statesman when not in the thrall of Big Chicken) are pushing through measures to fund investment in Africa’s economic integration.

But they are having to deal with a demoralised, deskilled bureaucracy headed by a reality TV star/failed casino owner whose views on trade are no more sophisticated than those of a heroin hustler fighting for his turf in the Bronx he came from.