African leaders nearly demanded public apology from Trump

US President Donald Trump. (Evan Vucci, AP, File)
US President Donald Trump. (Evan Vucci, AP, File)

Addis Ababa - African leaders this week came close to demanding that President Donald Trump publicly apologise for his vulgar remark about the continent "that defies all forms of diplomatic etiquette", according to a draft declaration obtained.

The draft, created during an African Union summit on Sunday and Monday, says heads of state and government are "deeply appalled" by Trump's reported comparison of African countries to a dirty toilet.

It warns that the strategic partnership between Africa and the US is at risk because of Trump's "racist and xenophobic behaviour".

The African leaders appear to have changed their mind on issuing the draft declaration because of a Trump letter to them last week pledging his "deep respect" and saying Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would make an "extended visit" to the continent in March, his first in that role. The letter emerged after Trump met with Rwanda's president and new African Union chairman Paul Kagame at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week.

Many African leaders had been outraged by Trump's comment last month, after nearly a year of little attention by his administration to the world's second most populous continent. Concerns have been widespread over proposed deep cuts to US foreign aid and a shift from humanitarian assistance to counterterrorism.

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Trump has said he didn't use the vulgar language, while others present say he did.

Ahead of the summit, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, declared that "Africa cannot keep quiet" about Trump's "shocking" remarks. But by Monday he had toned down his stance, telling reporters only that African leaders had received a "letter of correspondence" from Trump and "we've taken due note of it."

The draft declaration, however, shows how the 55-nation continental body came close to speaking out.

It says African leaders were "dismayed and shocked by the increasingly consistent trend from the Trump administration to denigrate people of African descent and other people of color thereby promoting racism, xenophobia and bigotry."

It calls on the US to retract Trump's remark and demands that he officially and publicly apologize to all Africans and people of African descent

Kagame, the new AU chair, indicated Monday that Africa and the Trump administration will have to find a way to get along.

"I've met the president of the United States, but the president of the United States is Trump," Kagame told reporters. "When the United States decides to give us Trump as their president, we will deal with that president."

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