Africans woke up Friday to find U.S. President Donald Trump had finally taken an interest in their continent — but not in the way they had wanted.
Trump on Thursday questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa rather than places like Norway in rejecting a bipartisan immigration deal.
The African Union continental body told The Associated Press it was “frankly alarmed” by Trump’s comments.
“Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice,” said spokesperson Ebba Kalondo. “This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”
As top recipients of U.S. aid, some African governments hesitated to jeopardize it by criticizing Trump, especially as his administration has sought to slash foreign assistance.
“Unless it was specifically said about South Sudan, we have nothing to say,” South Sudan government spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny told AP.
‘Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice.’– Ebba Kalondo, African Union spokesperson
But South Africa’s ruling African National Congress called Trump’s comments “extremely offensive.” Deputy Secretary General Jesse Duarte said developing countries do have difficulties, but the United States has millions of people out of work or without health care, and “we would not deign to make comments as derogatory.”
African media outlets and the continent’s young, increasingly connected population were not being shy.
“Well, that is the perfect definition of racism. That is all I have to say,” Kenyan entrepreneur Wangui Muraguri said in his Nairobi office.
“Casual Friday at the White House is soon to include hoods and tiki torches at this rate,” South African media outlet Daily Maverick wrote.
Many on the world’s second most populous continent reached for their smartphones, long-practised in defending the vast and varied region from easy stereotypes. While 40 per cent of the world’s poor live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Monetary Fund, the region also has billionaires, reality shows and a growing middle class.
Some quickly decided to own Trump’s language or throw it back in his face.
“Good morning from the greatest most beautiful ‘shithole country’ in the world!!!” South African Broadcasting Corporation anchor Leanne Manas tweeted.
“As someone from South Shithole, Trevor is deeply offended by the president’s remarks,” The Daily Show tweeted of its South African-born host, Trevor Noah.
In Kenya, East Africa’s economic hub, political activist Boniface Mwangi pleaded: “Please don’t confuse the #shithole leaders we Africans elect with our beautiful continent.”
Please don’t confuse the #shithole leaders we Africans elect with our beautiful continent. Our leaders are shit like dotard Trump. Our motherland is the most blessed continent that has been raped by imperialists in collaboration with our shitty misleaders for generations. pic.twitter.com/hJVYYo0VlC
Trump’s comments highlighted months of concerns about his lack of focus on Africa, including empty ambassadorial posts in key countries like South Africa, Egypt, Congo and Somalia. A list maintained by the Washington-based American Foreign Service Association says eight such posts are vacant.
Trump has expressed negative opinions about the continent in the past.
“Every penny of the $ 7 billion US going to Africa as per Obama will be stolen — corruption is rampant!” he tweeted in 2013.
The U.S. president is hurting himself both at home and abroad with his latest comments, some Africans said.
“He has not only insulted Africans, he has also insulted African-Americans,” said Sylvester Odion Akhaine, associate professor of international relations at the Lagos State University in Nigeria. “Internationally, such language will deepen the isolation of the United States, a country that is already losing its global prestige.”