The chairman of the African Union Commission confirmed today alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that he received a letter from President Trump about two weeks after the president’s reported remark calling Haiti and African nations “shithole countries.”
Moussa Faki and Tillerson spoke with reporters in Addis Ababa, where both were asked about Trump’s early January comments.
The Washington Post reported that Trump made the comment today during an Oval Office meeting with immigration negotiators including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, suggesting that more immigrants be brought into the country from places like Norway or Asia.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump reportedly said. “Take them out.”
Trump denied the report, while some lawmakers in the meeting said they heard the disparaging comments.
Tillerson said today that the purpose of his Africa trip “is to listen.”
“I think it is important that we listen to what the priorities of the countries here on the continent are and see where there is good alignment between their priorities and our areas of greatest interest as well,” he said when asked about his trip in the context of Trump’s remarks. “And I think we’ve already found there are many, and that should not surprise anyone. We have important joint security activities underway and we appreciate the commitment made by many countries on the continent, not just with their own financial resources, but with their own men and women in uniform who are going right out on the front lines to fight this war against terror that we all are fighting globally.”
“So this is an important trip. I think it is an indication of the importance the continent plays in the future of the United States, both from a security but also an economic standpoint. Africa, as a continent, is going to undergo significant population growth. Five of the world’s fastest-growing — 12 fastest-growing economies are here in Africa, so clearly there is significant opportunity for American interest in the future,” he added. “So it’s important that we have very open dialogue with one another to understand our priorities and to understand how we align those priorities, and we support each other. So this is a vitally important continent to the U.S. and our future interest as well.”
Tillerson said he and his African counterparts had “a very good exchange on various ways that we can consider creating a more sustainable and certain funding model for the counterterrorism efforts both — not just through the G5 Sahel, but also AMISOM and other activities to win the war against terror on the battlefield.”
“But we also discussed the need to win the war in the social media and cyberspace as well. With Africa’s very large and growing youth population, we must create good opportunities for education, for future jobs, so that the youth of Africa do not become easy targets for recruiting violent extremist messaging, and we had a good discussion about that as well today,” he said. “So, a very broad canvas of common interests that we have to discuss.”
Pressed again on whether he agrees with Trump’s “shithole” description and whether Trump would apologize to the continent, Tillerson replied, “I think the United States commitment to Africa is quite clear in terms of the importance we place on the relationship. The president himself wrote a personal letter to the chairperson, reaffirming the importance of this relationship from the standpoint of all aspects that I covered in answering a previous question.”
Faki confirmed that he “received a letter dated 25 January written by President Trump to myself, and which I have also copied to all the leaders of Africa, and I believe that this incident is of the past.”
“With the visit of Secretary of State Tillerson, the evidence of the relations between Africa and the United States is personified through his visit. I believe reasonably this partnership has produced results. It is useful for both parties, whether in the area of trade or investment, or whether it is peace and stability in Africa,” Faki said.
“You are aware the African continent has many partnerships,” he added. “I think the Africans are mature enough to engage in partnerships of their own volition which will be useful for the country — for the countries and the continent. So there is no monopoly. We have multifaceted, multifarious relations with other parts of the world. We know where our interests, and it is our full awareness I think that is most important.”