The anger was swift and the shock not surprising, but the humor — spontaneous social media posts of breathtaking images of African savannas, sunsets and wildlife tagged with the word “shithole” — drove home a point about making sweeping generalizations of an entire continent.
President Trump himself was probably not prepared for the global fury after he made crude remarks about El Salvador, Haiti and all of Africa.
According to people in the room, the president added: “We should have people from places like Norway.”
It didn’t take long for social media to explode with condemnation.
“@realDonaldTrump,” wrote former Mexican President Vicente Fox on Twitter, “your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world. With what authority do you proclaim who’s welcome in America and who’s not. America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?”
President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador also unleashed his displeasure on Twitter.
“The declaration of the president of the United States strikes at the dignity of the Salvadoran public,” he wrote in Spanish, adding in a second tweet that the country formally protests and energetically rejects such statements.
On the eighth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, Haitian Ambassador Paul Altidor said Trump’s comments were “misinformed” and “misguided.”
“We’ve been a partner, we’ve been a strong neighbor, we’ve been a good friend of the people of the United States,” he said on National Public Radio. “And today Haitians are still here working hard contributing to the social and economic fabric of this country."
Altidor went on to say that Haiti’s government had summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires, a top diplomat, to clarify the remarks and possibly demand an apology.
Some of Altidor’s compatriots posted images on social media of white-sand beaches, turquoise water and abundant produce to celebrate Haiti.
“Let’s stand up and remind @realDonaldTrump on this special day, what a real #shithole looks like. #Haiti,” wrote Samuel Dameus on Twitter.
Speaking to reporters at a news briefing in Geneva, United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said there was no word to describe Trump’s comments other than racist.
“You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’ whose entire populations … are not white [and] are therefore not welcome,” Colville said.
As for Norway, Trump’s admiration wasn’t mutual — at least on Twitter, where users pointed out that Norwegians enjoy benefits such as universal healthcare, free higher education and paid parental leave that would not entice many to leave for the U.S.
“As a Norwegian, the idea that anyone from Norway would consider moving to the USA strikes me as rather hare-brained,” wrote Johannes Brodwall, a software developer in Oslo.
“I’m a Norwegian who enjoyed studying & working in the US. The only thing that would attract me to emigrate to the US is your vibrant multicultural society. Don’t take that away @realDonaldTrump,” wrote Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council
Africans felt especially aggrieved.
At a bustling market in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, some saw Trump’s remarks as highly insulting. Others thought the comments would make the U.S. a less attractive destination for Ghanaians and help solve the country’s brain drain.
One shopkeeper, Million Anamoo, said, “Trump is scaring us.
“Whites and blacks should work together like a piano. America is one of the best countries. Ghana here is a free country, a peaceful country. We receive all tourists. We don’t discriminate. So we don’t expect another country to discriminate.
“We have cocoa here. We have gold here. We export our cocoa to America so that Americans can make chocolate.”
Hannah Akurigo, 32, who was selling clothes, admonished Trump to “stop insulting Africans” and advised him to visit Ghana and find out for himself how nice the people there were.
“We are very lovely people. He should come to Ghana. We let white people in, and now they turn up to insult us? We are not like shit. He’s saying he’s civilized, but we Africans are more civilized than him. We think before we speak.
“We are not like the way that they say: we live in trees, we are like monkeys. He should just come and experience Africa.”
One young Kenyan with the Twitter handle @VeneeChay referenced America’s history of using African slave labor, tweeting: “They wouldn’t even be where they are without us” picking cotton for them.
A post on the Twitter account for Chester Missing, a satirical South African television puppet character, said Trump’s remarks were “ironic from a dude running a country built on stealing people from said shithole.”
Some focused on Africa’s human capital and the contributions of its educated middle class.
“I hold two degrees myself not bad for people from #shitholecountries as viewed by Trump and the likes,” tweeted Ayandiswa Mthembu, a South African, of Vanderbijlpark in Gauteng province.
In Kenya, where a young urban generation is technically savvy and active on social media, some posted pleas for understanding, while many tweeted their outrage.
Political activist Boniface Mwangi from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi called on Trump to distinguish Africans from the country’s political leaders. “Please don’t confuse the #shithole leaders we Africans elect with our beautiful continent,” he tweeted.
Botswana’s government was the first on the continent to condemn Trump’s statements, referring to them as “highly irresponsible, reprehensible and racist.”
Botswana summoned the U.S. ambassador to express its displeasure over the remarks and to inquire as to whether Botswana was a “shithole country”:
“The government of Botswana is wondering why President Trump must use this descriptor and derogatory word when talking about countries with whom the U.S. has had cordial and mutually beneficial relations for so many years.”
Botswana called on the African Union and regional leadership bodies in Africa to condemn Trump over his comments.
Since taking office, Trump has barely mentioned Africa. The main action he has taken affecting the continent is to sharply reduce foreign aid. His sudden characterization of the entire continent shocked many — and angered others who saw it as part of a stubborn Western narrative characterizing Africa as a country and not a continent of 54 highly varied nations.
In some countries, people lampooned Trump’s characterization of Africa by posting picturesque landscapes with elephants, sweeping green savannas, beaches and the hashtag #shithole or some variation thereof.
Senegalese President Macky Sall said he was stunned by Trump’s remarks.
“I am shocked by President Trump’s statements on Haiti and Africa. I reject and condemn them vigorously. Africa and the black race deserve the respect and consideration of everyone,” Sall said in a tweet.
The African Union — the continent’s leadership body — was “frankly alarmed” by the comment, according to AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo.
“Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice,” she said.
Some were pointed with their outrage.
“This racist trash shows we not only need immigration reform but also presidential reform,” said Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, in describing Trump’s comments.
In South Africa, officials from the government and opposition also expressed outrage.
Jessie Duarte, deputy secretary general of the governing African National Congress, said the comments were “extremely offensive.”
“Developing countries do have difficulties. These difficulties are not small things,” she told a news conference. “Ours is not a ‘shithole country.’ Neither is Haiti or any other country in distress,” she said, adding that America has its own problems like poverty and unemployment.
“We would not deign to make comments as derogatory about any country facing difficulties,” she said.
Opposition leader Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance added that Trump’s comments were abhorrent.
“He confirms a patronizing view of Africa and promotes a racist agenda. Africa-U.S. relations will take strain from this, with a leader who has failed to reconcile humanity. The hatred of Obama’s roots now extends to an entire continent.”
Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Senegal, Trudy Stevenson, said Trump’s comments were “revealing.”
“How embarrassing for #America, and insulting to #Africa,” she tweeted.
Times staff writer Dixon reported from Johannesburg and special correspondent O’Grady from Accra, Ghana. Times staff writer Nina Agrawal in New York contributed to this report.
3:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details and reactions from around the world.
This article was originally published at 11:30 a.m.