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If Africa is a shithole, it’s in pretty good company


(FILES) This file photo taken on January 10, 2018 shows US President Donald Trump during a press conference with Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC.<br />Outrage mounted on January 12, 2018 over US President Donald Trump’s reported description of African nations, Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole” countries, with the United Nations slamming his comments as “racist”. During a Thursday meeting with lawmakers on immigration reform, Trump demanded to know why the US should accept citizens from what he called “shithole” countries, according to comments first reported by the Washington Post.<br />/ AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON

When the Washington Post first reported that President Trump raised concerns about immigrants from Africa and Haiti, asking why the United States should continue accepting immigrants from “Shithole countries,” I dismissed it as yet another one of his racist remarks.

Then I thought, these aren’t just the words of an ignorant bigot, but the official policy stance of the United States. I was then tempted to point out the immense contributions of Africans and Haitians to the American economy.

Tempted to cite the numbers chronicled in the book, “The Triple Package” by Amy Chua, which details how Nigerians outperform their American and other immigrant counterparts. But I thought, while that debunks the claim that African immigrants don’t contribute as much as Europeans, it played into the president’s divisive narrative.


That the sole criteria for immigration should be contribution to the economy as defined by a narrow set of economic indicators, not taking into account the ideals upon which the United States was founded and prides itself  – accepting people fleeing economic hardship, violence and people affected by natural disasters. It also didn’t address the claim that the countries we emigrated from are “shitholes.”

Lastly, a friend suggested sharing some of the beautiful images I captured on our holiday in Lamu, Kenya, with the idea of using images to combat stereotypes. But I realized, it would take more than a few photos to undo the centuries of painting Africa as a shithole.

So, I decided to explore  what a shithole really is, and whether it is uniquely African. I found that while you could make the argument that Africa is a “shithole,” depending on your criteria, you could say the same for everywhere else in the world, especially using Trump’s standards.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, “shithole” is slang for an extremely dirty, shabby, or otherwise unpleasant place. The urban dictionary, the go-to place for non mainstream lingo, facetiously defines it as, “Trump’s mouth, often a place from whence great amounts of sh** spews. ” It also defines it as “a really bad place or building, especially somewhere undesirable to live or work.”

Based on these definitions, and depending on whether you take his comments literally  –  air and water pollution, waste disposal, environmental contamination – or figurative ly; governance, infrastructure, food quality, healthcare, security, and justice, you could make the argument that it is flawed or accurate. I am certain there are parts of Port Harcourt, Nigeria; Antananarivo, Madagascar; or Port Au Prince, Haiti that residents burdened by the unjust circumstances of poverty, marginalization, and disenfranchisement, might consider shitholes.

But these places also have significantly lower gun deaths, better air quality and fewer toxins in their food than the US. Similarly, if you’ve ever been on the rodent-infested subway trains in New York, the smog-filled Houston, Texas or Miami, Florida, which researchers found has some of the most polluted soil in the world, you would come away with the exact same conclusion.

In Norway, President Trump’s preferred country of migrants, city officials in Bergen and Oslo have put restrictions on driving into the city because of potentially dangerous air quality. According to the World Health Organization, Sub Saharan African countries account for only 3 of the top 20 most polluted countries in the world.

Then again, for a President who pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, bragged about bringing coal jobs back to the United States, and who seems committed to decimating the environment, his criteria are probably different.

One of those who took the phrase figuratively was Mc Chaz, a Nigerian living in the United States. He argued that a country where workers go for months without getting paid, where the security of the citizens isn’t guaranteed, power is intermittent, where the justice system is manipulated by the wealthy and well connected, where the poor are voiceless, where the president accepts that the citizens are criminals, where people are dying of hunger, where people with tertiary degrees end up as Uber or taxi drivers, is in fact a shithole.

His rant, which has gone viral, contended that emigration to the United States is itself confirmation that Nigeria is a shithole. I wondered if he saw the irony that his description in many ways matched the United States.

As I write this piece, I am reminded that while engaging in this debunking exercise to combat the false narrative about Africa and the assumption that immigrants from European countries contribute more to the US economy than their African counterparts, it probably won’t change the mind of the President of the United States.

For Trump, who once called the White House a dump, it appears the only places that aren’t shitholes are properties that bear his name. So, Africa may be a shithole, but then again so is everything else in Donald Trump’s racist, privileged, gold tower of a world.

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