Its not the word, its the mindset
In the run up to the 2016 elections, Salena Zito in article for the Atlantic made an important observation that could qualify as the first rule in the rule book of Trump interpretation. Salena observed that the media took Trump literally but not seriously while his supporters took him seriously but not literally. With this rule, build that wall doesn’t really mean build a physical wall, it means strengthen security or something of the sort, lock her up doesn’t mean Hillary was necessarily going to be put behind bars and repeal and replace Obamacare really means we will figure it out.
Jeffrey Lord went ahead to say Trump speaks Americanese–the language of the non-college degree holding, non-climate change minded, politically incorrect Americans. These Americans, Lord reckoned, bore the brunt of a changing country that was spinning out of their control and were antsy to take it back, Trump understood them, and they, him. Even a slightly interested viewer of Trump can tell that he has a crowd that he plays to and often he is too ready to throw the rest under the bus to please that crowd. For them, Trump has gone off on almost everyone and everything that represents anything different from the nationalistic ideal that vaguely underlies the MAGA slogan, from Jay Z and Beyonce to Meryl Streep, from John McCain to Jeb Bush, from Barack Obama to Chancellor Merkel, from the European Union to the United Nations, no one and no organization is beyond the polemical diatribe of Mr. Trump. This month, Trump took on an entire continent in many ways a geographical euphemism wrapping a racial slur.
Seriously, not literally
Watching the response from some Africans, I have been intrigued by a section who do not find Mr. Trump’s description of Africa as a shithole objectionable. This group neither finds the fact that he prefers Norwegian immigrants to African immigrants and Haitian immigrants downright racist. For this section, the response to Trump has been ‘touché!’. Many have thrown up the dictionary meaning of a shithole and hang a question on it, does Africa not fit the description? The answer is YES!
Many African cities are dirty, the squalor is unmistakable; there are food markets that are indistinguishable from a refuse damp, in many towns storm drains double as sewerage channels. The layouts of many African towns can only be found in the dusty records of a defunct town and country planning office leaving the cities and towns death traps in their own right. Viewing African street corners from the Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago, they probably won’t be a more apt description of these places. Except, this is not what Mr. Trump was referring to.
No immigrant carries their shithole with them to the place they hope to find greener pastures, precisely the opposite. These immigrants are running from the shithole because they don’t like it and they want something different. The African immigrant is not as likely to bring Africa with them just as the Norwegian immigrant is not likely to bring with them the clean suburbs of Oslo. We are to take Mr. Trump seriously, not literally. Senators Dick Durban and Lindsey Graham who were part of the meeting and found Trump’s remarks unfortunate know full well the state of African countries. The point about that remark is the preference for one people over another not the effectiveness of city authorities in Africa.
Africa is the shithole that pays for prime real estate in Manhattan
The White House is a unique symbol of the African malady. A house (the center of world power) built with the sweat and blood of African slaves is a constant reminder of the dissipation of African labor that saw Africans build Europe and America while the African continent marked time and even deteriorated in a climate of fear and instability. The knowledge, talent and industry that was sucked out of the continent to build America and Europe’s economies is yet the biggest determiner of Africa’s place in the world. A researcher at the University of Connecticut, Thomas Craemer in a recent study has revealed that the US alone (not to mention Europe) owes in the range of 5.6 trillion to 14.2 trillion (depending on whether a 12 hour work schedule or a 24 hour work schedule is used) in unpaid forced labour to the black people of that country, slaves brought from Africa. If Mr Trump had the faintest understanding of this history he will have at least, fake sympathy for the people and continent whose sweat and blood built the strongest economy in the world that he now leads. That is slavery. Then there is colonialism and its destruction of the African ethic and erosion of African institutions and practices which has created deeply rooted confusion within Africans, their relationship among themselves and with the rest of the world. Away from the past, in 2015, a coalition of UK and African campaigners, Global Justice Now published that as much as $203 billion was taken out of Africa every year through Multinationals repatriating profits and the use of tax havens. Mineral reserves in South Africa is estimated at about $2.5 trillion and for DR Congo it is around $24 trillion in case anyone wonders why the high and mighty like Trump fight for shitholes in Congo. These estimations are not hard to find across the African continent; Africa is the shithole that pays for prime real estate in Manhattan.
Apples and oranges
It is one thing for Africans to be dissatisfied with life on the continent, it is entirely another to accept insults from places that are complicit in the creation of the conditions that Africans are dissatisfied with. What is deemed by many Africans as a wakeup call from Donald Trump is not very distinct from the popular move in mafia films in which the mob kills a member and show up to their funeral to describe how painful the loss is. Africans are right in their dissatisfaction, discontent and even cynicism for life on the continent but it is not the same as giving up the right to be respected. Yes, a lot of African leaders are some of the worst, they are selfish, lack imagination, lack courage and even intellect for governing in some cases but, they are not entirely responsible for the fact that the most resource endowed country in the world (DR Congo) is also one of the poorest. The task of African development is entirely African, it actually helps that Africans go deep in loathing the circumstances that currently prevail on the continent. That deep disappointment could be channeled to useful endeavors. What Africa needs is new energy, anD understanding Africa for what it is and acceptance of the challenge of making it what it should be. That task is up to Africans. What it doesn’t need and doesn’t deserve are tantrums and insults from a New York real estate mogul bullying his way through life.
Written by Guest Columnist: Victor Azure- LLB Student at the University of Ghana Legon and winner of the 2017 African Youth Leadership Essay Competition.