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Soyinka slams Donald Trump’s ‘xenophobic’ streak

Donald Trump exploited "latent xenophobia" to reach the White House, Nigerian literary icon Wole Soyinka said, decrying the erection of walls -- "especially in people's minds" -- anywhere in the world.

Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka poses on March 25, 2017 in Paris. / AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON

Donald Trump exploited “latent xenophobia” to reach the White House, Nigerian literary icon Wole Soyinka said, decrying the erection of walls — “especially in people’s minds” — anywhere in the world.

Trump “ascended the podium of power on the prejudices of others,” the 82-year-old playwright and poet told AFP in an interview at the Paris Book Fair.

“He played to a latent xenophobic streak which exists in all societies including mine,” said Soyinka, who renounced his US green card upon Trump’s victory in November over the Republican’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“When I see that kind of conduct… to gain power, I’m completely revolted.”

Soyinka, who was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1986, said: “To me a horrible moment was to watch hundreds of thousands of people actually applauding when (Trump) uttered these sentiments” during the election campaign.

“I’m against the erection of walls, especially in people’s minds,” the white-haired professor added. “I’ve never made any bones about it, whether it’s happening in Nigeria” or elsewhere.

Soyinka recalled when in 1983, faced with a steep drop in oil prices, the Nigerian government, “to cover up all its problems, decided to expel aliens”.

Some two million undocumented immigrants — mainly from nearby Ghana — were given a few weeks to leave the west African country, whose economy is driven by vast oil resources.

“There were hordes of refugees in ramshackle lorries going back to their home countries,” he said.

Ever since, the chequered jute bag used by travellers throughout west Africa has been known as the “Ghana Must Go” bag, Soyinka said.

Asked about a resurgent movement that is advocating an independent state of Biafra, a region in southeast Nigeria, Soyinka defended the right of indigenous people “to assert themselves as a distinct people even when they are within a political and geographical zone” anywhere in the world.

“It’s not the real estate for me that defines a nation or a people, no, it’s a history, a culture,” he said.

“What is a crime is within an artificial entity like Nigeria you have states being created which are not viable.”

Biafra unsuccessfully fought for independence in a brutal three-year civil war — during which Soyinka was imprisoned for nearly two years over allegations of espionage.

Separatist sentiment has grown since the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested in October 2015, sparking bloody clashes with security forces.

The military denied an allegation by Amnesty International in November that security agents killed some 150 Biafra protesters in the past year.

Soyinka said: “I cannot accept the notion that people have a right to kill other people because they want to assert their identity… It doesn’t cost anything to recognise it.”

Ironically, IPOB threw its support behind Trump’s presidential campaign in the belief he would recognise their independence movement.

Soon after Britons voted to leave the European Union in a referendum last July, the group pushed for its own version of “Brexit” from Nigeria that it dubbed “Biafrexit”.