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Trump Tells African Leaders His Friends Go to Their Countries to 'Get Rich' at UN

Evan Vucci/AP

President Donald Trump made his debut at the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week, and his comments throughout the week have caused international stir.

After a speech he delivered to African leaders during a luncheon on Wednesday, Trump has once again found himself at the center of media attention and a social media storm.

The president began his remarks by congratulating African leaders on their continent's economic progress — according to the World Economic Forum, Ethiopia’s was the fastest-growing economy in 2017, while Tanzania and Djibouti were among the top 10.

But his comments took a controversial turn when Trump told the leaders, “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.”

"I congratulate you. They're spending a lot of money," he added.

Trump may have intended his comments to be light-hearted — CNN reported that he paused for laughter. But none followed, likely because the idea of wealthy Westerners trying to “get rich” off African people and resources is no laughing matter to African leaders given the continent’s history of exploitation during the colonial era.

For several centuries, people were taken as captives from countries like Ghana and Nigeria and sold as slaves in the US and Europe. And while the slave trade in the US ended more than 200 years ago, exploitation and colonization by Western countries on the African continent persisted for many years. Botswana only gained independence from the British in 1966, and it took nearly another decade for Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal.

To this day, European and American companies rely on resources and labor from African countries that negatively impacts the continent’s people and environment. Gold, coffee, palm oil, and cocoa are just a few of the products Western countries import from all over Africa. Goods like cocoa come with both an environmental and human cost

Read more: Why You Should Think Twice About Buying Snickers, Milky Way, and Kit Kat Bars

So the suggestion that African countries should welcome Trump’s friends who are trying to “get rich” is a sensitive one.

The president’s speech hit another speed bump when he commended “Nambia,” a non-existent country, on its “increasingly self-sufficient” health system — a White House transcript of his speech later revealed this to be a mispronunciation of Namibia, a country in southern Africa. 

The US actually provides foreign aid to Namibia, as part of USAID’s global health programs, helping the country to tackle HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. If Trump’s proposed foreign aid budget cuts are accepted, Namibia’s “increasingly self-sufficient” health system, which Trump sought to praise, could backslide.

Read more: These Kids’ Lives Are at Stake if Trump’s Proposed Cuts to Global Health Are Passed

Of course, by the time the transcript was released, Trump’s mispronunciation was already at the center of a Twitter frenzy.

Global Citizen campaigns for freedom, for justice, for all — for a world in which no one is exploited and affordable healthcare is available to everyone. You can take action here.