JOHANNESBURG - The world is watching as the U.S. prepares for a crucial election for president and thousands of other representatives at all levels of government. In Africa's most mature democracy, South Africa, citizens are watching the drama with interest — and with the aid of a few seasoned journalists who are attempting to explain the quirks and developments of this historic poll.
For 12 years, South African reporter Sherwin Bryce-Pease has had the job of explaining America — and U.S. politics — for his nation's state broadcaster from his base in New York.
2020, however, is posing a new storytelling challenge, with a pandemic and an election that, even for many American journalists, is a tough task. But, Bryce-Pease says, the difficulty is universal.
"The truth deficit that we've encountered with this White House, you know, whether it's from the president's medical team post his COVID-19 diagnosis just the other day — you're not getting the facts necessarily from this White House. So we also always have to, sort of, put it through a prism. What has the president said? And is it actually true? And this complicates the life of a journalist here," he said.
His election coverage focuses broadly on the presidential race and on U.S.-Africa relations. He believes his audience prefers Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in this race, largely because of Biden's connection to former president Barack Obama and for Biden's vice presidential pick, Kamala Harris.
Also, he said, President Donald Trump's disparaging comments about Africa have made him unpopular on the continent.
In Johannesburg, retired U.S.-diplomat-turned-writer Brooks Spector also tries to make sense of American politics for a South African audience, in the Daily Maverick newspaper. This election, he says, has taken him to some strange places in his column.
"About a month ago, I wrote a column which urged for international monitoring groups to check the American election to help keep it honest, straight and free and fair," he said.
His is not an isolated opinion. The African Union has even suggested an election observation mission to the U.S. — a plan that does not appear to have materialized, though smaller teams from individual African states are reportedly planning their own observation missions.
In that way, says analyst Liesl Louw-Vaudran, this poll could also influence how African nations behave in the future.
"There's a paradigm shift, more than even a mind shift, in a sense that African countries and governments always feel, you know, on the back foot when it comes to everything: governance, even the responses to COVID-19," Louw-Vaudran said. "And what we've seen this last six months is that actually even the developed nations have been struggling. Their systems of governance are also under threat, as much as we have huge problems here."
Bryce-Pease says this is an important time to be covering the U.S.
"This is a strange moment for the United States, and I think we need to recognize that," he said. "I mean, the fact that you are questioning the electoral process of this shining city on a hill really does give a lot of people pause. ... So I don't know how America comes out of this. The question is: What kind of leadership will you have post November 3rd? I think that will be the determinant of where we go here."
Wherever that is, Africa will be watching.