'Sticks and stones may break my bones, words will never break me.'

The dust is settling on the controversy over how President Trump is alleged to have referred to African countries, with Haiti and El Salvador thrown in for good measure.
Delegates attend the African Union meeting in Kigali in 2016. The AU asked the US president to clarify remarks attributed to him which degrade and insulted African people. / Kisambira T.
Delegates attend the African Union meeting in Kigali in 2016. The AU asked the US president to clarify remarks attributed to him which degrade and insulted African people. / Kisambira T.

The dust is settling on the controversy over how President Trump is alleged to have referred to African countries, with Haiti and El Salvador thrown in for good measure.

No sooner had the Washington Post broken the story than African ambassadors both in New York at the United Nations, and Washington, convened emergency meetings to discuss a response.

They could have done no other, it would have been a dereliction for them to have done otherwise. But, how much should Africa be concerned about what are essentially crude, boorish insults?

Let’s remind ourselves of what might have passed by us in the media storm that followed the alleged comments. President Trump was meeting legislators from both the main parties, Republicans and Democrats, in the Oval office, at the White House.

The meeting was to try and find cross party consensus on immigration, in particular, agreement on the so called DACA, or Deferred Action for Child Arrivals. This was a policy where children who arrived in the country illegally, but, had now made a life in America, were exempt from forced removal. President Trump wants this, as other policies on immigration, rescinded.  

One of the senators, from the Democratic party, suggested that in order to win over the influential Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to the president’s side, he might like to consider a better welcome for migrants from some African countries.

According to the Washington post report, the president was infuriated by the suggestion, declaring that he cared little for the CBC. He demanded to know why America couldn’t have more immigration from countries like Norway, and perhaps some Asian countries, rather than people from “Shithole countries”.

Once the story broke, the president and his staff’s immediate concern was how it would play with his support base. “Like a victory lap”, one is said to have assured the president. As the popular song goes, it’s all about the base. The people who share his sentiments, and who elected him, because he gave such sentiments voice. Once again, he was speaking for them, reflecting their views.

Ann Coulter, the right wing commentator, and a strong Trump supporter, gleefully tweeted, “Announcing the opening of Shithole Air, Free 1 way travel back to the country of your choice.” How “the base” will have loved that.

Much of the world which saw it differently. “These are shocking and shameful comments from the President of the United States, there is no other word one can use, but, racist”, said a stony faced Rupert Colville, UN Human Rights spokesman. And from the South African government, “Africa is united in its affirmation of the dignity of the people of Africa, and the African Diaspora.

Relations between South Africa and the United States, and between the rest of Africa and the United States, must be based on mutual respect and understanding.”

“At what point are we Africans going to rise up and say enough is enough”, the African Union ambassador to Washington Chihombori-Quoa was quoted as saying. A heartfelt cry. At what point indeed. But, even accepting that what is important is that her sentiments were voiced, there were surely greater, more profound reasons for them.

With the information now in the public domain, France’s complicity in the Rwanda Genocide against the Tutsi, one of the greatest crimes against humanity of any generation, is beyond any reasonable doubt. The country continues to shield genocide perpetrators from justice, and Africa has nothing to say about that, even as they roll out the red carpet for the French President, leaving one of their own, Rwanda, a lone voice calling for long overdue justice.

One could go on, grave problems facing Africa are too numerous to enumerate. Should these, rather than what in the words of the UN spokesman are “racist” comments be the reasons for convening umpteen meetings. “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words alone will never break me”, so goes the English nursery rhyme. Should Africa not heed its advice?

Nothing speaks louder than words. As President Trump’s comments occupied much of the world’s media, scant attention was paid to a meeting in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, which may have anticipated the advice from the ZANU-PF youth. The meeting chaired by President Kagame, and attended by among others, the head of the African Union (AU) commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, was to continue discussions on reform of the AU.

It was two years ago now that the 27th AU Summit tasked President Kagame to head efforts to reform the organisation. One of the priorities set by the President and the team he selected from among the AU member nations, was to look at how the organisation can fund itself. At present the bulk of its funding comes from Western countries.

The proposal to ring fence 0.2% of eligible member countries’ import duties for AU funding has been adopted.

“We should look at this process as the last best chance for the AU to fix its finances, and secure the esteem of the people we serve...” said Kagame. Words that couldn’t have been more apt if he had been gazing into a crystal ball into the recent comments from that other meeting in the Oval Office.

These should be the last words, but, for shear entertainment value, the last word has to go the shrewd marketing video from Namibia, “Shithole statement from Namibia”, proving the adage that Entertainment is Education by Stealth.