It’s been a month or so now since U.S. president Donald Trump shocked much of the world by making derogatory comments about Haiti and all of Africa.
He referred to people from these places as coming from “shithole” countries, prompting a great deal of outrage – from his political opponents, from American immigrants and those who support them, and of course from people who actually live in Haiti and Africa.
The White House didn’t deny the comments, and Trump’s best defense was to randomly insist (not for the first time) that he is the “least racist person.” Many disagree.
On the one hand, those who follow international politics can hardly be surprised by outrageous remarks like this from the American president. He’s an extraordinarily controversial figure, not only where his rhetoric is concerned but politically as well.
He is under FBI investigation, and though odds have shifted back in his favor that he will finish his first four-year term, impeachment has become a regular topic of conversation in the U.S. – which in itself is fairly extraordinary. All of this said, however, comments like these seemed to many to be particularly offensive, even for Trump.
The responses from prominent African leaders and commentators, however, have varied.
Kenyan government spokesman Eric Kiraithe had one of the more surprising takes (though one echoed by South Sudan), suggesting that since Trump didn’t single out Kenya the remarks didn’t really apply, and thus Kenya had no problem with them. This prompted the headline that “Kenya welcomes” the language from Trump, which was perhaps a little unfair but still expressed the frustration some undoubtedly felt with the response.
Part of the issue with Trump’s comments is that he seems to lump all of Africa together as if it’s one large country – which ought to indicate that in the mind of the American president his own comments did apply to Kenya too. The same article that quoted Kiraithe also pointed out that African Union chairperson Moussa Faki has expressed alarm and called the comments unacceptable.
Some took a more lighthearted approach, pointing out the utter absurdity of the comments (albeit in a critical manner). Most notably, Kenyan cartoonist Victor Ndula produced an image of a map of Africa as Trump sees it.
Ndula essentially drew a silhouette of the distinctive president with a cutout of the continent in his head, labeling different geographical points with names like “Central Shithole” or “Horn of Shithole.” It’s not particularly funny to those who were deeply offended, but Ndula ultimately did a nice job of turning the comments back on Trump as a form of mockery – which may have been cathartic to some.
And still elsewhere in Africa we saw more direct condemnations. Senegal president Macky Sall said he was shocked and demanded respect; Botswana’s stance was that the comments were overtly racist; hopeful South African leader Mmusi Maimane suggested the comments were an extension of Trump’s known hatred for Barack Obama and his roots.
If anything is clear one month out from Trump’s comments, it’s that the very idea of lumping all of Africa together has been proven foolish. Different leaders and countries have responded differently, and while all can agree that the comments were offensive, there are varied takes as to how damaging or directly hurtful the comments were.