ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – If President Donald Trump was hoping that the rancor provoked by his alleged comment that the countries of Africa were “shitholes” had dissipated, the African Union’s top official let it be known on Thursday that it was still very much on everyone’s mind.
The semi-annual meeting of African heads of state at the African Union begins Sunday. Speaking to African foreign ministers preparing for the summit, the African Union commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said Africa was not happy with the U.S. president.
“At the time of this session, Africa has yet to finish digesting the statements of the president of the United States which profoundly shocked with their messages conveying contempt, hate and desire to marginalize and exclude Africans,” he said Wednesday at the opening session of the executive council. He went on to note Trump’s other controversial moves, including the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which was overwhelmingly condemned by a U.N. General Assembly vote.
“These remarks followed a host of others on Jerusalem and the reduction of contributions to the budget for global peace keeping, leading one to think that multilateralism is in the midst of a grave crisis – the continent will not be silent on this subject,” he added.
The remarks likely presage an official condemnation at the conclusion of the summit Monday.
According to people briefed on a meeting Trump held with lawmakers, the president questioned in a discussion over immigration why the United States was accepting people from “shithole countries” like Africa instead of getting more people from places like Norway.
The reaction was fierce, with several African countries summoning U.S. envoys to explain the comment and African ambassadors to the United States demanding an apology.
The glaring exception has been the longtime ruler of Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni, who praised the president for talking “frankly” to African countries.
Otherwise, however, the response has been overwhelmingly negative as Africans deplored the lack of respect and insulting language used by Trump.
“Africa and the black race deserve the respect and consideration of all,” said President Macky Sall of Senegal.
In fact it was the Senegelase ambassador to Ethiopia, Baye Moctar Diop, who proposed the draft declaration condemning Trump’s remarks that was adopted for the body’s consideration.
“This is matter is serious enough that all African countries should react together to condemn him,” Diop told the Ethiopian News Agency.
Most envoys predicted a strong statement against Trump on Monday when the summit concludes, but expressed hope that U.S. ties with Africa would surpass these comments.
Trump might also have a chance to clarify his remarks himself as he attends the World Economic Forum in Davos for two days starting Thursday.
Among his many meetings, he will encounter Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda and a key player on the African continent. He is the current chairman of the African Union and the architect of the body’s internal reform process that seeks to make it more effective – and more self sufficient so it relies less on European and U.S. funding.
At last year’s meeting in Addis Ababa, days after Trump’s inauguration, there was a great deal of talk that Africa would likely have to rely more on itself with a U.S. president who never mentioned the continent in his campaign.
One of the moves proposed to boost Africa has been the creation of a continent-wide free trade area as well as visa-free travel for all citizens of Africa. Despite some optimistic projections, most expect concrete measures on this to be a ways off.
Yet in a seminar about the summit held by the Institute of Security Studies, analyst Tsion Tadesse Abebe suggested Trump’s comments might actually give such measures a push.
“The protocol has been under development for some time, and it might become a very sensational issue – like now Africa is opening its borders, look at you Trump, you are saying this and we are going to allow this and so on,” she said.