Tuesday 10 December 2019

Africa’s leaders choose diplomacy after Trump’s ‘toilet remarks’

The words alleged to have been used by the president raised eyebrows.

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. (Evan Vucci/AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. (Evan Vucci/AP)

By Elias Meseret, Associated Press

The 55-nation African Union appears to have decided to react diplomatically and strategically to US president Donald Trump’s alleged vulgar remarks about the continent.

Rather than issuing an angry condemnation of Mr Trump’s reported comments in which he likened Africa to a filthy toilet, the African Union may decide to follow the advice of its new chairman, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, to deal with the US president as the leader of a country elected by his people.

Mr Kagame made the remarks on Monday as the annual summit, which was attended by more than 40 African leaders, drew to a close.

Liberia’s recently-elected President George Weah attends the opening ceremony of the African Union summit (Mulugeta Ayene/AP)

He spoke at the African Union after meeting Mr Trump last Friday in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum.

“I’ve met the President of the United States, but the President of the United States is Trump,” Mr Kagame told reporters in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

“For me the most value is to meet the President of the United States. When the United States decides to give us Trump as their president, we will deal with that president.”

Many African leaders were outraged by Mr Trump’s alleged rude comment about the continent, but the president said he didn’t use such language, while others present say he did.

But the fury appears to have been muted by a letter sent by Mr Trump to African leaders in the past week in which he said he “deeply respects” the people of Africa.

He also pledged that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will make an “extended visit” to the continent in March, his first in that role.

President Donald Trump denied making the remarks about Africa (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“President Trump wrote a letter through the (AU) Commission and to the Chairperson addressing the heads of state of Africa wishing them every success and stating how he is ready to collaborate with Africa,” said Mr Kagame.

Mr Trump called Mr Kagame a “friend” when they met at the World Economic Forum.

Many in Africa were taken aback by Mr Trump’s rude toilet comment after nearly a year of little attention to Africa by the US president’s administration.

US diplomats have scrambled for days to address the shock and condemnation after the reports of Mr Trump’s remarks, but the president’s letter and Kagame’s careful response seem to have calmed things down.

Chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, toned down his stance in a press conference with journalists on Monday.

The previous week he said “Africa cannot keep quiet” about Mr Trump’s “shocking” remarks. But on Monday he would only say African leaders had received a “letter of correspondence” from Trump and “we’ve taken due note of it.”

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