What little Donald Trump has said about Africa during his first year in office as U.S. president has not exactly been very positive. Comments about Nigerians living “huts,” making up a fictitious name for an African country, and, of course, his alleged vulgar description of Africa as home to “%#%$*hole” countries. But at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, we saw a kinder, gentler Donald Trump with regards to his views on Africa.
On Friday, Trump met with Rwandan president Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the WEF for what turned out to be a high profile photo opportunity for both leaders. Kagame, who is also the current chairman of the African Union, was under pressure from fellow African leaders to extract an apology from Trump. Although the U.S. leader did not express any remorse for his past comments, he did say how much he “deeply respects” the people of Africa and that the U.S. “profoundly respects” its partnership with the continent.
Africans Are Really Angry at the U.S.
Trump’s efforts to repair the U.S. relationship with Africa may be too little, too late as evidenced by public opinion surveys that reveal a sharp drop in African approval ratings of the U.S. and its president. Anecdotally, people across the continent are angry at the U.S. president. Really angry.
When heads of state are publicly scolding you on Twitter, you have a problem. It will likely take more than a little sweet talk and the dispatching of the Secretary of State to bridge what appears to be a growing divide between the United States and Africa.
Politics aside, the reaction from people across the continent on social media towards the U.S. president is even more alarming. People are understandably angry by his attitudes and they aren’t holding back their frustrations.
Playing Right Into China’s Hands
The timing of Trump’s latest African gaff, the alleged “^%#$&hole” comment, couldn’t have been better for the Chinese government. Foreign Minister Wang Yi was midway through a four-nation African tour where the contrast between the two superpowers was on full display. Whereas U.S. policy in appears chaotic, Wang reaffirmed that China is a “stable partner” with Africa and that improving relations on the continent remains a high “priority” for Beijing.
“As the fallout continues, there is something missing from the conversation: Trump’s alleged vulgar insult comes at a time of strategic shift in Africa — toward China.” — Journalist Ismail Einashe
Sure, Wang’s flowery comments are the kind of rhetoric one would expect from a visiting foreign minister, but the Chinese aren’t just talking sweet, they’re also backing it up with high levels of diplomatic engagement in Africa and staggering amounts of money.
The fruits of Chinese engagement in Africa are now far more tangible than they were just a few years ago. New Chinese-financed international railways have been built, fast new Chinese-built telecom networks are up and running and new direct air links between China-Africa are fostering even closer business ties between the two regions.
The reality is that outside of fighting terrorism, the U.S. just isn’t as relevant in Africa as it once was. While most Americans probably do not understand this, Africans know it and certainly the Chinese know it. So while the White House fumbles around for a coherent African message, in the end, it probably doesn’t really matter as the world, Africa in particular, moves on without the U.S.
- National Public Radio (NPR): Trump’s Insults Will Nudge African Nations Closer To China by Ismail Einashe
- CNN.com: South Africa formally protests Trump’s ‘shithole countries’ remarks by David McKenzie, Elise Labott and Susannah Cullinane
- The New York Times: ‘Don’t Feed the Troll’: Much of the World Reacts in Anger at Trump’s Insult by Jina Moore and Catherine Porter
Ismail Einashe is a freelance journalist based in London. He has written about the Sicilian mafia, the plight of migrants in Italy, radicalisation in Europe and human rights and conflict in Africa for publications including Prospect Magazine, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Atlantic, NPR, Haaretz, The Nation, Mail & Guardian, Index on Censorship, The International Business Times and The White Review. He’s also worked for BBC Radio Current Affairs and presented on BBC Radio. Ismail is also a 2017 Dart Center Ochberg Fellow at Columbia University Journalism School and an associate at the Cambridge University Migration Research Network (CAMMIGRES).