By Gambo Dori
NOW a year after inauguration as America’s President, Donald Trump had seemed, truly, to have lived up to his billings. He has been doing exactly as he promised in his campaign. During the campaign, he was reported to be ranting racist remarks on ethnic and religious minorities, promising legislation to shut out Muslims immigrants from certain countries as well as promising to build a wall between the United States and neighbouring Mexico to shut out immigrants from that side. He promised to recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel, despite the United Nations’ resolutions to the contrary. Surprisingly, he even ranted against America’s traditional allies in NATO, promising to leave the organisation unless the changes he wanted were affected. His campaign also railed against the Paris Climate Agreement which calls for reductions in carbon emissions in more than 170 countries. He promised to withdraw from the Agreement unilaterally.
When he won, there were many disappointed hearts world-wide because of the belief that Trump was not very well-informed about world issues. He would be a disaster to lead a country like America which is regarded as a World Power. His campaign divided the American society, confounded America’s traditional allies and sowed doubts in the ability of America to give leadership in the platform of world bodies such as the United Nations, particularly where solutions were needed to be found for common problems such as climate change.
Since assuming the Presidency, Trump has gone from one controversy to the other in trying to put flesh to his contentious campaign promises and fouling the international atmosphere with many unstatesmanlike utterances. In doing so, Trump had continued to bring not only big divisions to the American society but also caused deep annoyance and anxiety to other parts of the world. He seemed to have little regard and sensitivity to the feelings of other nations and openly disparaged them on many occasions. He was recently quoted to have derogatively referred to Haiti and African countries as ‘shithole countries’.
It was during a meeting with legislators in the White House to discuss the immigration policy that Trump infamously asked, ‘why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here’. He was said to be referring to people from Haiti, El-Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and African countries. In fact, another source at the meeting quoted the President specifically lamenting, ‘why do we want all these people from Africa here? They are shithole countries – – – we should have more people from Norway here’. Understandably, the furore that followed the spewing of these vulgar remarks was immediate and wide-spread. Though the remarks were said to have resonated with Trump’s white-supremacists base in the United States, it enraged several others in the same country particularly the lawmakers that would be expected to enact the enabling immigration laws.
Florida Republican Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban-American to be elected to Congress in 1989 was horrified by Trump’s gutter language and responded thus: “Language like that shouldn’t be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn’t be heard in the White House”. Illinois Democratic Rep Luis Gutierrez who is of Puerto Rican descent was even more acerbic, ‘as an American I am ashamed of my President. His comments are disappointing, unbelievable, but not surprising. We always knew that President Trump doesn’t like people from certain countries or people of certain colours’.
Speaking in the same vein, Utah’s Republican Rep Mia Love, whose parents were Haitian immigrants called on Trump to apologise saying his comments were, ‘unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our national values’. Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul, the son of Haitian immigrants, said there was no ‘apologising out of this’. He told CBS News that Trump has ‘demonstrated himself to be unfit, unknowledgeable about the history of this country and the history of the contributions of immigrants, particularly Haitian immigrants, have made to this country. It makes me embarrassed to have this guy as president of my country’.
The torrent of anger did not stop within the borders of the United States. It went world-wide. One of the first to react was the United Nations through Rupert Colville, its human rights spokesman. He spoke in suppressed anger and said, ‘if confirmed, these are shocking and shameful comments from the President of the United States, I’m sorry but there are no other words for this but racist’. The African Union was said to be ‘frankly alarmed’ by the statements of the President of the United States when referring to migrants of African States and others in such contemptuous terms. Ebba Kalondo the African Union spokeswoman issued a statement wherein she added: ‘given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice. This is particularly surprising as the United States remain a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity’.
Many African countries were quick to react to Trump’s vulgar condemnation. Botswana called Trump’s comments ‘reprehensible and racist’. Ugandan state Minister for International Relations, Henry Okello Oryem called the remarks ‘unfortunate and regrettable’. The South African ruling African National Congress called Trump’s comment ‘extremely offensive’, while opposition leader Mmusi Maimane said ‘the hatred of Obama’s roots now extends to the whole continent. The Ghanaian President Nana Akufo- Addo said in a tweet, ‘the language is extremely unfortunate. We are certainly not a ‘shithole country’. We will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful’.
Many African countries summoned the resident United States ambassador to explain the unfortunate remarks of President Trump. Namibia, Senegal, Somalia, Kenya, Ghana, all summoned the United States Ambassador resident in their countries for constructive engagement on the issue. Here in Nigeria we were slow to react to the vituperations poured by Trump on our African heritage. The United States Ambassador, Stuart Symington was finally reported to have been summoned by our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama to explain President Trump’s remarks. I guess at the meeting, there were no acrimonious exchanges, nor harsh rebuttals.
This is understandable. We must kowtow. After all we need their arms to fight an ongoing local insurgency. And they must be privy to the knowledge that many Nigerian citizens are falling over themselves to obtain visa to migrate to the United States. This aside, I find it a bad testimony that after so many years of relationship with the United States, we are being ignominiously dismissed as a shithole country by none other person but the president of the country himself. I feel particularly aggrieved because I knew a time in the 1970s when nobody would have contemplated calling Nigeria a shithole country. It is just that we have allowed ourselves to fall into this rut. And it also signifies the enormity of the tasks ahead, to take us out of this rut and put us where we belong – certainly not among shithole nations.