At a recent immigration meeting with US senators, the US President, Donald J. Trump, expressed his preference for some countries and his revulsion for others. African countries were unwelcome because they are, in his words, “shithole countries.” Earlier, he had said of Nigerians that, once admitted into America, they would not return to “their huts” again.
Africans and Haitians, who were the direct objects of these insulting comments, did not find them funny. Many other right thinking persons across the world have also condemned them. The Nigerian government summoned the US ambassador, David Young, to protest the remarks and ask for a clarification. Mr. Young said what he was expected to say in the circumstance, that his government holds Nigerians in high esteem. Botswana was more direct. It asked the US “to clarify if Botswana is regarded as a shithole country?”
Many countries, and the 55-nation African Union, have protested. South Africa was unable to summon the US ambassador because President Trump has not bothered to appoint one, since the last departed more than a year ago. The disdain for Africa is also reflected in the fact that after one year in office, the Trump administration has had no need to appoint an assistant secretary of state for Africa.
President Trump has made half-hearted efforts to deny the remarks. He has been an American President who routinely takes liberty with the truth. The New York Times has reported the State Department as instructing its missions not to deny that the president made the remarks, but merely to listen to the responses. In other words, the US administration is indifferent to how Africans feel about the statements which all reasonable people consider very offensive. The United Nations (UN) described the remarks as shocking and shameful. The African Group of UN Ambassadors said it was “extremely appalled at, and strongly condemns the outrageous, racist and xenophobic remarks by the President of the United States.” The ambassadors then demanded a retraction of the offensive statements and an apology. We wholly agree with them.
In the one year that he has been in office, President Trump has said things that are unbecoming of any leader. He seems to have made a career of saying things that are unexpected of anyone holding the high office of the president of the United States. He apparently also does not care about maintaining the dignity of that office. Trump has eloquently demonstrated that he is in great need of the maturity required for the office.
That this US president is a racist has never been in doubt. He could not stand President Barack Obama being president, so he tried to delegitimise him by saying that Obama was not born in the United States. As a candidate, he proclaimed Mexicans rapists and criminals. His victory in both the primary and general elections was anchored on his racism, his willingness to appeal to white supremacist groups which regular Republicans and Conservatives were unwilling to touch with a 10-foot pole. The victory of Trump has, therefore, meant the mainstreaming of Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and the so called ‘alt-right.’ Now, these racists have become accepted in the centre of American politics and his administration has provided them a platform.
African countries need not bother with President Trump’s epithets. Trump is the president of the United States, but his views, as important as they must be, represent the viewpoint of a tiny racist minority. Our proof is the open letter penned by 78 ex-US ambassadors who served in Africa and who proclaim that “Africa is a continent of great human talent and rich diversity, as well as extraordinary beauty and almost unparalleled natural resources…As American ambassadors abroad, we have seen Africa’s complex and rich cultures, awe-inspiring resilience, and breathtaking generosity and compassion.”
There are likely to be more happy people in the Nigerian ‘huts’ than in the great mansions in Manhattan and Hollywood. President Trump has not lived up to the standards of American presidents in living memory. Americans are now paying a dear price for failing to hold him accountable for his bigotry, which was so visible during the campaign in 2016. Trump is likely the most unpopular president in recent US history with a 67 per cent disapproval rating. His so-called base is small and shrinking daily. Indeed, only 26 per cent of Americans voted for him. Senator Hillary Clinton beat him by nearly three million popular votes. His tenure has defined the United States downwards, so much so that within last week, two Republican leaders – Senator Jeff Flake and David Frum, Senior Editor of The Atlantic – have publicly described Donald Trump as the greatest threat to American democracy. Senator Flake compares Trump to Russia’s Joseph Stalin. Frum’s book is on “Trump’s Corruption of the American Republic.” Need we say more on the vituperations of Trump and his increasingly diminishing global stature?