While the “giants” of Africa seem reticent to get into a war of words with, or even react to Donald Trump’s derogatory comments and tough policy actions, Botswana, a small country with only two million people, has no such problems.
Following Trump’s comments referring mainly to Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries,” Botswana’s government has asked the US ambassador to the country to “clarify” if it’s one of those Trump considers a shithole country. It has also described the comments as “irresponsible, reprehensible and racist.”
It’s not the first time Botswana has been stood up to Trump’s America. In December, Botswana kicked against rhetoric from Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, which suggested that action would be taken against countries that voted against the US in the general assembly vote on the status of Jerusalem.
“Botswana will not be intimidated by such threats and will exercise her sovereign right and vote based on her foreign relations principles,” the country’s government noted in a statement. “The threatening and grossly inappropriate communication, whose purpose would be to undermine the sovereignty of Botswana as an independent country, also demonstrates unprecedented diplomacy,” it added.
Botswana’s defiance of foreign governments and their might isn’t limited to the US either. In Aug. 2017, the country pressed ahead with plans to host a proposed visit from the Dalai Lama despite displeasure from China. Amid the diplomatic row, Botswana was keen to stress that it wasn’t China’s “colony.” The trip was eventually cancelled due to the Dalai Lama’s ill health.
While Botswana has been vocal on these issues, governments in larger African countries have kept relatively mum. Given Trump’s previous disparaging comments on race, immigration and Africa—he was recently reported to have suggested Nigerians lived in huts—the non-response from African countries could be interpreted as a US president whose incendiary comments are best ignored. The US is still an important economic partner for many African countries.
The African Union did slam Trump’s remarks saying it “flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice” while, Abdirahman Omar Osman, Somalia’s information minister said the comments “do not deserve a response.” In South Africa, the ruling African National Congress and the opposition Democratic Alliance party have denounced Trump’s comments but there has been no official response from Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president.
Trump’s comments were seen as particularly racially charged because he suggested that too many people were coming from countries of black and brown people, while at the same asking that more people from places “like Norway” be welcomed. The data does not support that argument.
For their part, Africans on social media have been keen to highlight the achievements of African immigrants in America to repudiate Trump’s long-running sentiment that black and Hispanic immigrants are parasitic on the US economy.