The U.S. president may (or may not) have described some countries from which migrants reach his country as “shit-holes”. (On the balance of evidence — Mr. Donald Trump’s penchant for opening his mouth before engaging the gears in his head, his loquaciousness, and his mendacity — in all likelihood, he did say so). However, at this point, none of that matters anymore. Nor does it matter how “shit-hole” is defined. And it would seem that the print media across different countries struggled to render the expletive differently: whether as receptacle for faecal matter — a toilet; or as the tail-end of the alimentary canal — an arsehole.
In the end, it matters more that the consensus amongst certain commentators here (in Nigeria, if not on the continent) is that the expletive is one that Africa and Africans have earned. Choose your index — gross domestic product, government’s share of this; adult literacy levels; inflation; employment levels; etc. Since the wave of state independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we (Africa and Africans) have struggled to govern ourselves “properly”. Especially when it looked like we were fully recovered from the succession of military-led governments, our recourse to the vote proved just as inadequate. Incompetent governments have predictably succeeded thieving administrations, and in the Nigerian case, have nearly always cohabited. Both after 1994, and after Nelson Mandela chose not to run for a second term in office as president, South Africa was supposed to be the counter-narrative to this barren tale. All of that is history, now.
Invariably, across the continent, votes are stolen and the conversation with the people around which most democratic governments structure their legitimacy turns into a monologue (outliers to this process, and there are, simply prove the rule). A monologue whose negative outcomes show up in just about every social and economic index. The manipulation of the political space that’s at the heart of the longevity of our rulers has also required ironclad control of our economies. Extractive industries and the rent that this produce thus conduce to the need for control of an endless succession of small-minded satraps. Thus constrained, our economies are unable to leverage the abundance of talent that so many people ought to grant it, are addicted to the export of single produce, and dependent on global demand for this that go up and down like the articulated chairs on a giant Ferris wheel.
Deprived of the private investment in the economy necessary to continuously push our production possibility frontiers forward, our people struggle to find meaningful work; and most eke out a miserable existence at the margin of the few “metropoles” supported by the proceeds from produce export. Inadequate investment in social infrastructure, anyway, would mean that even if the private sector were minded to build new factories, the chances of finding enough qualified nationals to man them would always be anything from slim to non-existent. On the other hand, poor public infrastructure ensures that few businesses in our economies may try to compensate for the shortfall in the quality of the domestic labour force by investing in capital-intensive processes.
Not surprisingly, we have some of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. Adult literacy levels trail the worst performing levels in other continents. Life expectancy levels on the continent are at the bottom of the log. Our schools (at all levels) produce far more graduates (one may ignore the question of quality at this juncture) than there’re ever workplaces for. And those entrusted with fixing these problems simply faff around, threatening in some cases (as once happened in Argentina with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and is currently happening in Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro) to undermine the (uncomfortable) numbers on their performance coming out of the official bean counters.
In this sense, Mr. Trump may have only been stating the obvious when he referred to a couple of African countries as “shit-holes”. But to then proceed to “own” the epithet as some of my compatriots appear minded to, is the moral equivalent of looking at the condition of the African-American (and you only need read Serena Williams account of her post-partum problems to get this) and then arguing that s/he is indeed a “Nigger”!
For Donald Trump did not mean his description as an objective characterisation of the pathetic state of the African condition. Then he may have been minded to understand the nutritive medium from which these conditions spring, if not offer solutions to these, as his country did for Europe after the Second World War. No, here was a Nazi describing as Jews, folks he’d as soon drive towards the gas chambers, as rob of whatever property of value they possessed. It was not for want of meaning that having described our places in less than flattering terms he indicated his preference for immigrants from Norway in replacement. Tall. Blonde. Blue-eyed. We confront anew the myth of the superiority of the Aryan race, but without the clear-headedness of the Third Reich.
Those then amongst us who would have us accept this new categorisation simply invite us to go on the train to Auschwitz without so much as a murmur.