As is the wont, President Donald Trump, ruffled the feathers of many when he plainly spoke his mind on Africa and a few other poor countries.
“Why are we having people from these shithole countries coming here?” Trump allegedly wondered as he referred to people from Haiti and African countries. This was in a meeting with lawmakers on the touchy subject of immigration.
The responses were swift. He was called a racist, bigot, insensitive and many other pejoratives by those who felt he had gone too far.
I was asked to make a comment on the issue by an international news organisation. They were rather shocked that I did not follow the fashion of angrily condemning Trump.
I will never tire to say that in the obnoxious Trump, Africans have found an ‘honest broker’ in as far as their place in America is concerned.
He is the neighbour’s son who when you visit and are told by his wife that your friend is away, will come out and tell you that Daddy is hiding in the bedroom because he says your visits always end with begging for help.
For long, we have been fed on the false notion of an America that is the home of egalitarianism, the land of the free and the brave, the refuge for those fleeing from injustice and persecution.
The cold truth is what Trump has told us over and over again. We are not really wanted there in our current state. We are looked upon as third class citizens who are going to America as a burden.
The US visa application process (even well before Trump dreamt of being an American President) tells you the story. It is like one is applying to go to heaven. It puts all sorts of hurdles for the applicant who from the onset is set back by a non-refundable fee of close to $500 dollars.
When our black brother Barack Obama, the 44th president of the US took office in 2009, the optimism in Africa was palpable for migration to the US and Europe has helped many relatives in Africa to go through school, put up houses, marry, drive good cars, pay for medical bills and live better lives. It’s a lifeline. So many thought that Obama would help us remove our dictators or if not we would easily saunter into the US like one does from his living room to the kitchen. The dictators and visa rules remained in place.
But Obama who is a great orator, good at giving a speech full of optimism, kept hope alive with his talk of the US being there for everyone. When it came to the bitterly fought election between the Democratic Party’s Ms Hilary Clinton and the Republican Trump, many African observers sympathised with Ms. Clinton. She spoke about a world of shared opportunities and prosperity. This gave hope to many who still view the US as the home of those fleeing persecution, be it political, social or economic.
Yet Trump was talking of making America great again and Americans coming first. Many Africans ‘voted’ for Ms Clinton, then Trump won to their disappointment.
Now this shithole comment is like rubbing salt into a festered sore. After calming down, Africa needs to search its soul. Africa is a land of plenty, full of natural resources, green with fertile soils, populated by hard working brave and resilient people who have learnt to cope with austerity and make do with little.
But we have squandered our inheritance. Right from the time we came into contact with Europe, Asia and Arabia we showed that we were comfortable with people coming here to take our resources very cheaply in an unequal exchange. They prospered and we retrogressed. Now we are the land of the poorest people who live on less than a dollar a day. We are the land of disease, pestilence, hunger, starvation, and all forms of humiliation.
We have given up and most of our actions say so. Now our politicians can’t provide employment opportunities so they export our people abroad. The rest take the risky route across the Mediterranean because the place we call home has become the mouth of a shark.
We have handed over our economies to foreign investors who do as they please. Our solution is to run away from the problem to USA, Europe and Asia to search for greener pastures as our life presidents continue to waste our birth right.
In a nutshell we have given up and wallow in self-pity using every opportunity to try and procure sympathy. I love these lines in the rap song ‘See U When U Get There’ by Coolio and the 40 Thieves, ‘….Cause nothing worse than a quitter/You gotta face responsibility one day my brother/So wrap up your pity and turn it into ambition/And put your vehicle in ‘drive’…’
The African predicament will not be solved by people running away for that route is narrowing by the day. Far right ideologies are gaining traction, dimming migration opportunities. We have to sort our mess by confronting dictators and their acolytes who have sunk us this low and turned our continent into a laughing stock to the extent that it is difficult to contradict those who dismiss it as a shithole. But if we wish, we also have the option of pretending that Africa in its current state is a paradise and those with contrary views are just racists. The choice is ours.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political
and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org