The great American undoing could have started foolishly enough with Donald Trump’s “S—hole” comment on January 12. He spoke it with all of the grace of a drunken redneck sailor while stumbling down an alley in Mombasa in a forgotten decade when our C.I.A. still controlled everything across Africa.
Just eight days later, during a meeting with the chairman of the African Union, Trump had the chance to make amends, but he said nothing.
Then, during his State of the Union speech, he didn’t mention Africa at all.
Leaving aside basic human respect and dignity, which seems beyond him, the need for Trump to extend an olive branch to African nations goes directly to our own economic survival. In just three weeks he placed into jeopardy the free-flowing of countless natural resources that our country must have from Africa in order to survive; a fact most of us here do not realize.
Consider: The next time you flip on a light switch, drive your car, or eat some chocolate, think about where the cocoa, copper, or other metals come from to make those items. These are critical resources affecting our entire country, including, for example, the extractive and renewable energy industries doing business in Colorado. But we take for granted the cocoa and vanilla beans, copper, titanium, chromium, palladium, and other precious minerals that come from the African treasure house.
Those resources were a safe bet for us for so long because of the work over the decades by our diplomats and C.I.A. They ensured African markets stayed open to keep us in this secure bubble. Two things radically change that now: China’s involvement in Africa and Donald Trump.
Extreme theatrics and bombast may have worked for Trump to get him elected. But on a world stage of securing essential trade agreements for our financial security, racist locker room banter is the last thing we need.
Chinese influences: Today, Africa is filled with children learning Mandarin. Gone are the days when European colonizers and the U.S. controlled everything. Now, China has a lot more to say about what goes on in South African, Congolese, and Zambian mines.
Having already spent tens of billions of dollars across Sub-Saharan Africa, China is planning to spend another $75 billion there and $1 trillion on its “Belt and Road” initiative, a jaw-dropping system of roads and infrastructure that will connect African cities to places across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. That is seven times the amount of money the U.S. spent in 1947 on The Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.
The Chinese have been winning on the public relations front in Africa since the 1960s and 70s, when they funded and built the TanZam Railway, giving land-locked Zambia a transportation outlet to Dar Es Salaam so Zambia could ship its copper reserves to world markets without having to send it through Apartheid South African ports. (It was China’s funding of the TanZam which caused African nations in 1971 to vote for China’s seating at the U.N.; the event that threw anti-U.N. sentiment here on steroids.) This important history hasn’t been lost on Africans.
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Apology needed: If anyone is left in the pared-down Trump State Department who specializes in African affairs, perhaps they can explain to Mr. Trump why he must apologize immediately for his inflammatory comments, if only for our industries, economy, and future that he always insists is his top priority.
Our only hope…
In 1958, my Methodist Sunday School teacher told our class to celebrate newly-independent nations, like Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. It contrasted well alongside images of Tarzan movies I watched on Saturday afternoons. As luck would have it, the Navy destroyer on which I was stationed in 1969 was sent to Africa, where my appreciation of various peoples and cultures grew exponentially.
The disrespect shown toward Africans by some of my shipmates seemed anti-American to me. It is one thing for a few racist sailors in African ports to beat-up people they call “gooks”; but quite another for our Head-of-State to verbally trash the continent from which we have taken so much to fortify and maintain what we have. The Chinese must be smiling at the fool in the White House.
The only hope this country has now rests with the intelligence of African people. They know Donald Trump does not speak for most Americans; he did not win the popular vote and the 2016 election is still under review for tampering.
U.S. links: Our country has an obvious historical linkage with Africa. Today, hard-working African immigrants here live the American dream and send some of their hard-earned money back home to their families. Hopefully, this rock-solid relationship will not be shaken by an unstable President. Perhaps an apology shouldn’t be expected, but it sure would be nice to hear him say for once: “I’m sorry.”
Shirley Temple Black’s observations still true today
If we are lucky, this all may sort out for the best. But there remains a bittersweet irony to Trump’s use of vile language—an irony that reflects a spot-on observation made by Shirley Temple Black when she was Ambassador to Ghana during the Ford administration from December 1974 to July 1976.
In his book In Search of Enemies – A C.I.A. Story (p. 174-75), former C.I.A. Angola Task Force Chief John Stockwell wrote of Black:
During a trip from Ghana to Washington in October 1975, Black had lunch in the C.I.A. Executive Dining Room with top agency officials overseeing the (then) Angola crisis. She complained that “No one seemed to be coordinating America’s overall policy in African Affairs, no one was considering what the Angola program (the C.I.A. was orchestrating at the time) might do to our relations with Ghana, or other countries like Nigeria and Tanzania.”
She pointed out the Soviets’ national sport is chess and their foreign policy reflects an effort at the long-range planning of coordinated, integrated moves, although they often play the game badly and are given to serious blunders.”
Black continued: “THE CHINESE are notorious for planning their foreign policy carefully, with moves designed to reach fruition even years beyond lifetimes of present leaders.”
By contrast, Ambassador Black observed, “The United States is a poker player. It looks the world over, picks up whatever cards it is dealt, and plays, raising the stakes as more cards are dealt, until the hand is won or lost. Then, after a drag on a cigarette and another sip of whiskey, it looks around for the next hand to be played.”
Little did Shirley Temple Black know 43 ago that she was describing perfectly what is taking place right now on the African continent between China and Donald Trump’s America. Can you bare to watch the rest of this reckless behavior?
- Here & Now: China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.
- Washington Post: An overview of Chinese aid to Africa: What the new bank of BRICS is all about.
- New York Times: Hillary Clinton’s remarks about Africa when she was Secretary of State and reactions from Africans: Into Africa: China’s Wild Rush.
- University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business report on pros and cons of Chinese investment in Africa: China’s Investments in Africa: What’s the Real Story?