African countries, including Nigeria, are seerhing with anger because of supposedly racial remarks made by U.S. President Donald Trump. He was widely quoted as having derided immigrants from, in particular, Africa, Haiti and El Salvador. He reportedly described those nations as “shithole countries”. On the one hand, “shithole” could be Trump’s vulgar or derisive representation of African countries, while on the other, it could be understood as his corruption of the name of one of South Africa’s Black liberation movement icons, Sithole.
Journalists who covered the Jan. 11 private meeting at the Whitehouse reported that Trump favoured immigrants from Norway and Asia, saying they help America economically. But he wondered “why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out,” the Washington Post quoted him as complaining.
The American president’s latest outbursts caused quite a stir around the world. African leaders have condemned Trump, calling him a racist. And so have several international organisations. Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyema confirmed Monday that the United States Ambassador Stuart Symington had been summoned by the Nigerian government to explain Trump’s “vulgar remarks”. The U.S. Embassy in Abuja Tuesday confirmed that a meeting did take place between Onyema and the American Depùty Chief of Mission David Young. The Embassy statement admitted the talks centred around the Trump remarks, but did not give any detail.
Meanwhile, in his reaction to the knocks he received around the globe, Trump denied he is a racist. Dogged by controversy after controversy since taking office in January 2017, Trump denied ever describing any race as coming from “shithole countries” in a Friday morning tweet.
“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said “take them out.” I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”
The President’s recourse to social media, particularly Twitter, is his way of getting at the traditional news media that he sees as purveyors of “fake news”. The truth, however, is that he delights in controversy but he is too cowardly to own up to it.To us, Trump’s latest ranting was not surprising, neither was his denial. The surprise, if any, is that the American voters who elected him in November 2016, appear to like their man’s faux pas. Our position, at Peoples Daily, is that Africa should not have dignified the maverick Trump with a response. Silence, we are told, is the best answer in such circumstance. Our foreign minister made a mistake with his summoning of the U.S. Ambassador. And what did he get as an answer? A meeting with a low ranking Embassy official, one Ambassador Young!
Mr. Young spoke patronizingly to our foreign minister. America, he said, would “continue to respect Nigeria and cherish cordial and excellent relations” between the two countries. But, we ask, where was the respect for Nigeria last December when Trump described Nigerians as living in tents or huts. A country of tents whose nuclear scientists contribute a lot to America’s successful nuclear energy programme and health services! This is not discounting America’s huge investment in our oil industry.
However, Trump is smart enough to tamper his frequent spells of madness with occassional flashes of brilliance. Take his recent approval for the U.S. to sell 12 state of the art Tuco fighter planes to Nigeria. The entire deal, estimated at over $500 million, is expected to be finalised in February 2018. We need the planes to end the insurgency in the northeast. We are grateful to Trump for doing for us what his predecessor Barack Obama denied us. But he must not rub us up the wrong way.