Written by WALL STREET Felicia Schwartz
Former American ambassadors to 48 African nations have urged President Donald Trump to reassess his views on Africa and its citizens after he was reported to have referred to nations there as “shithole countries.” In a letter to Mr. Trump on Tuesday, 78 former envoys said the U.S. is “safer, healthier, more prosperous and better equipped to solve problems that confront all of humanity when we work with, listen to and learn from our African partners.” They added: “We also know that the world is richer because of the contributions of Africans, including the many Americans of African descent.”
The diplomats cited their experiences working with African military and intelligence officials as well as entrepreneurs, artists, activists and educators. “As American ambassadors abroad we have seen Africa’s complex and rich cultures, awe-inspiring resilience, and breathtaking generosity and compassion,” they wrote.
Michelle Gavin, a former ambassador to Botswana and Johnnie Carson, a former ambassador to Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya organized the letter. Other signatories included Linda Thomas-Greenfield, former Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs who was dismissed by the Trump administration; John Campbell, a former ambassador to Nigeria; and Princeton Lyman, former ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa. The list includes officials who served both Republican and Democratic presidents.
“To hear someone who speaks for the U.S. government speaking about these places in a derogatory way, it felt like there was a collective responsibility to say something,” Ms. Gavin said in an interview. U.S. ambassadors have been called in to explain Mr. Trump’s comments in five countries so far—Botswana, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa and Nigeria, U.S. officials said.
The White House disputes that Mr. Trump used the offensive term, although lawmakers who attended the meeting said he did. Asked about the comments in Vancouver on Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. has positive ties to African countries.
“I think those leaders know that the United States wants that relationship to continue to be strong,” he said. “We know they want that relationship to be strong as well. So at this stage nothing has changed with respect to our relationship with African nations, and we’ve continued to see them wanting to strengthen our relationship in that regard as well.”
WALL STREET Felicia Schwartz Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com