University of Malawi law professor’s take on Trump ‘shithole countries’ comment

President Trump is no stranger to controversy. His very run for the White House was perpetually mired in controversy. That the American people elected Donald J. Trump as their president may be celebrated as a victory for democracy, seeing as a relative political outsider managed to beat established politicians to the highest political office in the United States of America (USA). It could, however, also be decried as a manifestation of the vices of democracy, this because democracy, at least liberal democracy, has the propensity to easily consort with populism and demagogues in rather nefarious ways. Anyway, the adage is that an election delivers leaders that the voters deserve and I believe the American people deserve the president they elected.

 Is Malawi regarded as a ‘shithole’ country given that there are Malawian  nationals residing in the US and Malawi President Peter Mutharika (L) Trump(C) and opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera (R) also visits America 

Once safely installed in the White House, the controversy surrounding the Trump presidency has not subsided and to say we haven’t seen/heard the real thing yet may be something of an understatement—more is yet to come from President Trump. A crucial avenue through which President Trump often generates controversy is his Twitter account. Many a battle has President Trump fought with opponents via Twitter. This is certainly his favourite channel for expressing himself. There also seems to be a trend to his most far-reaching tweets, they tend to come in the very early hours of the morning. By the time the American people wake up, they are often in the midst of a hurricane generated by some tweet that the President made while they, probably, were still sleeping. Via his twitter account, the US President has commented on serious policy issues and often concluded in his customary ways by putting a ‘sad’ at the end of his tweet.

The international furore this past week has been due to remarks attributed to President Trump in which he labelled Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as shitholes. President Trump, it is reported, was expressing his frustration with the high levels of immigrants coming from the so-called ‘shithole countries’. These remarks have generated widespread, and diverse, responses from across the globe. Botswana took the lead by condemning the remarks, South Africa followed suit and the African Union Commission (AUC) delegation to the United Nations (UN) has also demanded an apology. Even the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has spoken out against the remarks.

There are others though, who believe that President Trump may not have been entirely off the mark since conditions in many African countries, due to bad governance, it is argued, have deteriorated to levels comparable to a shithole. This line of reasoning suggests that President Trump simply called a spade for what it is.

It is poignant to note that there has been no repudiation of these remarks by the Whitehouse this far. The usual damage limitation overtures have been employed but no one has refuted the remarks.

Speaking for myself, the fact that President Trump could make such remarks about African countries did not come as a total surprise. We must remember that the Trump administration’s policy mantra is ‘America First.’ This has many connotations and implications. For now, it is important to remember that President Trump has expressly linked his ‘America first’ approach to matters of immigration. Just ask the Mexicans as well as the DACA beneficiaries. The shithole remarks, therefore, are simply embedded within the broad approach that the Trump presidency has chosen for interacting with the rest of the world— sadly, President Trump seems to be rather clueless about the world outside the USA!

I have to agree with those that find a racist tenor to the remarks. Remember, the way these remarks were reported included an immediate comparison between the shithole countries and Norway. It is said President Trump would rather have immigrants from Norway than from the shithole countries. It is not insignificant that the so-called shithole countries are largely populated by people of colour (never mind that Africa was, again, treated as a country).

There was a very demeaning intent in the remarks by President Trump. I don’t think these remarks were accidental. They are very much in keeping with the Trump presidency. This presidency was vigorously supported by racist elements in the USA and, at times, it still panders to these supporters. Recall how President Trump equivocated when asked to comment about the Charlottesville violence? The disdain shown by President Trump has no place in the world today and, in the context of the USA, it smacks of deep ignorance. The USA is a nation of immigrants, except if you are a native American! For a nation that has been built on the back of migrant labour, some of it patently illegal—recall the transatlantic slavery?—Such remarks are very unfortunate. Sad?

A word or two on those that have come to President Trump’s defence. It has been argued that President Trump was only speaking the truth since the bad governance in many African countries has indeed created shitholes. Well, I would never defend bad governance, but I would find racism abhorrent anywhere, at any time. Apart from the fact that the President’s remarks lacked diplomatic tact, it is the underlying bigotry that worries me—and, I repeat, this bigotry is no coincidence. We should all be worried that the supposedly most advanced and prosperous nation on earth is led by a president who believes in racial superiority and that he has support for his nefarious ideas.

The Trump presidency is probably going to be the most ‘controversial’ presidency in American history. Just a nagging thought though, post the Second World War America maneuvered itself into a position of global prominence. Others believe the USA actually became the global hegemon and has maintained some sort of hegemonic dominance over the world. This resulted in the USA playing key roles in many parts of the world in terms of, for example, democratisation and respect for human rights. The current administration’s ambivalence about such issues and its almost blind adherence to ‘America First’, risks eroding the American influence across the globe. Hegemonic dominance is only meaningful if the lesser partners in the matrix are also made to tow the same line and see the benefits of towing the line.

* Mwiza Jo Nkhata is Associate Professor of Law, University of Malawi

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We need to reflect on our situation whether our countries do not deserve some harsh unfriendly description like what Trump said. Things are always like this when its a rich fellow describing a poor guy! Always a poor guy cries loudly and for a very long time for the simple harsh words. How many times do we irritate our western colleagues by stealing aid intended for the poor? You sometimes wonder whether our leaders really know why they are in power. People who do not want to leave power even if they fail? Condoning corruption they always want to enrich… Read more »
monga akunama kuti ndi shithole? nikumbuka kale kale anthu akunyela kuchile amakumba dzenje. wina kumayesa apita koumba mankhwala kuthengo koma kuli kokunya. zinali za ulemu. lelo zinatha aliyese amangonya palipose bola thengo kuonetsa kuti aliyese ali yekhayekha. timangodkila ma NGO kuzatimangila ka cibudzi kenako a bwana adela kukatsekulila. mmmayo. musiyeni trump sakunama tikaunika. kodi si VILIGINIA Yu mukumpembedza timaona ndi masotu. tiyeni tizilimbikila citukuko ndi tsogolo la Mw. trump analemela kale amadya zake. ife a gulukunyinda ndi cule wathuyu tione timuthokoze trump yi mwina ena sitimazindikilatu kuti afrikan conutnries ndi maenje a manyi. tinazipangitsa tokha kuti likhale dzenje lonyelamo. sititha… Read more »

Whilst racism should not be condoned or justfied, it is also true that most African governments are presiding over shitholes. I do not think it is inconsistent to hold both views: that is to condemn Trump but also accept the fact of the shitholes we live in. Oddly, despite Trump’s anti-brown agenda, our government supports that racist bigot on issues like Palestine etc. We have no pride and are led by thieves with no plans.

M Sizini
Perhaps it is time to rethink the whole democratic process. Perhaps both the Westminster and the Washington models of confrontational party politics are no longer appropriate for the modern age. Nowadays, they don’t even work for Britain or America. Currently, politics is war by other means. It does not promote progress; it obstructs it. A political victory should be a victory over poverty, ignorance, and despair. Instead, it is the defeat of political opponents, who happen to be our fellow Malawians. Even the lexis and metaphors of modern politics are military: victory and defeat, attack and defense, tactics and strategies,… Read more »
Dr Sizini, let me answer the question you pose at the end of your comment. Our politicians think that taunting and name-calling constitute appropriate behavior in Parliament and at political meetings because that is what they see when they tune in to the BBC’s coverage of the UK Parliament. When we want to hear the braying of asses, the squawking of parrots, or the gibbering of apes, there is no need to access the blogs of Whipsnade or Regent’s Park Zoo. The inmates of Westminster do pretty fair impressions. Westminster still proudly proclaims itself the Mother of Parliaments. Others less… Read more »
Well look around you and tell us if you really believe what you have written here. All the evidence in the world today point to the fact that most African countries are not humanly habitable despite the natural blessings accorded to us by GOD. Even our city centres are as dirty as shitholes themselves. Unmistakable reflection of the way we live think and do things. Take Malawi for argument sake. How can our young graduates be jobless in a country with so much to be done in order to develop it. We have a beautiful country with much fertile soils,… Read more »

Nice insight. But ignores why most of our people have fled to the US and neighbouring countries in SSA. There is some justification. And the sad thing is that most of the immigrated do not dream of coming back to help us develop the country

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