State terrorism comes in many forms, but one of its most cruel and revolting expressions is when it is aimed at children.
Even though U.S. President Donald Trump backed down in the face of a scathing political and public outcry and ended his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, make no mistake: His actions were indeed a form of terrorism.
That he was defiant until his back was against the wall points not only to a society that has lost its moral compass, but has also descended into such darkness that it demands both the loudest forms of moral outrage and a collective resistance aimed at eliminating the narratives, power relations and values that support it.
State violence against children has a long, dark history among authoritarian regimes.
Josef Stalin’s police took children from the parents he labelled as “enemies of the people.” Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet all separated children from their families on a large scale as a way to punish political dissidents and those parents considered disposable.
Now we can add Trump to the list of the depraved.
Amnesty International called Trump’s decision to separate children from their parents and warehouse them in cages and tents for months as a cruel policy that amounts to “nothing short of torture.”
Many of the parents whose children were taken away from them entered the country legally, unwittingly exposing what resembles a state-sanctioned policy of racial cleansing. And federal U.S. officials have said despite Trump’s about-face, children who have already been separated from their parents — more than 2,000 of them — will not be reunited with them.
In any democratic society, the primary index through which a society registers its own meaning, vision and politics is measured by how it treats its children, and its commitment to the ideal that a civilized society is one that does everything it can to make the future and the world a better place for youth.
Abuse and terror
By this measure, the Trump administration has done more than fail in its commitment to children. It has abused, terrorized and scarred them. What’s more, this policy was ludicrously initiated and legitimized by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a notorious anti-immigrant advocate, with a Bible verse that was used historically by racists to justify slavery.
In the name of religion and without irony, Sessions put into play a policy that has been a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.
At the same time, Trump justified the policy with the notorious lie that the Democrats have to change the law for the separations to stop, when in actuality the separations are the result of a policy inaugurated by Sessions under Trump’s direction.
Trump wrote on Twitter that the Democrats are breaking up families.
Yet according to the New York Times:
Mr. Trump was misrepresenting his own policy. There is no law that says children must be taken from their parents if they cross the border unlawfully, and previous administrations have made exceptions for those travelling with minor children when prosecuting immigrants for illegal entry. A “zero tolerance” policy created by the president in April and put into effect last month by the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, allows no such exceptions, Mr. Trump’s advisers say.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen actually elevated Trump’s lie to a horrendous act of wilful ignorance and complicity.
This is an extension of the carceral state to the most vulnerable groups, putting into play a punitive policy that signals a descent into fascism, American-style.
The New Yorker’s Marsha Gessen got it right in comparing Trump’s policies towards children to those used by Vladimir Putin in Russia, both of which amounts to what she calls “an instrument of totalitarian terror.”
Both countries arrest children in order to send a powerful message to their enemies. In this case, Trump’s message was designed to terrorize immigrants while shoring up his base, while Putin’s message is to squelch dissent in general among the larger populace. Referring to Putin’s reign of terror, she writes:
The spectacle of children being arrested sends a stronger message than any amount of police violence against adults could do. The threat that children might be removed from their families is likely to compel parents to keep their kids at home next time — and to stay home themselves.
Children screaming for their parents
Within the last few weeks, heart-wrenching reports, images and audio have emerged in which children, including infants, were forcibly separated from their parents, relocated to detention centres under-staffed by professional caretakers and housed in what some reporters have described as cages.
The consequences of Trump’s xenophobia are agonizingly clear in reports of migrant children screaming out for their parents, babies crying incessantly, infants housed with teenagers who don’t know how to change diapers and shattered and traumatized families.
The Trump administration has detained more than 2,000 children. What’s more, the Trump administration has lost track of more than 1,500 children it first detained.
In some cases, it deported parents without first uniting them with their detained children. What is equally horrifying and morally reprehensible is that previous studies, such as those done by Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham in the midst of the Second World War, indicated that children separated from their parents suffered both emotionally in the short run and were plagued by long-term separation anxieties.
It’s no wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics referred to the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their families as one of “sweeping cruelty.”
Trump has mobilized the fascist fervour that inevitably leads to prisons, detention centres and acts of domestic terrorism and state violence. Echoes of Nazi camps, Japanese internment prisons and the mass incarceration of Black and brown people, along with the destruction of their families, are now part of Trump’s legacy.
Shameless cruelty now marks the neoliberal fascism currently shaping American society. Trump used children as hostages in his attempt to implement his racist policy of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and to please his white supremacist base.
Trump’s racism was on full display as he dug in to defend this white supremacist policy.
He likened migrants to insects or disease-carrying rodents. In the past, he has also called undocumented immigrants “animals.” This is a rhetoric with a dark past. The Nazis used similar analogies to describe Jews. This is the language of white supremacy and neo-fascism.
Long history in the U.S.
But let’s be clear. While the caging of children provoked a great deal of moral outrage across the ideological spectrum, the underlying logic has been largely ignored.
These tactics have a long history in the United States, and in recent years have been intensified with the collapse of the social contract, expanding inequality and the increasing criminalization of a range of behaviours associated with immigrants, young people and those populations considered most vulnerable.
Read more: Fascism’s return and Trump’s war on youth
The horrible treatment of immigrant parents and children by the Trump regime signals not only a hatred of human rights, justice and democracy, it lays bare a growing fascism in the United States in which politics and power are now being used to foster disposability. White supremacists, religious fundamentalists and political extremists are now in charge.
It’s all a logical extension of his plans to deport 300,000 immigrants and refugees, including 200,000 Salvadorans and 86,000 Hondurans, by revoking their temporary protected status.
His cruelty is also evident in his rescinding of DACA for 800,000 so-called dreamers and the removal of temporary protected status for 248,000 refugees.
“Making America Great Again” and “America First” morphed into an unprecedented and unapologetic act of terrorism against immigrants. While the Obama administration also locked up the families of immigrants, it eventually scaled back the practice.
Under Trump, the savage practice accelerated and intensified. His administration refused to consider more humane practices, such as community management of asylum-seekers.
It all functions as short hand for making America white again, and signals the unwillingness of the United States to break from its past and the ghosts of a lethal authoritarianism.
Trump’s admiration of dictators
It’s also more evidence of Trump’s love affair with the practices of other dictators like Putin and now Kim Jong Un. And it signals a growing consolidation of power that is matched by the use of the repressive powers of the state to brutalize and threaten those who don’t fit into Trump’s white nationalist vision of the United States.
There is more at work here than the collapse of humanity and ethics under the Trump regime, there is also a process of dehumanization, racial cleansing and a convulsion of hatred toward those marked as disposable that echoes the darkest elements of fascism’s tenets.
The U.S. has now entered into a new era of racial hatred.
What has happened to the children and parents of immigrants does more than reek of cruelty, it points to a country in which matters of life and death have become unmoored from the principles of justice, compassion and democracy itself.
The horrors of fascism’s past have now travelled from the history books to modern times. The steep path to violence and cruelty can no longer be ignored. The time has come for the American public, politicians, educators, social movements and others to make clear that resistance to the emerging fascism in the United States is not an option —but a dire and urgent necessity.
The Trump administration told lawmakers the U.S. government has reached a deal to put Chinese telecommunications company ZTE Corp back in business, a senior congressional aide said on Friday.
As with a similar announcement earlier, the proposed deal ran into immediate resistance in Congress, where Democrats and Trump's fellow Republicans accused him of bending to pressure from Beijing to ease up on a company that allegedly poses a significant risk to U.S. national security.
ZTE was banned in April from buying U.S. technology components for seven years for breaking an agreement reached after it violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea. It would now be allowed to resume business with U.S. companies, including chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.
The deal, communicated to officials on Capitol Hill by the Commerce Department, requires ZTE to pay a substantial fine, place U.S. compliance officers at the company and change its management team, the aide said. The Commerce Department would then lift an order preventing ZTE from buying U.S. products.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday floated a plan to fine ZTE up to $1.3 billion and shake up its management as his administration considered rolling back more severe penalties that have crippled the company.
The White House did not immediately confirm reports of the latest deal, but a spokeswoman said, "This is a law enforcement action being handled by Commerce. We are making sure ZTE is held accountable for violating U.S. sanctions, pays a big price, and that we are protecting our security infrastructure and U.S. jobs."
Fox News said Trump told them on Thursday that he had negotiated the $1.3 billion fine with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone call.
ZTE, which is publicly traded but whose largest shareholder is a Chinese state-owned enterprise, agreed last year to pay a nearly $900 million penalty and open its books to a U.S. monitor for breaking a 2017 agreement after it was caught illegally shipping U.S. goods to Iran and North Korea, in an investigation dating to the Obama administration.
The company has lost over $3 billion since the April 15th ban on doing business with U.S. suppliers, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Responding to news of the administration's proposed settlement with ZTE, Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted: "Yes they have a deal in mind. It is a great deal ... for #ZTE & China. #China crushes U.S. companies with no mercy & they use these telecomm companies to spy & steal from us."
Rubio, as well as Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Chris Van Hollen, said Congress should act to stop Trump from letting ZTE get back into business.
U.S. intelligence and U.S. law enforcement agencies have serious concerns that ZTE and other Chinese telecommunications firms use their equipment to gather intelligence on U.S. citizens.
William Evanina, the acting director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said at his May 15 confirmation hearing that he would not use a ZTE phone nor recommend that anyone in a sensitive position in government use one.
Chinese officials sought a pullback on ZTE as part of any broader deal to prevent a trade war between the world's two biggest economies. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is scheduled to visit China next week for another round of talks.
ZTE needs U.S. components for its mobile phones and network equipment. U.S. companies provide an estimated 25 percent to 30 percent of components in ZTE's equipment.
As part of the agreements ZTE made last year it dismissed four senior employees.
Shares of ZTE's U.S. suppliers traded higher on Friday. Optical networking equipment maker Acacia Communications Inc, which got 30 percent of 2017 revenue from ZTE, rose 4.4 percent. Optical component company Oclaro Inc, which received 18 percent of its fiscal 2017 revenue from ZTE, rose 2.7 percent.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump next week. His visit comes less than four months since Trump made the comment about “shithole” countries in Africa. Trump’s comments were followed by a swift denial and a lukewarm attempt to mend fences.
But his lethargic attitude to the continent is undeniable. This was underscored by the fact that the president sacked former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he was on an African tour, forcing him to cut his trip short. Further evidence of his perceived indifference is the fact that he has not appointed substantive senior leadership within the state department to handle African affairs. As a result, his African policy is driven by a makeshift team that has shown no real desire to mediate Africa’s strategic interests and aspirations.
So how does Nigeria, one of Africa’s largest economies, fit into America’s unclear vision for the continent? With a population of more than 180 million people, Nigeria is an African power house. And because of its complex religious, ethnic and regional dynamics, it presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the US.
Perhaps Buhari’s trip to Washington will be used to reset Nigeria-US relations, particularly after the fallout from Trump’s shithole comment. The comment was particularly disturbing in Nigeria because over 700,000 Nigerians were found to be following Trump’s tweets – that’s more than 2% of his 32 million followers. This shows just how interested Nigerians are in the American president and his policies.
The official line from the Trump administration is that Buhari’s visit is an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss issues of mutual importance like economic growth, reforms and trade, terrorism, peace and security, and Nigeria’s role as a leader in Africa.
Nigeria has been unable to deal decisively with the Boko Haram menace despite buying military equipment worth millions of dollars from the US. Its inability to wipe out Boko Haram has destabilised the West African region and caused a widespread refugee crisis.
Beyond the twin challenge of corruption and terrorism, Nigeria has been unable to fully benefit from America’s special economic growth and development initiative, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. This is because of structural bottlenecks like insecurity, sluggish economic growth, weak local capacity, and infrastructural problems.
The act gives selected sub-Saharan countries easier access, tax and duty free exports of selected products to the US market. But Nigeria’s performance has been dismal. Buhari’s wish list should therefore include support for private sector capacity building to meet international trade and export standards.
It should also include enhanced security cooperation and support and increased foreign direct investment.
Something else that could come up during Buhari’s visit are the human rights violations by the Nigerian military in its campaign against Boko Haram. The violations stopped the Obama administration from fully committing to Nigerian military support.
In fact, the lowest point in US-Nigeria relations came in 2014 when Nigeria cancelled a joint military exercise because the US refused to equip its military with helicopters.
From “shithole” to “deep respect”
Despite its challenges, Nigeria has long been a continental and regional power house that has supervised a vast security apparatus through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Under Nigeria’s stewardship ECOWAS ensured that the Gambian strong man Jammeh Yahya was forced to step down in favour of his challenger who had been validly elected.
Nigeria’s role in the Gambia proved that, while it has a lot of other problems, electoral injustice is not one of them. Successive administrations have respected the constitutional norms that require an incumbent to step down after fairly losing an election. This kind of democratic leadership is strategically important to the US.
And as one of Africa’s largest economies Nigeria can boost economic growth in the region. The country is in a strategic position to take advantage of Trump’s promise to “increase free, fair and reciprocal trade” with Africa.
Finally, as Africa’s largest oil and gas producer Nigeria could become an important ally in Trump’s efforts to control the volatile oil prices fronted by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Benefits to both parties
In the final analysis, what should Africa make of Buhari’s visit to Washington? Is it a just reward for Nigeria’s continental leadership, or a carefully choreographed opportunity to make Trump popular again?
I argue that it is both. Despite claiming that he has a “deep respect” for Africa, Trump is still believed to be indifferent towards the continent.
This visit has the potential to reset the US-Nigeria dynamic. And at the end of the day, Buhari will have a White House photo op that will come in handy now that he intends to run for a second term.
And Trump will have the opportunity to showcase his “deep respect” for Africa.
Tensions are escalating between China and the US over trade. The Chinese government has announced retaliatory measures on a range of American products including cars and some American agriculture products after the US listed 1,333 Chinese products to be hit by punitive tariffs of 25%.
Yet a trade war does not make economic sense for either side. Bilateral trade between the US and China was worth about US$711 billion in 2017 and Boeing’s single deal with China signed during Donald Trump’s visit to Beijing in 2016 was worth about US$37 billion alone.
The jobs and livelihoods at risk are huge. So why is there no particular desire, especially from Trump, to ease the tension and find a new solution?
There has been much talk about the US trade deficit with China and allegations that China steals US intellectual property. But the answer could lie in US fears of the Chinese government’s “Made in China 2025” initiative and how it signals the growing threat of China as an economic rival. That the official US Trade Representative’s recent investigation into Chinese trade practices mentioned the Made in China 2025 initiative more than 100 times, suggests this is the case.
Made in China 2025 was launched by the Chinese government in 2015 to upgrade the country’s manufacturing capabilities. It is a plan to transform what China produces from a low-cost, labour-intensive model to advanced and smart manufacturing. Certain key industries such as aerospace, robotics and high-tech medical equipment have been prioritised. The hope is that China will gradually match developed countries’ manufacturing capabilities and become industry leaders.
A lot of the products from these key industries, such as industrial robots, aviation and aerospace equipment, new energy and power supplies and advanced rail machinery were all included in the tariff target list published by the US Trade Representative. So it would seem that the current situation is not simply a trade issue aimed to reduce America’s trade deficit with China. Instead, it is likely targeted at the future competition China will pose.
China’s Made in China 2025 strategy makes perfect sense in my field of research, which concerns where products are manufactured and how this effects their popularity in the global market place. A strong and positive image of a country can generate what economists call “halo effects” on its products. So, Germans have built good reputations for their cars and engineering, France and Italy for their wine and fashion, and the US for their innovative products.
This worldwide reputation brings with it prestige and higher price premiums. Although there is still debate around whether brand origin could be more important than where the product is produced (Apple, for example designs its products in the US but manufactures them in China), there is no doubt that “Made in China” suffers from an image problem.
Chinese products have long been associated with a cheap and cheerful perception that they are not good in terms of quality or ingenuity. The Chinese government has long been aware of this view and keen to change it.
At the turn of the 21st century, it set up a policy called “Going Out” to encourage leading Chinese firms to expand internationally, acquire new technology and the tools to innovate. The two big examples were IT firm Lenovo’s takeover of IBM’s personal computer division in 2005 and Geely automotive’s purchase of Volvo in 2010. Made in China 2025 serves the same purpose – to boost China’s technology and innovation capabilities and to improve the image of Chinese products.
There is no doubt that China has come a long way since the 1990s. It has built 22,000km of advanced high speed rail network within the last decade, which is more than the rest of the world combined. It is also considered as the global leader in renewable energy and technology, patent filings, commercial drones, industrial robotics and e-commerce and mobile payments.
Chinese telecommunications company Huawei typifies the transformation of Chinese products in recent years. Within the last decade, Huawei has surpassed Ericsson and Nokia to become the world’s biggest telecom equipment supplier and has just overtaken Apple as the world’s second largest smartphone maker, behind Samsung.
What’s more remarkable about these statistics is that Huawei has transformed itself from a cheap phone maker to an accepted premium brand that can compete with Apple and Samsung. Its latest releases the top of the range Huawei P20 Pro will retail for US$1,100 and its top end model Huawei Porsche Design Mate RS will sell for US$2,109 – even more than the iPhone X.
There is no doubt that some in the US are uncomfortable with China’s impressive growth and feel threatened by it. It suggests the current trade dispute is not just about imports and exports, but also an incumbent superpower feeling the threat of a growing challenger.
Chinese President Xi Jinping promised on Tuesday to open the country's economy further and lower import tariffs on products like cars, in a speech seen as an attempt to defuse an escalating trade dispute with the United States.
While much of his pledges were reiterations of previously announced reforms that foreign businesses say are long overdue, Xi's comments sent stock markets and the U.S. dollar higher on hopes of a compromise that could avert a trade war. Xi said China will widen market access for foreign investors, addressing a chief complaint of its trading partners and a point of contention for U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which has threatened billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese goods.
Trump struck a conciliatory tone in response to Xi's speech, saying in a post on Twitter that he was "thankful" for the Chinese leader's kind words on tariffs and access for U.S. automakers, as well as his "enlightenment" on the issue of intellectual property.
"We will make great progress together!" Trump tweeted.
Washington charges that Chinese companies steal the trade secrets of American companies and force them into joint ventures to get hold of their technology, an issue that is at the center of Trump's current tariff threats.
The latest comments from both leaders appear to reinforce a view that a full-scale trade war can be averted, although there have been no talks between the world's two economic superpowers since the U.S. tariffs were announced.
"President Xi’s speech appears to have struck a relatively positive tone and opens the door to potential negotiations with the U.S. in our view. The focus now shifts to the possible U.S. response," economists at Nomura said.
"But of course actions speak louder than words. We will keep an eye on the progress of those opening-up measures."
The speech at the Boao Forum for Asia in the southern province of Hainan had been widely anticipated as one of Xi's first major addresses in a year in which the ruling Communist Party marks the 40th anniversary of its landmark economic reforms and opening up under former leader Deng Xiaoping.
Xi said China would raise the foreign ownership limit in the automobile, shipbuilding and aircraft sectors "as soon as possible" and push previously announced measures to open the financial sector.
"This year, we will considerably reduce auto import tariffs, and at the same time reduce import tariffs on some other products," Xi said.
He said "Cold War mentality" and arrogance had become obsolete and would be repudiated. His speech did not specifically mention the United States or its trade policies, which have been assailed by Chinese state media in recent days. Vice Premier Liu He had already vowed at the World Economic Forum in January that China would roll out fresh market opening moves this year, and that it would lower auto import tariffs in an "orderly way".
Chinese officials have promised since at least 2013 to ease restrictions on foreign joint ventures in the auto industry, which would allow foreign firms to take a majority stake. They currently are limited to a 50 percent stake in joint ventures and cannot establish their own wholly owned factories.
Tesla's Chief Executive Elon Musk has railed against an unequal playing field in China and wants to retain full ownership over a manufacturing facility the company is in talks to build there.
"This is a very important action by China. Avoiding a trade war will benefit all countries," Musk tweeted after Xi's speech.
Foreign business groups welcomed Xi's commitment to reforms, including promises to strengthen legal deterrence on intellectual property violators, but said the speech fell short on specifics.
"Ultimately U.S. industry will be looking for implementation of long-stalled economic reforms, but actions to date have greatly undermined the optimism of the U.S. business community," said Jacob Parker, vice president of China operations at the U.S.-China Business Council.
EASING OF TENSION
Jonas Short, head of the Beijing office at Everbright Sun Hung Kai, said the market was cheered by Xi's speech because it was framed in more positive terms which could ease trade tensions, but he voiced caution about promised reforms.
"China is opening sectors where they already have a distinct advantage, or a stranglehold over the sector," Short said, citing its banking industry, which is dominated by domestic players.
Xi's renewed pledges to open up the auto sector come after Trump on Monday criticized China on Twitter for maintaining 25 percent auto import tariffs compared to the United States' 2.5 percent duties, calling such a relationship with China not free trade but "stupid trade."
Analysts have cautioned that any Chinese concessions on autos, while welcome, would be a relatively easy win for China to offer the United States, as plans for opening that sector had been under way well before Trump took office. But Vice Commerce Minister Qian Keming said at the forum on Tuesday that China's economic reforms were driven by domestic factors and not due to external pressures.
Xi said China would accelerate opening up its insurance industry, with Shanghai Securities News citing a government researcher after the speech saying foreign investors should be able to hold a controlling stake or even full ownership of an insurance company in the future.
Trump's move last week to threaten China with tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods was aimed at forcing Beijing to address what Washington says is deeply entrenched theft of U.S. intellectual property and forced technology transfers from U.S. companies. Chinese officials deny such charges, and responded within hours of Trump's announcement of tariffs with their own proposed commensurate duties.
The move prompted Trump last week to threaten tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese goods, which have yet to be identified. None of the announced duties have been implemented yet, offering room for negotiation.
Beijing charges that Washington is the aggressor and spurring global protectionism, although China's trading partners have complained for years that it abuses World Trade Organization rules and practices unfair industrial policies that lock foreign companies out of crucial sectors with the intent of creating domestic champions.
While U.S. officials, including Trump, have recently expressed optimism that the two sides would hammer out a trade deal, Chinese officials in recent days have said negotiations would be impossible under "current circumstances". Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan, on a visit to Beijing, said he was optimistic that very few if any of the proposed tariffs by the United States and China announced in recent weeks will actually be implemented.
"I think it’s so clearly in the interest of both countries that we have a constructive trading relationship and that we have substantive talks to redress these issues.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said in a statement thisweek that he has instructed U.S. trade officials to consider $100 billion (71.4 billion pounds) in additional tariffs on China "in light of China's unfair retaliation" against earlier U.S. tariff actions.
The statement said the U.S. Trade Representative has determined that China "has repeatedly engaged in practices to unfairly obtain America’s intellectual property."
China's state media says U.S. tariff action will be defeated
China's state media has rallied against the United States warning its trade protectionism actions would end in defeat and that the only option now was to hit the United States hard enough so it will "remember the pain".
"If the U.S. says that it will pay any price, it must be firmly attacked," China's official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday.
China warned on Friday it was ready with a "fierce counter strike" of fresh trade measures if the United States follows through on President Donald Trump's threat to slap tariffs on an additional $100 billion of Chinese goods.
On Wednesday, China imposed $3 billion of tariffs on U.S. fruits, nuts, wine and pork, just hours after the Trump administration proposed duties on some 1,300 Chinese industrial, technology, transport and medical products. Rising trade tensions between the world's two largest economies follows a U.S. finding that China was engaging in unfair trade practices in connection with intellectual property protections. China rejects the charge.
China's media, which is strictly controlled by the government, has come out in defense of the country, painting the country as a victim of an overly aggressive United States bent on taking illegitimate unilateral action.
"The White House has completely lost its sense of reality!," said the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper in a Friday commentary, alleging the United States is acting unilaterally and engaging in trade protectionism.
Meanwhile, the nationalist Global Times said in an editorial published late on Thursday that the "Chinese are aware that the only option now is to hit the U.S. hard enough so that it will remember the pain."
Rex Tillerson has been removed as the Secretary of State, ending a tumultuous tenure as America’s top diplomat that was marked by a series of public disagreements with his boss — President Donald Trump.
Trump plans to appoint CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace the former Exxon Mobil chief executive. The president picked deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel to run the spy agency. Just on Monday, March 12, Tillerson visited Nigeria on the last leg of his official visits to Africa, being the first high-ranking official under the Trump administration to do so.
He met President Muhammadu Buhari during the visit, where they discussed issues of mutual interest to both countries. The ex-Secretary of State had also warned Nigeria and the rest of Africa against accessing financial help from China.
Trump announced Tillerson’s sacking via his verified Twitter handle:
As reported by the CNBC, since Tillerson took the post in February 2017, mixed messages repeatedly came out of the White House and a State Department with diminishing relevance. The intramural clashes between the president and secretary of State came amid major international crises, including a potential nuclear showdown with North Korea.
Official reactions from Africa were appropriately critical of President Donald Trump’s credibly reported comments about not wanting more immigrants coming to the US from “shithole” countries. This included all those south of the Sahara. A few reactions even included constructive suggestions.
The African Group of United Nation ambassadors unanimously dismissed the comments as “outrageous, racist and xenophobic”. They demanded Trump retract them and apologise. Botswana, Senegal and South Africa summoned US local representatives to be served with a demarche. In normal diplomatic practice this is a stern request for an explanation and is tantamount to a formal protest.
But in dealing with Trump, normal protocols are beside the point.
More than a year after he took office Trump has yet to announce an Africa policy, or even fill important diplomatic positions. He has yet to nominate an Assistant Secretary of State for Africa or an ambassador to South Africa. This means that African leaders lack any policy context in which to frame and guide traditional diplomatic reactions.
The Trump administration’s incompetence makes it difficult for African countries to engage Washington in seeking meaningful explanations, much less substantive negotiations. Even at lower working levels sustaining routine relations are complicated by a lack of policy guidance, budgetary uncertainty, and inter-agency management. This affects complex development, environmental, trade or security issues.
Africa’s limited resources, institutional capacities and vulnerabilities add to the risks associated with the current state of affairs.
Challenging racism with reason
Ebba Kalondo, chief spokesperson for the African Union said Trump’s comment “flies in the face of accepted behaviour and practice”. But she then sounded a possibly hopeful note. She added that the US
remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity. We believe that a statement like this hurts our shared global values on diversity, human rights and reciprocal understanding.
Kalondo’s appeal to what Abraham Lincoln famously called “the better angels of our nature” also recalls how Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, sought to transform troubling moments into what he suggested could be “teachable moments”.
In this spirit prominent African Americans, such as popular TV news pundit Joy Reid, have responded to Trump with positive reminders. Reid informed her viewers that her mother is a professor who immigrated from Guyana and her father a successful Congolese-American geologist. Other successful Africans are also speaking out. This affirms that Kalondo’s reference to enduring shared global values may not ring as hollow as Trump’s bigoted comments might cause us to fear.
This does not deny the immediate danger posed by Trump. As a New York Times editorial reminded readers the day after the reported comment and his attempt to retract it:
Mr Trump is not just a racist, ignorant, incompetent and undignified. He is also a liar … And still supporting Trump are a substantial number of the 63 million voters who elected him. It is these people, albeit not a national minority, who he continues to court, with his denigration of immigrants and especially those of African origin.
Trump’s comments can be viewed as a reflection of his personal animus and a conviction that they will play well with his political base.
Further complicating any effort to hold Trump and his supporters to account is that he’s repeatedly said he “is the least racist person he knows”. Polling suggests that most of his political supporters also believe they’re not racists.
Such denials have a long history in US politics. They are at the heart of America’s ongoing struggle for racial justice as recounted in “The Nationalist’s Delusion” by Adam Serwer.
Trump and his white nationalist supporters will also never concede that the history of slavery and colonial exploitation perpetrated by their own American and European ancestors contributed to Africa’s problems of economic underdevelopment and political balkanisation.
Time to break with protocol
African governments and non-governmental groups are right to voice outrage in reaction to Trump’s outbursts, and to criticise his behaviour.
But they need to do more. They can encourage and cooperate directly with those in Congress, African-Americans and the growing network of civil society groups opposed to Trump. This may bend, or even violate, traditional diplomatic practice. But Trump’s own disregard for international principles and norms justifies using alternative methods and interventions.
Having America as a more politically capable, willing and acceptable partner is surely in Africa’s long-term interests. This aspiration can be rooted in the same values as the pan-African democratic vision enshrined in the AU’s Constitutive Act. The vision was championed more than a decade ago under the banner of an African Renaissance. It is based on shared commitments to democratic cooperation, greater collective self-reliance and eventual democratic integration. But it is floundering and could founder.
If Americans succeed in resisting Trump and reconsolidating their democracy, then this could lend critical support for African democrats who still believe in the shared vision that the AU’s Kolondo refers to.