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Arresting the shithole syndrome


US President Donald Trump. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB / AFP

If speech patterns could help in identifying cultural identities, one could easily say that Trump is more African American than Obama. Before ever Trump was said to have used that word, two African American ladies at Newark Airport, prior to the swearing-in of Trump in 2017, used it against me for merely asking them my way at the airport, and even told me that the days of people like you in USA are numbered as Trump take over the mantle of power. In effect, one’s colour or complexion, as people from different continents come to USA, does not exclusively link to cultural identity. There are black Latinos, there are Caribbean blacks, there are French or British blacks and so on. However, it is possible that at first sight, an African American could admit “a brother me” or “a sister me” needs a help and empathy comes in, but as you speak and your speech pattern does not involve “shit”, “fork”, “bullshit”, etc, all the embarrassing words that define the man or woman oppressed or harassed, the African American withdraws from being empathic. I have witnessed that not only in Newark but in some other airports and cities of USA. To my greatest surprise, the Latinos had proved more helpful than others.

In effect, people could be impatient with you when they discover that you behave like “Mumu”, being on a very “fast lane” and refuse to move and the rest of the world seems to be in haste to enter the fast lane and African countries are not keying-in. The option available is to close the fast lane or kick away anyone on the fast lane not responding to the speed expected. Beyond Trump’s frustration, my own father, about 10 to 15 years older than Trump, had used the shithole word on me when I was younger. Whenever my father was frustrated out of my ignorance or weakness to catch up with a knowledge process, he had called me either ichi, utu, otele or onu ike. In Igbo language it is shithole.

Initially I did not know the worth of its valence projection till I started philosophizing about it and started avoiding annoying him so as not to call me that.

Furthermore, he related it to “okporoko” child – stockfish child; a child born with signs of “not going to add value to humanity.” He told me that such children are surreptitiously and courageously done away with the way people treated “Okonkwo” in Chinua Achebe as a wicked father; or, even Chimamanda treated the African father image in “Purple Hibiscus” as great evil.


Ironically, some of these fathers are some of the frustrated two million African American fathers in American prisons as a result of frustrated expression of fatherhood. Thank God Obama reduced it from 3 million to 2 million. It is true that Africans had suffered slavery for about 500 years now, and it keeps on evolving from physical slavery, through spiritual slavery to the current political and economic slavery. The elite is yet to understand how to arrest the “rain beating” process; and it is only when you identify where and when and how the rain started beating you that you can arrest the situation.

There are opportunities in threats. The re-ordering process Trump seems to be initiating could be opportunities for Africans to wake up or seek for the closure of the fast lanes the way the herdsman and Boko Haram seem, unashamedly, asking the South and Middle Belt Nigerians to do. Whether we like it or not what is happening to us in Nigeria is part of shithole syndrome; very rich country and experiencing voluntary slavery of its citizens as no fewer than 300 of them die each year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea begging to be enslaved. Indeed, they could also be people running away so as not to be infected by the shithole syndrome, including being killed by the herdsman.

While Nigeria is planning to bring back 5000 Nigerians enslaved in Libya, I was astonished, right on my nose in Montreal “wowing” a Nigerian lady who, clinging two children, was being welcome as refugee. A great fit; to escape dying in the sea with such children and making it to Canada, the lady is worth celebrating!!!

So, who says that Trump’s frustration of the weakness of the African leaders should not be seen as wake-up call. Thank God Musoveni of Uganda had accepted the challenge and Kagame of Rwanda is working hard to re-position Africa with his attitude of “no-visa” for any African with African Union passport. Like Kadaria Ahmed said in an interview with Anthony Bourdain, Africa needs a nation in Africa as a model to lead the rest towards total well being of its over 1 billion human beings, so as to direct the great energy some youths use in the scam game to positive productive ventures. As she exclaimed: imagine they were literate or educated enough!!!


African youths are very well disposed to act right if the right models are pushed into the social platforms for them to emulate. This is where I commend partially the brain drain process and expect it, also, to reverse to brain gain for Africa if geographical portion of Africa could be allocated to the Africans in the Diaspora, as model country, the way Israel is to the Jews, for development purposes.

Trump is a very good omen to the African world, and it has to be seen as so. His speech pattern is almost African American, and like great African fathers who care to see that their children progress, they intermittently cheap-in harsh words not curse. My father had never cursed or beat me; but out of frustration he had always shouted “ichi” or “onu otele” and that had always jerked me up to act right. Trump, indeed, is the father African leaders need now to act right and as his son, Trump Junior, once said that the only colour his father related with is green – fertility and productivity – and any one with green background is his friend; so let African leaders and elite discard their evil colours and enact a green background for the new world re-ordering “en marche” – on the move.

• Ariole is professor of French and Francophone Studies
University of Lagos.

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