Recently, United States President, Mr. Donald Trump allegedly dubbed Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shitholes ” countries” whose citizens were not the kind of immigrants the United States wanted.
The rather vulgar statement has led to a flow of swift condemnation across the world. Understandably, the African Union, AU, has come out in the strong term to condemn the alleged statement, while explaining that it “strongly believes that there is a huge misunderstanding of the African continent and its people by the current [U.S.] administration.”
Besides the United Nations which has equally condemned the unfortunate statement, various countries had officially written to similarly denounce it. However, it is on the social media that condemnations that trail the purported statement are really heightened. Trust the social media! Before you could say Jack Robinson, several citizens from Trump supposed ‘Shitholes Countries’ started bombarding the space with attractive images of their respective countries, perhaps with the aim of debunking Trump’s “shithole” tag.
As I write this piece, in Africa especially, rather than dissipate, outrage against Trump’s supposed outburst has continued to gain momentum across the continent. Indeed, some African leaders have outrightly rejected Trump’s face saving rebuff of the statement. Some have even gone ahead to label the American President ‘a racist’. Most nations in Africa have made diplomatic protests over the alleged statement. In South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, the new president of the country’s largest political party, the African National Congress, described the president’s comments as “really, really derogatory, and highly offensive.”
In Nigeria, the country’s foreign minister, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama has called on American diplomats to clarify the president’s remarks, while portraying them as “deeply hurtful, offensive and unacceptable.” Similarly, Botswana, Senegal, South Africa, Haiti and Ghana have all called in American diplomats to explain what Mr Trump meant by his supposed comment. Predictably, the US State Department anticipates more US diplomats to be summoned by host nations over it as well, in due course.
Ironically, in the midst of it all, US, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, claimed that “nothing has changed” between the US and African nations. But then, Tillerson doesn’t seem to be aware of the gravity of extensive havoc that Trump’s supposed statement has caused in the US-African relation. More so, when Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders reportedly said that: “The President hasn’t said he didn’t use strong language, and this is an important issue, he’s passionate about it, he’s not going to apologize for trying to fix our immigration system.”
The Trump administration left not quite a few keen watchers of African events perplexed when it alleged that Chad was particularly included in the ‘Shitholes Countries’ categorization because it failed to “adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information.” But then, the truth is that Chad has been assisting in the fight against Isis-West Africa, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram. Surely, it would take some time for the wound inflicted by the statement to heal. Presently, African hearts bleed, and Trump is the cause.
What one foresees from all this is that relations between African nations and the United States might become a bit strain for some time to come. With his America First philosophy, Trump has left no one in doubt that the days of hand outs from America to indigent African nations might be over. So, one anticipates that in the days ahead more African nations would continue to tilt more and more towards China for economic, technological and other forms of aids. Currently, especially along the West African coast, Chinese presence across many critical sectors is becoming quite pronounced.
The Chinese are building roads, ports, dams, railways and other infrastructure across Africa. These include a metro system in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a vital railway connecting landlocked Ethiopia’s 100 million people to Djibouti’s Red Sea port, where the Chinese plan to open their firs6t military base outside China. In Kenya, they financed the biggest post-colonial infrastructure project in the country: a nearly $4 billion railway linking Nairobi with the country’s main Indian Ocean port in Mombasa. Currently, in Nigeria, besides its many infrastructure enterprise in many states, China is also building a major train network in Nigeria. Therefore, for many African nations, even before Trump’s supposed outburst, they have already picked a friend.
Cheerfully, while Trump sees nothing good about Africa, China sees abundant opportunities and it is willing to put in the necessary investment that could enhance the continent socio-economic development. It is a win-win scenario for the Chinese on one hand, and the African nations on the other. For one, Africa gets on with her quest for infrastructure development, while Chinese firms equally make modest gains. With this development, one expects the study of Mandarin, the Chinese language, to be in the increase in more African countries in years to come.
It is, however important to stress that African leaders should see the Trump’s eruption as a wakeup call to rescue the continent from the excruciating grip of poverty, corruption, diseases and poor governance. In Africa, the practicality of poverty is quite frightening as most Africans live on less than a dollar income per day. Perhaps more niggling is that, with 34 out of a total of 49, African countries account for a greater proportion of the Least Developed Countries, LDCs, in the world. This, perhaps, explains why poverty indicators such as extreme hunger, malnourishment, homelessness, diseases, high crime rate, slums, lack of opportunities, low productivity and illiteracy abound in larger quantity in the continent.
The African poverty situation is further compounded by failure of governments across the continent to properly harness human, natural and material resources for the common good of all. This is why Nigeria, a famous world oil exporter, is ranked among the poorest nations of the world. As things presently stand, the threat of poverty in the African continent might continue unabated, except African countries look inward to develop their natural resources and curb corrupt tendencies.
Nevertheless, Trump’s outburst is, to say the least, unpresidential and unbecoming of a leader of a country as revered as America. Great leaders think deeply before they talk. They weigh and measure every word before speaking out. The power of the spoken word cannot, in any way, be over emphasized. Indeed, research has shown that most communal, civil and international crisis that have plagued the world, at one time or the other, were exacerbated by scorching remarks of certain leaders ,who like parrot talk endlessly and senselessly without knowing when to stop. This is why it is often wisdom to always think before talking.
Unfortunately, Mr. Trump is like a parrot. He talks first and thinks later. He talks without restrain from both sides of the mouth. And he is not just talking, he is actually singing like a Red-eyed Vireo bird which sings more than 20,000 songs a day. This moment he says the earth is oval, the next moment he claims it is perpendicular!
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos