We have read with consternation reports of your derisive comments characterising African nations and others as “shithole countries,” and questioning why the United States should allow immigrants from our continent, or other similarly described nations like El Salvador and Haiti. You also stated a preference for immigrants from “countries like Norway.”
The overt racism of these statements is self-evident, and a stain on an office as august as yours.
We are Africans. Like many of our compatriots, we are well aware of the serious challenges faced across the continent – poor governance, unacceptably high unemployment, inadequate public healthcare and education systems that, while improving, remain below the levels needed for us to bootstrap ourselves out of poverty. Some of these challenges are self-made, many are the inevitable result of centuries of colonisation and its aftermath. Many of us are clear-eyed about our difficulties, and how to tackle them and are doing just that.
But like the US, Africa is so much more than the sum of its shortcomings. It is a vibrant, beautiful continent populated by proud people who daily face their challenges head-on, with dignity and with courage, creativity and ingenuity. Africans, in all our wonderful diversity, look to create for ourselves a more promising future, despite the myriad indignities of the past.
You need only visit countries like Kenya, Ghana and our own South Africa, to see how more and more African nations are embracing democracy, whilst building lasting institutions and robust economies that can offer their children the exciting opportunities that have been in short supply for so long. Like any region in the world, some of our people look abroad to find their fortunes (or their safe havens), while others stay home to make their way in the world.
The US, along with many of its businesses and people, its churches and civil society organisations, have been invaluable allies in Africa’s far-reaching and widespread reconstruction effort. Many African nations, in return, have been unwavering allies of the US as we work together to tackle common threats and take advantage of common opportunities.
This has been as beneficial to many parts of Africa, as it’s been strategically important to the US. Now, at a stroke, you have cast a pall over that symbiosis by impugning the dignity of 1.2 billion Africans who call this continent home.
One can only imagine how these views have been received by the millions of Americans descended from the slaves, who were herded and sold like cattle, and shipped to the US to build its economy. In insulting the homeland of their ancestors – who had no say in the genocide and atrocity that was slavery – you have again violated the dignity of those with roots in Africa, wherever they are in the world.
Next week, when you arrive at Davos, Switzerland, to meet with world leaders and others in business and civil society, it will be clear exactly what it is you mean when you lay out your “America First” doctrine. Rather than the laudable ethos upon which modern America is built, namely a nation of immigrants free to strive for excellence and success, regardless of their provenance, it appears you want to pull up the drawbridge for people who are not white, and engineer an exclusive, less diverse America.
Our own country’s recent painful history of entrenching racial prejudice in the statute books through Apartheid makes this an approach with which we are very familiar. It’s encouraging to us that so many of your countrymen and women, who treasure this ideal of the US — including many from within your own Republican party — are already rejecting your monochrome vision.
We join hands with them, in the same spirit of solidarity that many of your citizens showed in rejecting Apartheid and isolating those who sought to entrench racism, segregation and discrimination.
Many of us will be boycotting your address to delegates at Davos in protest against your divisive comments and continued failure to unequivocally apologise. We encourage likeminded peers to do the same. It is our hope, however, that your presence will help stimulate a debate that inspires commitment to a world premised on basic principles of humanity, inclusivity, respect, tolerance and forbearance. An alternative, in other words, to a world where walls, disparagement, and hate dominate the discourse of the leader of the US.
Bonang Mohale CEO, Business Leadership South Africa