Donald Trump’s alleged complaint to US legislators of both parties that the US was accepting immigrants from “shithole” countries in Africa and Haiti, rather than Norway for example, has caused global offence.
Botswana, probably America’s closest friend on the continent, summoned the US ambassador to Gaborone to express its displeasure at the “highly irresponsible, reprehensible and racist” alleged remark, which legislators leaked to US papers.
Several other African governments as well as that of Haiti took similar action. The UN Human Rights Commissioner also condemned the remark.
“These are shocking and shameful comments from the President of the United States,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Commissioner. “I’m sorry, but there’s no other word one can use but racist,” he was quoted by CNN as saying at a press conference in Geneva.
ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte told ENCA news that while developing countries did have difficulties, the US also “had millions of people out of work or without healthcare.
“Ours is not a shithole country, neither is Haiti or any other country in distress,” she said, calling Trump’s remarks “extremely offensive.”
However the South African government refrained from commenting. Nelson Kgwete, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations said: “We won’t react to ‘sources’. The alleged statement is attributed to ‘sources’ and is being denied.”
Patrick Gaspard, the former US ambassador to South Africa – and the son of Haitian immigrants to the US – tweeted: “So apparently he doesn’t need Steve Bannon to curate his racism.” Bannon was Trump’s far-right adviser until he fired him last year.
Gaspard tweeted a statement attributed to Haiti’s ambassador to the US Paul Altidor, “vehemently” condemning the remark which he said was based on stereotypes.
Gaspard also tweeted a photograph of America’s Statue of Liberty, the giant symbol of its open embrace of immigrants for over a century. At its feet are inscribed the words:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! “
This charitable invitation to the “wretched” and “homeless” of the earth contrasts strongly with Trump’s proposed new immigration policy, which he was discussing with legislators when he made the alleged “shithole” remark. His proposal is that US rather admit those who already have the means, rather than those who only have the potential.
Gaspard retweeted a remark from one Frank Luntz that “43% of immigrants from ‘shithole’ African countries have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 33% of the overall American population.’”
He also tweeted that Trump had complained in a recent speech on immigration reform that the US had admitted 59 million immigrants since 1965 because “racism was the central pillar of US immigration policy until 1965.”
Until then immigrants from northern Europe had been favoured. In 1965 the Hart-Celler Act opened immigration to other countries, Gaspard wrote.
Many hours after the first reports of his alleged remarks were published, Trump denied having made them, tweeting that his language at the meeting with legislators had been “tough, but this was not the language used”.
Gaspard shot back that “’tough’ is the new euphemism for racist”.
US embassies around the world scampered to try to mend bridges with allies. Cindy Harvey, spokesperson for the US embassy in Pretoria, said: “The United States deeply respects the people of Africa and values its partnerships with them.
“There has been no change in the United States’ dedication to our partners and friends across the Continent.
“We remain committed to working together with Africans to realise the promise of a more peaceful, more productive, more prosperous 21st century Africa.
“We will continue to move forward together with Africa, focusing on our goals and the shared accomplishments that truly reflect the strong bilateral ties shared by the United States and Africa.”
“Our partnership with Africa and our commitment to its continued growth and success is unwavering.
“Our progress forward will not by diverted by anything contrary to those goals.”
In its statement condemning Trump’s remarks, the Botswana government politely enquired “if Botswana is regarded as a ‘shithole’ country given that there are Botswana nationals residing in the US and also that some Batswana may wish to visit the US.
“The Government of Botswana is wondering why President Trump must use this descriptor and derogatory word, when talking about countries with whom the US had had cordial and mutually beneficial bilateral relations for so many years.”
It called on the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and all other progressive nations to strongly condemn Trump’s remarks. DM
File Photo: US President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a prison reform roundtable in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 11 January 2018. EPA-EFE/SHAWN THEW
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