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Opinions Fri, 19 Jan 2018

On the matter of shit-hole

Recently, Donald Trump, the United States President, blanketly described African countries, Haiti, and some other selected countries as shit-holes. That description created an uproar and an eventual retraction; but according to those present on the occasion, the President proceeded to call certain persons of his base to test how that description resonated with his supporters.

Finally, the President stated that although he used some tough language, he did not actually describe the target countries in those exact terms. We are yet to know the “exact” terms in which the President described Africans and those others who were the butt of his contempt and derision.

Generally, the on-line dictionary describes “shit-hole” as a dirty, shabby and unpleasant place. It is also instructive that in describing Africans and those other places in this vulgar term, the President did not speak from an informed position: He spoke from a place of congenital hatred, racism, illiteracy and ignorance, since he has never visited any of those places he described as shit-hole. He has never visited Ghana, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Botswana, or even South Africa. If he had, we could then argue that he was speaking from his own experience and grant him the benefit of value judgment. But as far as we know, he has not visited Africa yet; or even if he has, then his Cyclopean eyes were firmly shut when he did! So how did he, beyond watching the National Geographic channel, come to the glib conclusion that all Africa is dirty, shabby and unpleasant?

Because those Americans who have visited African countries and helped the continent in diverse ways have a very positive view of the continent and its people. These people who really know Africa inside out do not consider the continent as a shit-hole. Rather, they always pay glowing tribute to the land and its people.

The problem is with the myopic American pedestrian and inveterate goon whose only vision of Africa, like that of Trump, is that of a land in constant turmoil, filth and diseases. And the American media, for one reason or another, constantly reinforce this view of Africa, typically showing only the people suffering from the detritus of wars, diseases, hunger and filth. There is also the case of the diffident African whose stock-in-trade is to re-echo and parrot the condemnation of Africa in trite language as if by some stroke of luck, this self-abnegation makes him insightfully superior! These people are always quick to rally behind all those that condemn Africans and everything African and to claim that they speak the painful truth.

We would argue here that all those stated problems inhabiting the heads of those critics might exist in Africa, but at least, there are also vast areas of peace, health, abundance and stability which should be equally shown; but a portrayal of anything positive in Africa appears to be anathema to the western press. Hence the ignorance of the many, like Trump, in regarding Africa as a shit-hole.

But Africa is not some monolithic entity as often portrayed in the western media. It is a place of different countries, different people, different cultures, different economies and different governments. In this respect, the problems of the continent are as variegated as those seen and experienced everywhere else in the world. And solving those problems requires the constant work of humanity, just as it is elsewhere.

Indeed, on balance, the African problem is no different from the problems of America itself. American society is also steeped in deep corruption of more advanced and complex kinds, involving billions of dollars wasted in Ponzi schemes, far beyond those puny figures wasted in endemic corruption in Africa. Homeless people are left sleeping on the streets in winter weather conditions here in America, while the military-industrial complex gobbles up the country’s resources in concupiscent consumption. There are co-equal shanty towns in many places in America where people are sinking in sheer filth, debt and illiteracy; and although there might not be extreme hunger comparable to that in Africa, I dare say that the abundance of food has created its own health problems wherein Americans are battling with obesity and depression. 17% of American population are languishing in jail, the highest per capita of prisoners in the world; and the old folks are confined in nursing homes with decreasing family support and eroding national concern. The streets are replete with crime and drugs, with the youth spending their time in criminal enterprises in order to feed their drug habits. The justice system itself is a phony one designed to protect the White and the wealthy and to jail Blacks and minorities.

Therefore if the standard for shit-hole is the presence of corruption, dirt, neglect, crime, drugs, injustice and diseases, America has its own proportional share, just as in Africa and in other countries of the world.

However, the foregoing argument comprises the fallacy in law called tu quoque argument. The fact that America is equally a shit-hole does not make our case any better. Our case is made far better by the fact that we are far ahead of America in the “real human index”. That is the measure of our “human beingness” as a people: Our kindness, our gratitude, our native wisdom, our sense of fairness, our hospitable nature, our friendship, our family values and the network of support we have for the weak, the poor and the sick. These elements comprise the core values we need for our own happiness and the survival of our civilization. And in Africa, we already have these values in place. Call it the atavistic elements of our very survival as a primitive society, but it does show the key elements with which to gauge our very humanity.

And this is where America and Trump fall far short. In the American society, the misconception is ripe that money and material stuff is everything. The infrastructure: roads, highways, skyscrapers; and the material: video games, shirts, cars, computers, houses and so on are, to most, the standards by which the American dream is gauged, and by which others are to be judged. That is why Trump, who has no knowledge of life besides having lived a sheltered life and building huge edifices and making dirty money, is now the President. But within that kind of degenerate context wherein the material trumps the perennial, there is a complete lack of character, and the man’s ignorant perorations may stick in his own “shit-head” and that of his minions.

Having said this, we need to agree with Thomas Jefferson that America is an idea, conceived in liberty and born with the notion that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by the creator with values some of which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, wondered whether a nation so conceived and established will forever endure. But that question has already been answered by the fact that America has endured the vicissitudes of the times, having become the greatest and most powerful country in all civilization.

But at the cornerstone of the American Republic is the vast contribution of immigration from all countries of the world. At the time when the nation was established, it quickly became a great beacon to which the enlightened but oppressed found a great refuge; including Trump’s father! Thus, the very power and grandeur of America is the handiwork of all peoples from all places the world over, and its vast economy and military might are the shared work of all races and humanity, not exclusively that of the white race alone.

But in the end, we are all a global community with unique challenges, and African nations, bedeviled with tyranny, dictatorships and mismanagement, have the capacity to borrow from the concepts of freedom, democracy, creativity and innovation that made America great, just as America could also learn from our deep-seated community and family values. When that happens, leaders of the two lands will endure in mutual self-respect and co-existence, and none will ever be characterized as some sort of shit-hole.

Samuel Adjei Sarfo, J.D., is a general legal practitioner in Austin, Texas, USA. You can email him at sarfoadjei@yahoo.com.

Columnist: Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo
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