Response to Trump’s view of Africa and Haiti
Loathe as I am to give any airtime to the president of the United States of America, and his views about anything, I have been struck by many reactions to his characterisation of the home of 1.285 billion people as “#$%^hole countries.” About 16,79% of the population of the world live in these stinking countries.
The reactions have been various: Some newspapers expressed various opinions about the president’s qualification to judge an entire continent. Others reported the diplomatic and political fallout of the unfortunate comments. Up to the point where the president wrote a conciliatory letter to the meeting of the heads of states of the African Union expressing his profound respect for Africa and its inhabitants. Sober columnists wonder how the president knows so much about our countries. Is it just because the majority of the population is black, that it is possible to make such informed judgments? And if so, doesn’t this smack of racism or prejudice?
Reactions on social media are more diverse: I remember a young Nigerian candidly admitting that our countries have serious challenges, but announcing his best intentions to return from the USA where he is currently studying, to tackle some of the problems. He decries his compatriots who have left the country and from abroad hark on about its many challenges. He wonders why so many Africans risk their lives in perilous attempts at emigration, and end up dying as they cross seas or deserts. He considers both the push and the pull factors, and the gradual diminishment of the more capable residents of the continent.
Another equally patriotic social media commentator lambastes this young man for even acknowledging in public the difficulties that Africa faces. He prefers to concentrate, rather, on the glories of the continent, its historic achievements, and contributions to world culture. He condemns the slave trade and the colonial era that for centuries disrupted any progress or stability on the continent. Unfortunately, the wounds of the past cannot be undone.
Another social media commentator of a more linguistic bent analyses the term used by the president and concludes that it makes no sense.
The residents of Namibia, who had already been at the mercy of the president’s geographical education, invited people from around the world to come and visit their country with its “#$%^hole” deserts, canyons, nature reserves, and peoples. They were using humour to deal with the insult.
Obviously, the president’s pronouncement (later denied) touched a raw nerve among my co-continentals. With characteristic lack of PC-ness the president aired a perception that many people harbour about Africa and Haiti, a perception that embarrasses us. We acknowledge that we do not rejoice in the same levels of development, infrastructure, governance and education as many other countries. Our continent is rich in human and natural resources, and we have elevated to an ideology our particular philosophy of the human person called ‘ubuntu.’ Pope Benedict somewhat naïvely called Africa the ‘spiritual lung’ of the world. While this might be patronising on one extreme, the characterisation given by the president on the other extreme was even more hurtful.
Without denying the shortcomings of our continent, or justifying them in the light of our common history, what is more important than the hurt or damage to pride, is the truth that our continent is more and more marginal. It is seen as a stockpile of natural resources, ready for plunder. It is experiencing a new colonialism – this time from the East – which like the previous colonialism was not motivated by philanthropy. Hearing the occasional outside opinion – as coarsely expressed as it was – should galvanise our efforts to clean up our act on a continental scale and resist insult and pillage from any side.