Africa’s leaders cannot stay silent after President Donald Trump’s vulgar remarks about African countries and Haiti, the chairman of the African Union Commission said Thursday, a day before Trump was set to meet with Rwanda’s president.
Moussa Faki Mahamat told African foreign ministers ahead of an African Union summit in Ethiopia’s capital that many are still digesting Trump’s comment that the continent’s countries are like a filthy toilet.
“The continent is deeply shocked by the message of hatred and the desire to marginalize Africa,” Mahamat said in preparation for the summit on Sunday.
He said African leaders may also respond to other statements and actions by Trump. “The statements on Jerusalem, a reduction of contribution to a peacekeeping operations budget — the continent cannot keep quiet about all these,” Mahamat said.
Trump on Friday will meet with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the new chairman of the African Union, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The U.S. president will “reaffirm the U.S.-Africa relationship and discuss shared priorities, including trade and security,” national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters in Washington.
Trump’s aides and the State Department have been on clean-up duty ever since his slur about Africa roiled U.S. relations with the continent. Yet there will be no high-level delegation from Washington on hand at the AU summit to make the U.S. case in person.
Traditionally, the United States has sent assistant secretaries of state to the summit or even more senior officials such as the secretary of state. This year, the U.S. will be represented by Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard, the U.S. envoy to the AU, who is already based in Addis Ababa.
Although the lack of high-profile U.S. representation could fuel the perception that Trump’s administration cares little about Africa, two State Department officials offered another explanation. They said that the AU, in a departure from past practice, had asked non-AU member countries not to send delegations this year.
One official said the AU wanted to avoid potential distractions from foreign nations bringing other issues to the summit that they want to discuss, and that U.S. officials who traveled to the summit anyway wouldn’t be able to participate in a meaningful way. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the situation publicly and demanded anonymity.
Many Africans have reacted angrily to Trump’s vulgar remarks, though Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni grabbed headlines this week by saying the U.S. president should be praised for not mincing words.
Botswana’s government called Trump’s comment “reprehensible and racist” and summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain.