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Africa startled by Trump's sudden and vulgar attention

Cara Anna, Associated Press | 1/12/2018, 7:27 a.m.
Africans woke up on Friday to find President Donald Trump had finally taken an interest in their continent. It wasn't ...
Donald Trump

JOHANNESBURG — Africans woke up on Friday to find President Donald Trump had finally taken an interest in their continent. It wasn't what people had hoped for.

Using vulgar language, 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 behavior and practice," AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo said. "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."

African governments quickly found themselves in an awkward position. As top recipients of U.S. aid, some 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 spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told The Associated Press.

But Botswana's government called Trump's comment "reprehensible and racist," saying the U.S. ambassador had been summoned to clarify whether the nation is regarded as a "shithole" country after years of cordial relations.

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 itself has millions of people out of work or without health care, and "we would not deign to make comments as derogatory."

South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane called Trump's comments "abhorrent ... The hatred of Obama's roots now extends to an entire continent." Uganda's state minister for international relations, Henry Okello Oryem, called the remarks "unfortunate and regrettable" and said he hopes African heads of state will reply at an African Union summit later this month.

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 told the AP 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-practiced in defending the vast and varied region from easy stereotypes. While 40 percent 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 vulgar 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.