I woke up this morning to hear that the President of the United States believes that I come from a “shithole” country. Delightful. Despite his subsequent denials, Trump criticised immigration to his country from El Salvador, Haiti, and the African continent, by calling them all "shithole countries" at a meeting with members of Congress at the White House on January 11th. Instead, he called for more immigrants from places like Norway, a predominantly white population that modern white supremacists still look to as a model of racial purity. Typical.
Trump initially allowed reported accounts of his comments to go unchallenged, but went into damage control mode on January 12th, insisting he had not used derogatory words — although he admitted that the language he used on immigration was “tough”. Trump did not retract his comments because he knows that — in the US, as in many places — appealing to the lowest common denominator pays well in the game of politics. There are people eagerly waiting to read about the misfortunes of Africa so that they can use us as a vanity mirror to help them brighten their own self-image and feel better about themselves. American racists hailed his comments as “an illuminating and beautiful” contribution to the start of a revolution that would “restore racial sanity”. I wonder what sanity looks like to the insane.
In a strongly-worded statement, the UN said it was impossible to describe his remarks as anything other than racist, while the Vatican decreed Trump’s words as “particularly harsh and offensive”. The US State Department tried to pour water on the flames by issuing a tweet from its Bureau of African Affairs saying that “the United States will continue to robustly, enthusiastically, and forcefully engage in #Africa, promoting this vital relationship”. I cannot imagine an African employee tweeting this, because we deserve and expect a unified voice of outrage and unequivocal rejection of this blatant disregard for our dignity. Do better than a tweet.
Trump appears to have glossed over the fundamental humanitarian purpose of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is granted to individuals from countries where conditions including war, natural disasters, and political strife prevent citizens from returning safely. The fact is that people rarely become immigrants willingly. Trump's remarks, and those who have defended them, ignore both the histories of these countries and US involvement in them. I guess he doesn't know why our countries are poor and why the US is rich. Maybe we should shed some light on the role the US has played in these 'shithole' countries…
Haiti: Haiti has been under TPS since a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the island nation in January of 2010, killing as many as 300 000 people and displacing more than a million. Relief efforts in the wake of that disaster, led by US organizations, were highly criticised and often ineffective.
Nicaragua: During the Reagan administration, the US funneled money and arms to right-wing rebel groups, known as the Contras, who fought a brutal civil war against the Nicaraguan government until 1990. In 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled the US had violated international law.
Somalia: The US military is currently heavily involved in Somalia, conducting more than 30 airstrikes in the country in 2017 against militant groups, al Shabaab and ISIS, killing as many as 230 people.
Syria: The US has intervened heavily in the Syrian war since its earliest days, providing funding for anti-government rebels and groups fighting ISIS and other Islamist militant organizations. US Special Operations Forces, Marines, and Army Rangers are currently on the ground in Syria, and US planes have conducted more than 8,700 airstrikes in the country since 2014.
I want to stress, this is not the first time Trump has made racist remarks about Africa. So the real question is: what happens next? How is it that people around the world continue to remain silent in the face of Trump's behaviour due to the residing belief that the US still has a leadership role to play? How can we continue to let him have a say in the affairs of other countries when he has refused to reconcile humanity? How does an immigrant dictate which immigrants have the right to live in the US?
So to the man who continues to disparage my continent… I am from a “shithole” country that has the highest percentage of women in government, a “shithole” country that is fourth in the world in terms of gender equality. I am from a continent of brilliant and ambitious people. Lastly, to my fellow “shithole” inhabitants who continue to defend Trump, why do you remain silent? It’s time to speak out.