I’ve been in traveling in the West African country of Senegal this week, just a few days after President Trump’s infamous statement about “Haiti and African countries.”And while Food Tank considers itself non-partisan, I do have a few thoughts about the damage the President has inflicted. I heard from numerous Senegalese citizens—the head of a research center, a scientist, a well-known women’s activist, an agricultural communications specialist, taxi drivers, and many others—about how much the President’s statements offended them personally and as Africans. They’re dismayed at how the President refers to this vast continent—with its diverse people, cultures, and languages—and they want him to know that their country and the continent are anything but shitholes. No doubt there are problems here in Senegal and certainly elsewhere in the region, but the same can be said of the United States. More than once, I heard how hard Senegal is working to improve the lives of youth so that they are not “lost” to the Mediterranean Sea in their efforts to find jobs in other countries.
And while I’ve never been fearful to travel in any part of Africa, I do feel a sense of embarrassment and shame now. Shame that we have a President who doesn’t acknowledge the hope and success evident all over this continent and who fails to understand that his words have consequences.
There was one ray of hope from the conversations I had with people about President Trump, though—one woman told me that although the American President has these views, she knows the American people, as a whole, do not. And while I realize President Trump will likely never apologize to the people of the continent of Africa or the country of Haiti, I have hope that American citizens will continue to encourage policymakers and NGOs to continue their support and work all over the Global South, particularly in sustainable agriculture practices supporting women, farmers, and farmworkers.
(Danielle Nierenberg is President of Food Tank and an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. She has written extensively on gender and population, the spread of factory farming in the developing world and innovations in sustainable agriculture.)