Some of the racket about President Trump’s alleged politically incorrect reference to ‘shithole countries’ was that it would likely offend African elites. Which it did; the African Union issued an angry protest, for example. But it’s less plausible that the alleged comment would offend ordinary Africans, who endure all kinds of deprivation and know all too well in what kind of hole they are. You're better off starting from the plain truth.
One shouldn’t overgeneralize. If it is to be labeled a shithole, Sub-Saharan Africa is at least becoming less of one over time. Per capita income fell 0.6% a year in the 1990s but has been rising at a little over 2% a year since 2000. Maternal mortality fell from around 850 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to less than 550 today.
And some countries are doing better than others. Some of the more interesting statements by African leaders in the context of President Trump’s alleged comment are from those of some of the most successful African countries. These are leaders who see that it matters little what President Trump says, next to what Africa does.
Take Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who has presided over a 150% increase in per capita incomes and a more than halving in extreme poverty since 1986, when he took over a country ruined by Idi Amin and other predators. On Tuesday Museveni observed to a meet of East African leaders that "America has got one of the best presidents ever… I love Trump because he tells Africans frankly. I don't know if he's misquoted or whatever, but when he speaks, I like him because he speaks frankly… Donald Trump speaks to Africans frankly. Africans need to solve their problems. You can't survive if you are weak. It is the Africans' fault that they are weak. We are 12 times the size of India, but why are we not strong?" Overdoing it on the Trump-love, to be sure, but sound otherwise.
Ghana is another African success. Its average per capita income has risen 75% since 2000. Over a third of the population lived in extreme poverty in 1998, but that was down to 14% by 2012. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had a more conventional response to Trump: “We are certainly not a “shithole country”. We will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful.” But, at a recent press conference with President Macron of France, Akufo-Addo was eloquent that Africa’s fate is in its own hands, not Donald Trump’s, nor Emmanuel Macron’s either:
“We can no longer continue to make policy…on the basis of whatever support the Western world or France or the European Union can give us. It will not work. It has not worked, and it will not work…It is not right for a country like Ghana, 60 years after independence, to have its health and education budgets being financed on the basis of the generosity and charity of European taxpayers. By now we should be able to finance our basic needs ourselves!...This continent is still today the repository of at least 30% of the most important minerals of the world. It is a continent of vast arable and fertile lands.”
Speaking of the global migration crisis, which is one of the reasons for Trump’s push to tighten U.S. immigration policy, Akufo-Addo said:
“[Africa] has the youngest population of any of the continents of the world, so it has the energy and the dynamism. We’ve seen it. These young men who are showing so much resilience and ingenuity in crossing the Sahara, finding ways to go across in rickety boats, across the Mediterranean. Those energies, we want to have those energies working inside our countries…It is as old as man, the movement of people and it has always been linked to the same thing, the failure of where you are to provide you with an opportunity, so you move somewhere else…We want young Africans to stay in Africa. And it means we have to get away from this mindset of dependence, this mindset of ‘What can France do for us?’ France will do whatever it needs to do for its own sake, and when that coincides with ours, ‘tant mieux’ as the French people say."
“Our concern should be with what do we need to do in this 21st century to move Africa away from being cap-in-hand and begging for aid, for charity, for handouts…We have huge wealth on this continent, and in our own country of Ghana. We need to have a mindset that says ‘We can do it. Others have done it. We can also do it.’ “
The ebullient Nigerian Master of Ceremonies MC Chaz bangs it home: if you’re a Nigerian patriot wanting to fix your country, you’d better start with the truth that…