An African response to Trump

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FILE - In this April 29, 2013 file photo, migrants ride on top of a northern bound train toward the US-Mexico border in Union Hidalgo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Al Jazeera America will air a series titled “Borderland” which takes average Americans with strong opinions about illegal immigration through the same deadly journey that is taken by people trying to reach the U.S. The series premieres on April 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, File)

WHILE discussing immigration policies at the Whitehouse recently, US President Donald Trump asked: “Why are we having all these people from s**thole countries come here?
Why do we want people from Haiti?
Why from El Salvador and Africa?”
Instead, according to reports, Trump prefers immigration candidates to come from countries like Norway.
This fact alone speaks volumes about his preferred race.
We only need to recall that during his election campaign he described Mexican immigrants as follows: “They are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime; they are rapists.
My first hour in office, these people are gone.”
After wholesale expulsions of these Mexicans, he proposes the building of a massive wall along the US-Mexican border to keep out these foreigners for good.
About Haitians, he claimed with a straight face: “All Haitians have AIDS.”
In regard to Nigerians, he once said: “Once they have seen the US, they would never go back to their huts in Africa.”
What one senses in all these utterances is the mind of a parochial and xenophobic president whose temperament and sensibility cannot stomach the permanent presence of non-Caucasians in the US.
Further, all these stereotypical utterances by Trump betray frightening levels of ignorance about the history of the US itself.
He betrays a mean-spirited mind which cannot simply fathom and accept the implications of the brutal fact that the US has never been a whiteman’s country only; that it has always been made up of different races from different parts of the world. And that these various races happen to include African-Americans whose forebears were conscripted into slavery by his European ancestors right at the beginning of the formation of the US itself.
What is becoming clear by the day is that when Trump says he wants ‘to make America great again’, he is using a coded language to mean ‘to make America white again’.
It is regrettable that the US is now being run by a person most of whose pronouncements on immigration confirm, in no uncertain terms, that he is driven by an angry and reactionary white nationalism, the kind of nationalism which is, in its own more or less bitter and blind way, a ‘blowback’ on the Barack Obama years.
It is as if part of his instinct is saying repeatedly, that if Caucasians do not re-occupy the centre of the American political system, they will be overwhelmed by hordes of dark-skinned immigrants who in turn will re-enforce the population numbers of non-Caucasians already resident in the US.
In his own possessed and bigotted way, Trump thinks he is addressing a serious demographic factor here, all to do with those who in future will wield power in the US.
Thus, when he talks about Africa as a gigantic ‘s**thole’, whose immigrants the US should reject as a matter of course, he is expressing deeply held racial fears about the ‘blackening and browning’ of a supposedly white US.
We are told that the ‘s**thole’ language Trump uses to describe Africa ‘is how the forgotten men and women of the US (30 percent of whites) talk at the bar’.
And they love and adore Trump when he talks their language like that.
In short, the US is today being run by a president who is a die-hard racist and does not even try to hide it.
The fundamental question which arises is: How should Africa respond to such a deeply offensive insult which Trump is hurling at us in his passionate but careless manner?
Do we cow down like what South Sudan is attempting to do, that is to say, if it is not mentioned by name by Trump, the response is to lie low and say nothing in order to safeguard US aid!
Or do we simply go through the diplomatic motions of protest, express our anger in a nominal way and overlook the long-term implications of such continental abuse?
One can argue Africans and all people of African descent have no other choice but to confront head-on the implications of what Trump’s foul mouth is saying about them and here is why?
First: To describe Africa as a ‘s**thole’ is to dismiss not only the geography that makes up Africa as being an unbearably smelly place to live in, it is to degrade and ultimately to dismiss the humanity of all those who live in it or of all those who have come from it.
It is to dismiss their worldview, their value systems and all their contributions to world civilisation.
It is to deny them a sense of achievement, a sense of belonging and sense of hope and self-respect and dignity, among others.
Second: The ‘s**thole’ metaphor used by Trump happens to be an earthy, pungent metaphor, particularly memorable and likely to resonate across generations to come.
It is not said by an eccentric and isolated individual whom we can afford to ignore but by a sitting president of the US, someone who is constitutionally required to symbolise as well as represent the views and interests of all Americans on this planet.
Therefore his views are to some disturbing degree a reflection of American views.
More worrisome, these views are in line with long-standing Western tradition of dehumanising Africans, reducing them to sub-humans first, before exploiting them as beasts of burden.
Here is how Lord Chesterfield argued in a letter to a son of his who was troubled about the morality of enslaving blacks from Africa during the 16th Century.
Chesterfield argued as follows to persuade his son that the Atlantic slave trade was justified:
“Blacks are little better than lions, tigers, leopards and other wild beasts which that country (Africa) produces in great numbers.”
In the same letter, he went on to argue blacks had no arts, sciences and systems of commerce and, as such, it was acceptable ‘to buy a great many of them to sell again to advantage in the West Indies’.
In other words, much as we would prefer to dismiss the derogatory description of Africa by Trump as reflecting his own abysmal ignorance about Africa, that ignorance is an integral part of a popular Western tradition of denigrating Africa and its people, and has been going on for centuries.
In fact that tradition is thriving in Western films, in popular Western culture, in their literature, folklore and in the imagination of the West in general.
We need to recall that in one of his books, Henry Stanley Morton described Africa as the ‘dark continent’ and that metaphor has hounded us ever since.
That alleged ‘darkness’ was later on used by Trump’s forebears to justify the military subjugation of African peoples and subsequent colonisation of Africa as a whole.
Third: Africans should not be lulled into sleep by the condemnations which fellow Americans are directing against Trump.
He is an uncouth racist, too crude for their liking in fact.
But he is only saying publicly what the silent majority of Americans believe in about Africa but dare not say openly.
Accordingly, we need to educate our children and ourselves too about how Western nations look at us, how they have treated us across centuries so that we do not harbour any dangerous illusions when we relate to them at the international level.
This is the dangerous illusion which drives Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa to go to Washington to beg for more economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.
There are many of us who, like Chamisa and Biti, believe that Americans love us so much that they will donate democracy and human rights to us, as if we did not fight for both!
The stinging irony here is that soon after their grovelling confessions in Washington DC and their subsequent departure from the same, Trump describes their homeland as a ‘s**thole’.
What a successful trip it was!
Fourth: Africa is big in size; it has huge resources both above and below its soils, it has over a billion people!
In brief it has everything which the US and the West need.
All that is required to make it a powerful continent, powerful enough to earn respect on its own terms, is a committed leadership and a committed people.
None but ourselves will develop it.

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