This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Open letter to Americans about Trump’s view of African countries

My name is Dr. Pakisa K. Tshimika. I am writing you together with many of my personal friends and friends of people of African roots in regards to the latest comments by Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, referring to many of us from Africa, Haiti and El Salvador as coming from “shithole countries.” While our president has denied saying these exact words, they are consistent with his derogatory language about persons, groups and nations not in his favor. An unfortunate result is that he has provided justification for others who choose to express hatred toward those not in their favor.

I don’t know if Trump and his strong supporters realize how humiliating, demeaning, infuriating and provoking his recent comments are to all of us with African roots. We find pride in these roots. Those with such roots have often been forgiving, and many have gone on to contribute willingly to building America. I feel betrayed by the president and those Americans who are rejoicing at his word choice.

I was born in Kajiji, a mission station developed by North American missionaries in South West Democratic Republic of Congo near the border of Angola. My father, a pastor, was Angolan by birth and my mother, Mama Makeka, was Angolan by descent. I attended primary and secondary schools where I was taught by North American Mennonite Brethren missionaries who also ran the hospital, clinic and church. Thanks to Mennonite Brethren medical missionaries who recommended and supported me during my initial years, after high school I attended what is now Fresno Pacific University. I had a dream, then, to attend medical school. A car accident in 1976 left me initially paralyzed from the neck down, and my plans shifted to consider public health. I earned a master’s, then a doctorate degree in public health from Loma Linda University in Southern California.

Since that time, I have continued to work with international organizations and build community in California. Both my former universities have recognized in me the qualities they seek by naming me their Alumni of the Year. In 2003, I also founded the global community and social wellbeing organization, Mama Makeka House of Hope, in honor of my mother, Makeka Rebecca. Collectively my family, community and I share a vision, not only for a better Congo, but for a compassionate, effective and caring global community. Our vision is of a world where people are honored and society is engaged; where, as my mother used to tell me, “there is always room and time for one more.”

I am part of a faith community that was started in Europe. Its members came to the United States and Canada through immigration, some as refugees. As a result of the compassionate outreach of this European and North American faith community, those in the global south now exceed in numbers those in the north, located in places comprised of populations Trump considers recipients of human waste. I have brothers and sisters in the faith in Congo, Angola, India, Indonesia, El Salvador, Mexico, Germany and France, just to name a few.

While rich in people, among these places are nations also rich in natural resources. My own birth country of the DR Congo provides the world, including America, with an array of unique animals, birds, plants, second world forest reserve next to the Amazon, and scarce minerals, including 80 percent of coltan, an essential element in cellphones, computers, GPS systems and a host of other modern conveniences.

At the level of international politics, my parents lost a son and I a brother as a result of the anti-communist initiatives of the CIA in my country during the Cold War. Along with other Congolese youth, he was abducted by a CIA-supported organization, forced into conscription and killed in battle.

I could continue to cite other ways in which my country, not to speak of other African countries, has served the interests of the United States. Perhaps the foregoing is sufficient to understand why Trump’s words have, in spite of my better judgement, left me feeling humiliated, disgraced and insulted as an African and as a Congolese. As a naturalized U.S. citizen, I consider both Congo and the United States my home, and so share a concern for the welfare of both.

Speaking, then, as an African and American, we can also be a very forgiving people. For this forgiveness to be offered, however, a change in the view of and actions toward African people, and others who have been insulted, is necessary. Money does not buy relationships.

Trump has indicated many times to the American people — especially to the evangelical community — that he is a committed, “born-again” Christian. To my mind, his recent comments regarding our African countries demonstrate duplicity in word and deed. This was already evident to me when I observed closely the manner in which he interacted with African leaders during the recent U.N. General Assembly. This is the place where all the leaders of the world meet as equal partners, but his behavior was suggestive of an attitude that these prominent African leaders were somehow inferior to him.

As a president of these United States, his words are meant to carry a great weight. What is Trump hoping to achieve by turning us against each other with gross, inaccurate and derogatory generalities? What example is he setting as the leader of a powerful and influential country on the world stage?

  • Trump must be kept accountable for what he says and he does. If he is truly a mature man, he will accept responsibility for what he says, even though he may deny the precise wording.
  • Trump’s comments were made in a formal meeting. I, and those who join with me, request a formal apology in a formal intergovernmental setting such as the U.N. General Assembly or during the meeting of the African nations, along with the other nations he has insulted.
  • Trump’s comments caused harm to all the people of African origin spread all over the globe. In fact, they were hurtful to all of humanity. We suggest that his apology must be addressed to all of us.
  • Rather than insulting Africans, let’s seek out for opportunities for investing in Africa in areas that create jobs and economic development using local resources. We have not taken advantage of the many young Africans studying in this country in walking alongside them in developing businesses in their home countries.
  • Church and non-governmental organizations have been known to be silent in response to certain injustices caused to African people. Silence and indifference is no longer an option. I, and those who join with me, call on the faith communions and NGO leaders in the U.S. and globally to write to local, state, district and federal representatives of U.S. government and to express solidarity with all people of African origin across the planet. African peoples are deserving of respect and their dignity, and will not be humiliated.

We pray and hope that this open letter shall provide space for dialogue, dig deeper into history, affirm each other’s contribution to humanity, and ultimately lead toward repentance, forgiveness and healing.

Pakisa K. Tshimika is executive director and founder of Mama Makeka House of Hope, an organization that supports efforts in education, health and peacebuilding in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has worked with Mennonite Brethren Missions and Services, Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite World Conference.

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