Africans 'alarmed' by Trump's comments about their continent

U.S. President Donald Trump has denied using certain “language” during a private meeting with lawmakers that has caused fury as far afield as Kenya and Norway. But neither he nor the White House have directly contested the most controversial of his comments.

During an Oval Office meeting on Thursday, Trump questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to people briefed on the extraordinary Oval Office conversation.

“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump insisted in a series of Friday morning tweets. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA.”

DACA refers to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protected young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Trump ended the program last year, but has given Congress until March 5 to find a way to keep it alive.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the only Democrat in the room, disputed the president’s vague denial.

“You’ve seen the comments in the press. I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate,” Durbin told reporters on Friday. “He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”

“When the question was asked about Haitians … he said, ‘Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?”‘

U.S. politicians speak out against Trump comments1:55

Trump took particular issue with the characterization of his comments on Haiti.

“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems,” Trump wrote. “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!”

Trump’s contemptuous description of Africa startled lawmakers in the meeting and immediately revived charges that the president is racist. The White House did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Trump supports immigration policies that welcome “those who can contribute to our society.”

His comments came as two senators presented details of a bipartisan compromise that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants — and also strengthen border protections, as Trump has insisted.

The lawmakers had hoped Trump would back their accord, an agreement among six senators evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, ending a months-long, bitter dispute over protecting the “dreamers.” But the White House later rejected it, plunging the issue back into uncertainty just eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.

Durbin, the Senate’ s No. 2 Democrat, explained that as part of that deal, a lottery for visas that has benefited people from Africa and other nations would be ended, the sources said, though there could be another way for them to apply.

Durbin said people who would be allowed to stay in the U.S. included those who had fled here after disasters hit their homes in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.

No denial from White House

As for immigrants from Africa, the president suggested that instead, the U.S. should allow more entrants from countries like Norway. Trump met this week with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Asked about the remarks Thursday, White House spokesperson Raj Shah did not deny them.

“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” he said.

Trump’s remarks were remarkable even by the standards of a president who has been accused of racism by his foes and who has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors have generally embraced.

International reaction

Africans woke up Friday to find that Trump had finally taken an interest in their continent, but not in the way they had wanted.

The African Union continental body told The Associated Press it was “frankly alarmed” by Trump’s comments.

Jessie Duarte, centre, Deputy Secretary General of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, said in response to Trump’s comment: ‘Ours is not a shithole country and neither is Haiti or any other country in distress.’ (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

“Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice,” said spokesperson Ebba Kalondo. “This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress called Trump’s comments “extremely offensive.” Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte said developing countries do have difficulties, but the United States has millions of people out of work or without health care, and “we would not deign to make comments as derogatory.”

In Kenya, East Africa’s economic hub, political activist Boniface Mwangi pleaded: “Please don’t confuse the #shithole leaders we Africans elect with our beautiful continent.”

A senior Trump administration official also said the top U.S. diplomat in Haiti had been summoned to meet with Haiti’s president to explain Trump’s remarks about immigrants.

‘Insult before humanity’

Former Canadian governor general Michaëlle Jean, who was born in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, called Trump’s reported remarks “disturbing” and an “insult before humanity.”

Many Norwegians were also baffled to be the subject of the president’s backhanded compliment.

Henrik Heldahl, a commentator for the Amerikansk Politikk website, said the sentiment about Norway might have been welcomed without the rest of the statement. “But the way he said it guarantees that the reaction here will be very negative.”

Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that if confirmed, “these are shocking and shameful comments from the president of the United States. Sorry, but there is no other word one can use but ‘racist.'”

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply