African politicians labeled U.S. President Donald Trump a racist on Friday after he was reported to have described some immigrants from Africa and Haiti as coming from ‘shithole countries’.
Sources said on Thursday that Trump had questioned why the United States would want immigrants from ‘shithole countries’ like Haiti and some African countries during a briefing on draft immigration legislation.
The 55-nation African Union condemned the remarks while the southern African state of Botswana hauled in the US ambassador to complain.
The comment “truly flies in the face of accepted behaviour and practice,” said Ebba Kalondo, spokeswoman for AU chief Moussa Faki.
“This is even more hurtful given the historical reality of just how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, and also terribly surprising as the United States remains a massively positive example as just how migration can give birth to a nation,” Kalondo said.
The comments were clearly racist, Kalondo said, but stressed the US was much stronger than the sum total of one man.
“Ours is not a shithole country and neither is Haiti or any other country in distress,” Jessie Duarte, the deputy secretary general of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress told reporters at a news conference in East London.
“We would not deign to make comments as derogatory as that about any country that has any kind of socio-economic or other difficulties,” Duarte said, adding that much like their African counterparts millions of U.S. citizens were affected by problems such as unemployment.
Botswana’s foreign ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador in protest and called the comments highly irresponsible, reprehensible and racist.
It said in a statement that it had asked the U.S. government, through its ambassador, to clarify if the derogatory remark also applied to Botswana given that there were Botswana nationals living in the United States and others who wished to go there.
U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva that Trump’s comments were shocking and shameful.
Since taking office a year ago, Trump has pursued controversial policies aimed at curbing illegal immigration into the United States as part of a hard-line ‘America First’ agenda.
Trump denied on Friday using such derogatory language, but he had already been widely condemned in many African countries and by international rights organizations. He wrote on Twitter on Friday that he merely used tough language when discussing a new immigration bill with a group of U.S. senators.
He said the bill was a step backwards because it would force the United States to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly.
The Trump administration has spoken little about how it wants to engage with African countries, focusing its foreign policy instead on issues like North Korea and Islamic State.
In November it ended Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from Haiti and Nicaragua, giving 59,000 Haitian immigrants until July 2019 to return home or legalize their presence in the United States.
On the streets of Lusaka, capital of the southern African country of Zambia, Trump’s reported remark reinforced long-held views about the U.S. leader.
“Trump has always been a racist, only a racist can use such foul language,” said Nancy Mulenga, a student at the University of Zambia. Robert Chiponda, a communications consultant in Lusaka, said he never took Trump seriously.
“President Trump, One day, I’ll take you to a ‘shithole’ country called Ghana,” wrote Ghanaian Edmond Prime Sarpong on Facebook.
“First stop would be Osu Castle, Elmina Castle, and the over 40 Forts that detained about 30 million slaves, beaten and shipped out like sardine cans and then I will tell you the history of Africa and why people like you made that a ‘shithole’ continent.”
Prominent Kenyan commentator Patrick Gathara, told AFP that Trump’s words were nothing new from a racist and ignorant administration, nor from the West at large.
“This is no different from what Hollywood and Western media have been saying about Africa for decades. We have consistently been portrayed as shitty people from shitty countries.”
Some acknowledged problems in their countries, but blamed this on their poor leaders as well as western nations such as the US.
“Please don’t confuse the #shithole leaders we Africans elect with our beautiful continent… Our motherland is the most blessed continent that has been raped by imperialists in collaboration with our shitty misleaders for generations,” wrote Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi on Twitter.
In South Africa, the ruling party declared “ours is not a shithole country” and described Trump as “extremely offensive”.
“It is not as if the United States doesn’t have difficulties. There are millions of unemployed people in the US, millions of people who don’t have health care services or access to education and we would not deign to make comments as derogatory as that,” said Jessie Duarte, the deputy secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC).
Nigerians however did not hold back, with many on Twitter saying their country was a “shithole”, but that it was “our shithole” to criticise.
Even war-torn South Sudan weighed in, with President Salva Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny slamming the comments as “outrageous”.
However Juba businesswoman Jenny Jore, 31, told AFP that Trump’s remarks were “on point”.
“It is thanks to our African leaders that we are insulted that way,” she said.