After Trump referred to a series of nations as “s**tholes”, some
of the clever ones among us, like Botswana and Ghana, and then the entire African Union, decided to sling a few testy words towards the US.
The most surprising of the lot was, of course, the AU’s statement. Given that the AU is a cardboard cut-out of an elephant, where movement is slow, complex and short of substance, we were just so impressed they were able to get their s**t together and signed off.
Still, what did our collective condemnation mean? I’ll tell you. Nothing.
First, consider if Trump actually cares about the condemnation from “s**thole” countries. In other words, if he thinks of us as nothing but “s**tholes”, why would our outrage matter to him?
Second, what sort of fallout could there possibly be following his words and our outrage?
For instance, the US essentially invaded Libya in 2011 and helped murder Muammar Gaddafi, and African leaders stood by and did nothing. The US military has been conducting shadow wars in the Sahel for years, and African leaders have looked on and done nothing. Israel and the Arab Gulf countries also continue to treat African migrants with disdain.
Europe has been outsourcing the murder of African refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean. All along, African leaders have done nothing.
Do we actually expect our leaders to do something because Trump stamped us with an obscenity?
Of course, Trump underestimates the continent, and the economic and political relations away from the US and Europe, as our friendships with China and India prosper.
But where African leaders have long resented the US and Europe, they aren’t ready to dictate terms to them or let go of US aid. As it stands, the African continent receives 32% of all US aid.
Our leaders know too well that Trump’s words are certainly no different to the private thoughts of many Americans - private citizen or public official.
They know too well that Trump didn’t create US immigration law or instil the fear of God into undocumented immigrants. Some of them might even know that it was the more discreet Barack Obama (who was dubbed “deporter-in-chief”) who ended up deporting 3 million undocumented immigrants during his two terms, more than Bill Clinton or George W Bush.
They know that Trump didn’t invent the unequal and grossly racist visa process. Consider how many of us have given away our dignity at a US embassy in a bid to travel to that country. These days they don’t even allow you to even enter (the US, UK or EU) embassies.
One must go to an outsourced agency where you must disclose the most private of details, including salary, bank statements, list of assets, a detailed itinerary (because spontaneous travel is a privilege for Western travellers only) and then explain why you want to travel from our “s**thole” to the land of the free. We were turds long before Trump called us so.
If anything, he is only a product of the long ambition of rich nations to keep out citizens of poor nations, until and unless we are needed to take out the trash.
It is only now that Trump has spoken publicly about the indignity that ought not to be named (ie, you are from a “s**thole” country) that our public officials are offended. This is not leadership, this is populist nationalism. If anything, this is a version of Trumpism itself.
Where was the condemnation and protestations for these visa processes or deportations and drownings of migrants from our leaders all this time? Why haven’t the governments of Italy and Spain or Greece been summoned to talk about drownings in the Mediterranean? Why hasn’t the AU condemned the actions of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in imprisoning and deporting African migrants?
It is as if our leaders suddenly awoke from a dreamland in which all people and nations were treated equally. In reality, the visa process and arrangement itself, and the fact that it has been allowed to exist, is ample acknowledgement that our leaders also think we are indeed “s**tholes”.
For instance, the South African government said in a statement that “Relations between South Africa and the US, and between the rest of Africa and the US, must be based on mutual respect and understanding.”
This is possibly the most tone deaf of all comments to come out in response to Trump. It is as if this government does not equate crime with foreign Africans, often raiding their homes and treating refugees and economic migrants with indignity.
It is as if our immigration policies do not prioritise white or Western visitors to our shores over Africans or those of colour. It is as if xenophobic sentiment is not simmering in our townships and small towns - often at the encouragement of the state.
Trump’s callous and very public bigotry has only distracted the villainy of others. Through his dingbattedness, African leaders, including our own, are able to portray themselves as caring and strong, brave and righteous, and very able and willing to stand up to the strongest leader of the free world. In reality, the diplomacy game has only become more nefarious and boiled down to public slurs and feverish back-room talk. As always, Trump is only the tip of a larger calamity that has always predated his buffoonery.
* Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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