The news cycle moves fast. Not so long ago we were all getting red-faced at the collective insult delivered against African peoples by America’s First Citizen [Donald Trump]. Our collective assembly in the African Union (AU) demanded an apology. None was forthcoming. Of course, no one seriously expected Trump to apologise for being racist.
Now, there are two issues from Trump’s statement. The first is that by calling our countries shitholes; he was showing his racist side. The second is that by calling these lands that we love so much (or at least, we profess to even if not by deed); he was saying the truth.
In relation to the racism issue, there is no doubt that Trump was racist. He is reported as preferring immigration from the blue-eyed and blonde-haired Caucasians of Norway over the brownies hailing from ‘shithole’ countries like ours. However, that Trump is racist or that he regularly betrays his racist tendencies should not surprise us. He has shown form in this regard already by consistently failing to condemn racist demagogues that support his presidential ambition; by retweeting vile falsehoods from racist organisations such as the British National Party (BNP) and pretending not to know that the BNP is racist; by constantly denigrating the Black Lives Matter movement and calling white supremacists good people that just want their country back or indeed calling a whole bunch of Mexicans rapists.
Consequently, it is should not be surprising therefore that Trump would call a whole continent of proud peoples as full of shithole countries. What was missed in the whole media melee that ensued was that a few weeks prior to this smearing of African countries, a whole host of these same countries had stood by the United States (US) when the United Nations (UN) voted to show its disapproval of the United States’ unilateral move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy there.
Many African countries, including ours, shamefully voted alongside the US or elected to abstain from that vote and therefore betray our Palestinian brothers and sisters. When the US held a thank you event to countries that had supported it at the UN, our ambassadors presented themselves with smiles on cue for Nikki Haley. What a shame! How could our governments choose to support the agenda of this US administration over our Palestinian brothers? That Trump would then turn around a few weeks later and denigrate these same countries is perhaps a lesson we deserve. As my Vice-President [Saulos Claus Chilima] schools us: njoka saweta.
Now onto the second issue. Our collective anger at being insulted by a man who apparently does not read much and does not seem to know very much (at least if you believe the words of a journalist who spent many months working in the White House or alternatively if you make the hasty but justified conclusion that anyone who speaks of Nambia must be a big fat eejit) made us lose sight of the fact that there was truth in the statement. Well, racist bullies are capable of stating facts sometimes.
We are presiding over shithole democracies where the right to health, the right to a decent education, the right to food, the right to decent housing and many of these other socio-economic rights that make for a meaningful existence are only enjoyed by the privileged few. Indeed the fortunes of our children are not determined by how hard they work but rather a horrible lottery that does not offer a guaranteed escape from pervasively high rates of infant mortality, scary disease and destitution. What good is a Republic if it cannot guarantee the right to survival and development of its children? What good is a Republic if its first instinct is to protect the rich and the privileged and not the most vulnerable of citizens?
We are presiding over shithole democracies where our priorities are bent out of shape and the citizens have no way of determining priorities. We would rather invest in needless football stadia and other populist infrastructure instead of hospitals, schools or industries that bring a return to the economy. We would unquestioningly build a military hospital for the big kahunas when our local dispensaries are in a shabby state. We happily welcome failed political chameleons who at the whiff of goodies to be hard will change from green to yellow to orange and onto blue. We happily protect corrupt bigshots and allow them space for more corrupt endeavours, just as long they sing the correct songs and wear the correct shade of blue. Again, as my Vice-President schools us: njoka saweta.
But most depressing of all is that 50 years after independence, our level of ambition is still very modest. Politically, all that our political parties desire to achieve is to win power but they have no grand vision on what to do with it. If you are a follower of our politics, spare a moment and look at the vision of the DPP and the shine (or lack thereof) brought by its newly minted members – the Phoyas, the Mpinganjiras and their types. Spare a moment and observe the infighting within the MCP. Does this look to you like a government-in-waiting? Are these political formations ready to deliver a vision of a proud and prosperous Malawi? The talk from these entities is about positions, running mates and such. No genuine discussion of a grand and inclusive development vision at all. I think our national sanitation strategy describes the situation quite succinctly. As long as our level of ambition is to move from relieving ourselves in the bushes to shitting in holes in the ground, then we deserve to be called a shithole country.
*The author is from Bangwe and sometimes teaches law.