President Donald Trump’s January 11 comments denigrating African countries has produced a fierce, continent-wide reaction. The concern must be that Africans will take the president’s comments as reflecting the views of most Americans, rather than merely his own and that of his small political base. In the aftermath of the president’s comments, the Department of State’s Africa bureau tweeted that “the United States will continue to robustly, enthusiastically and forcefully engage” with Africa, a weak response to African anger that reflects the reality that it is a part of the Trump administration, not independent of it. It becomes imperative that Americans who do not share the president’s views and are independent of the administration make explicitly clear the value of Africa to the United States.
To that end, seventy-eight former U.S. ambassadors to African countries (including me) have signed a public letter to the president. (There were an additional seven signatures after the letter was delivered to the White House on January 16.) The letter affirms the importance of the multidimensional partnerships the United States has with most African states, which range from business to security to conservation. It makes the point that a close partnership with Africa is a matter of U.S. national security. The letter calls on the president to reassess his views of Africa and to acknowledge the importance of African contributions, and those of the African diaspora. As of January 18, there has been no substantive White House response.
Those who signed the letter represent much of the Africa expertise once found at the U.S. Department of State. The letter is already being carried by some American and African media outlets, and it is to be hoped that more will do so in the coming days, especially those with an African audience. The letter has been distributed to the relevant majority (Republican) and minority (Democratic) congressional members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle had strongly criticized the president’s comments.