Africa's leaders choose diplomacy to Trump's toilet remarks

US President Donald Trump. (File: AP)
US President Donald Trump. (File: AP)

Addid Ababa - The 55-nation African Union appears to have decided to react diplomatically and strategically to President Donald Trump's alleged vulgar remarks about the continent.

Rather than issuing an angry condemnation of Trump's reported comments in which he likened Africa to a filthy toilet, the African Union may decide to follow the advice of its new chairperson, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, to deal with the US president as the leader of a country elected by his people.

Kagame made the remarks on Monday as the annual summit, which was attended by more than 40 African leaders, drew to a close. Kagame spoke at the African Union after meeting Trump last Friday in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum.

"I've met the President of the United States but the President of the United States is Trump," Kagame told reporters in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. "For me the most value is to meet the President of the United States. When the United States decides to give us Trump as their president, we will deal with that president."

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Many African leaders were outraged by Trump's alleged rude comment about the continent. Trump has said he didn't use such language, while others present say he did.

But the fury appears to have been muted by a letter sent by Trump to African leaders in the past week in which he said he "deeply respects" the people of Africa. Trump also pledged that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will make an "extended visit" to the continent in March, his first in that role.

"President Trump wrote a letter through the (AU) Commission and to the Chairperson addressing the heads of state of Africa wishing them every success and stating how he is ready to collaborate with Africa," said Kagame.

Trump called Kagame a "friend" when they met at the World Economic Forum.

Many in Africa were taken aback by Trump's rude toilet comment after nearly a year of little attention to Africa by the US president's administration.

'It's a sensational... accusation' 

US diplomats have scrambled for days to address the shock and condemnation after the reports of Trump's remarks. Trump's letter and Kagame's careful response seem to have calmed things down. Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, toned down his stance in a press conference with journalists on Monday. The previous week he said "Africa cannot keep quiet" about Trump's "shocking" remarks. But Monday he would only say African leaders had received a "letter of correspondence" from Trump and "we've taken due note of it."

Another controversy at the African Union summit was over the report in the French newspaper, Le Monde, that China spied on the organization's headquarters from 2012 to 1017. Chinese officials quickly rejected the report.

"It's a sensational and total preposterous accusation. It's so absurd," said Kuang Weilin, China's representative to the African Union, who said he suspects the report was intended to harm China's relations with Africa.

The African Union's headquarter in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, was built as a gift by China to Africa at a cost of more than $200 million. The main building is 100 metres high and is currently the tallest building in Addis Ababa.

Also at the African Union summit, it was announced the organization has launched a new aviation deregulation scheme. The plan calls for a full liberalization of air market access between African states and the elimination of restrictions on ownership of airlines and full liberalization of air frequencies. The move is intended to promote cheaper air travel between African countries.

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