By Christmas Fleming
If the President of the United States is anyone to go by then I am writing this from a shithole location in the south-eastern chunk of the African continent, officially known as the Kingdom of Swaziland. For the President’s benefit, considering his known deficiency in African geography, I will go on to say that Swaziland is a landlocked territory, approximately 17,364 square kilometres and its 1.3 million inhabitants share borders with South Africa and Mozambique.
Geography to international relations… Three days ago, we began to receive media reports that were incredibly offensive yet hardly surprising. According to these reports, President Trump met with US lawmakers to discuss immigration and at one point during this meeting, referred to African states, Haiti and El Salvador as ‘shithole countries’.
As the story spread across the world, the White House’s Deputy Press Secretary went on to issue a statement, defending his boss’ overall policy on immigration and to everyone’s surprise, failed to deny the atrocious remarks that were being attributed to his boss.
The international outrage intensified
In the twenty four hours that followed, the condemnation had spilled over from online audiences to condemnation by various diplomatic sources, such as in the case of Botswana, Ghana and a United Nations spokesman referring to Trump’s comments as ‘racist’. At this point, I have to mention that Trump did seem to deny his remarks in a tweet, but no one could take him seriously as his response did not indicate that he understood the full gravity of the situation.
With a collective voice of all 55 countries on the continent, Africa released not one but two statements through the African Union and the African Group of Ambassadors to the United Nations respectively.
These statements were very much in line with the reactions of AU and UN Member States – branding Trump’s words as derogatory and racist. One thing that featured and caught my eye in Africa’s two statements that was largely missing from other reactions was the DEMAND of a retraction as well as an apology from President Trump.
Whoa. When I saw this, I slumped in my seat.
First of all, publicly demanding an apology from someone, say a friend, is an extremely ambitious thing to seek unless you are sure of three things: One, that the individual is deeply remorseful to the point that he or she can admit and apologise to you in front of an audience. Two, that you have irrefutable evidence, such as an audio/video recording, that would force the individual to buckle. And, Three, that you have the necessary influence and leverage that will make the person think twice about getting into your bad books.
If we look at Trump’s comments, Trump the man and the current US–Africa relationship, there is nothing to suggest that seeking an apology was a good strategic move on our part. One, Trump was dismissive in his denial and he doesn’t seem to be close to anything that resembles ‘remorse’. Two, the only evidence that we currently have comes from other individuals that were present during Trump alleged rant. Knowing what we know about politics, their testimonies can hardly be classified as irrefutable evidence. Three, Africa does not have the influence or leverage that would make a US President like Trump, sweat on the world stage.
This is the reality. On this issue, the chances of receiving an apology from President Trump, were extremely remote even before Africa issued its statements and it’s hard to see what has changed since.
This begs the question, why all the tough talk and bravado? Why would 55 countries decide to demand something like an apology from an out of touch, erratic and non-apologetic man that commands more political, economic, and military clout than all of them combined? Why would you publicly push a man that we all know keeps most of our regimes afloat through developmental and military aid packages?
I, as I’m sure many other Africans, would love to be alive to see our continent stand up on the world stage, command respect, address some grievances and roar its way to an apology from all parties in the wrong. Unfortunately, with the way the world is set-up, those apologies will remain scarce and we are certainly not yet in a position to wrestle a US president, especially a clown, out of one.
The assertiveness and boldness that we displayed through demanding an apology from Trump might be applauded by some, but the big question remains, how will the US-Africa relationship be like until we receive it? What if it never comes? I mean, let’s break this down: if I demand an apology from a partner or ally then surely up until I receive what I want, our friendship can’t be business as usual. Right?
Something has to change. Maybe in my case, I would block that person on WhatsApp and dish out cold shoulders signs if we meet in public.
From where I’m sitting, I don’t think Africa has even the slightest wiggle room to play hardball on this one. Are we going issue travel advisories to our citizens? Threaten to cut trade, diplomatic ties and close embassies? Maybe we can shut down their military installations in Niger or Djibouti? No?
Unfortunately, the opposite of doing something, will also say something about us. If we continue our relationship with the US like nothing happened, like nobody is owing somebody an apology then what does that say about us? That we can bark through official public statements, but regain our submissive behaviour in person – asking for funds during conferences? That we have a glaring appetite to bite off more than we can chew?
And therein lies the problem with demanding an apology that you are unable to enforce if push comes to shove. Deep down, I genuinely hope that my analysis is off key, and Trump miraculously apologises in the coming days. I mean, what are the odds of a powerful narcissist president apologising to individuals that he and his Administration hold in low regard, on an issue he denies and with no foreseeable actions against him if he chooses to ignore everything?