During a heated meeting with lawmakers concerning immigration to the United States, President Donald Trump was reported to have made derogative comments about Haiti and several African countries. Trump has been accused of arguing against people from ‘sh**hole countries’ coming to the United States, preferring to accept immigrants from countries such as Norway. Although Trump has since denied making the remarks about Haiti and Africa (despite the reputable sources from officials present at the meeting), the US President has been widely criticised for his comments and has received a barrage of complaints from policy-makers and political commentators both within the United States and across the world. Trump’s recent comments only fuel public accusations that he is a racist, and provide further weight to the notion that he is overwhelmingly unfit for office. However, despite the intolent and abhorrent conjectures behind Trump’s scolding of Haiti and Africa, is there an ounce of truth in the US President’s remarks?
Socio-economic deprivation in Haiti and sub-Saharan Africa
In many senses, the answer is yes. Both Haiti and several African countries have been economically deprived for decades, and have been marred by poverty and political instability. Haiti is undoubtedly the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world, with a GDP per capita of US$846 in 2014. The World Bank stated that six million of Haiti’s 10.4 million inhabitants live under the national poverty line of US$2.41 per day, with a third of those living in extreme poverty. Haiti’s economy is also heavily depedent on external finance – particularly from Venezula, and has an increasing fiscal deficit, particularly due to poor management of public expenditure and the country vulnerability to natural disasters, e.g. Hurricane Matthew. Moreover, Haiti has been plauged by political instability and corruption, and has struggled to embed democracy succesfully, with coup d’état’s an ever-present reality throughout the country’s history. These issues have been influential in the dramatic rise of Haitian-born immigrants in the United States over the last 25 years. This is despite the US government’s extrodinary efforts to block illegal immigration from the country, as noted by the Migration Policy Institute.
Similiarly, many African countries have also suffered from extreme poverty and political and economic trepidation, despite the rich abundance of resources across the region. Despite recent growth over the last decade, which has partly been driven by an increase in domestic demand and foreign investment, Africa remains the poorest continent in the world. Several African countries have had particular trouble with managing fluctuating commodity prices on global markets, largely due to their depedency on a single agricultural commodities as a source of revenue. In addition, Africa has suffered from a plethora of natural disasters, rampant outbreaks of disease – particularly HIV/AIDs and tuberculosis, and has had an unwavering reliance on foreign aid. This is without mentioning the emergence of brutal dictatorships throughout Africa during 1960s and 1970s, and the ever-present reality of fierce tribal differences that have often been the precursor to civil war in many countries. Evidence from Pew Research Centre shows that although Africans make up a small number of the United States’ immigrant population (4.8% in 2015), immigration from Africa has approximately doubled in every decade since 1970, demonstrating the extent of development crisis in Africa.
The United States and its relationship with Haiti and Africa
However, Trump’s comments – and indeed my previous assessments of Haiti and Africa, ignore the significant role that the United States has played in creating the conditions that have predisposed the two regions to such negative attitudes. Firstly, the historical relationship between the United States and Haiti has been mostly oppresive by the former against the latter. Due to its geographical location, the United States have had a persistent interest and influence in the political and economic conditions in Haiti over the last 200 years. Although maintaining its trade relationship with Haiti following its indepedence from France in 1804, the United States failed to recognise Haiti’s freedom until 1862 (incidently not until the American Civil War), due to a fear that it could result in an slave uprising in Southern states. For much of the 19th century, the United States monitored Haiti with great suspicion and perceived the free state as a threat to its future ambitions.
The lack of political support for Haiti by the United States was most evident in the country’s sparadoic military interventions in the country throughout its early history, culminating in the eventual occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934, which added fuel to the deep political tensions that had existed in the country since its birth. Since then, the United States have played a dominant role in damaging the Haitain economy, largely through their support of the brutal ‘anti-communist’ regimes of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, which led to widespread corruption and the death of millions, and its influence in driving ill-suited political and economic reform policies, particularly during the 1990s. As of 2016, Haiti’s GDP was roughly £8 billion – approximately 0.4% of the United States’ GDP in the same year, demonstrating the gulf in economic performance between the two countries.
The United States’ relationship with Africa is of course well-documented, and the lasting impact of slavery on the continent cannot be understated. However, more pertinent to the floudering foundations within modern-day Africa is the United States’ calculated economic and political incentives in the region since the 1960s. In order to secure its global dominance following the Second World War and deligitimise communism as a political ideology, the United States endeavoured to remove several left-leaning or “anti-American” regimes across the region. This led to political instability and civil unrest across the continent, with the United States intervening in several countries, irrespective of their accordance to ‘good governance’ and democracy. Examples include the removal of Patrice Lumumba from Congo in 1960 and the CIA-led coup in Chad in 1980.
The United States’ political involvement in Africa is closely associated with their economic agenda throughout the continent, prescribed through the ‘Washington Consensus’ and expoused by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. This has forced African countries to liberalise their economies to stimulate trade and foreign investment, decentralise state systems, float their fragile currencies and privatise key industries, all unpinned by an apparatus that ‘encouraged’ large borrowing to the continent to finances their economic transformation. Both the political and economic incentives of the United States has decimated many African countries, who have since had to contend with crippling debts, and poorly managed infrastructures and resources. Albeit several African countries appear to be on the road to recovery – boasting levels of growth similar to that of East Asia during the 1990s, the legacy of US involvement in the region remains.
Of course, it would be wrong to ignore the impact of other internal and external factors in effecting the development of Haiti and Africa. However, Trump’s derogative statements about the two regions suggests a lack of knowledge and antipathy for the extent to which the United States has contributed to their lacklustre growth. In fact, rather than to follow the cynical narrative that has now become synonymous with Haiti and Africa, the World should reflect on the great strides both areas have made in overcoming the imperialist claw of the United States. Haiti and Africa are not “sh**hole” countries – and if Trump thinks they are, maybe his country should look in the mirror first.