Growing up in Lomé, the capital city of the Togolese Republic in West Africa, we voted for a president. The incumbent, who was always Eyadema, always had an opponent. Eyadema always won, and his opponent always lost. Eyadema always declared victory before the votes were all counted.
Gnassingbe Eyadema took power 1967 when I was a child, and he died in office in 2005, 16 years after I immigrated to the United States. For nearly 40 years of elections, the people of Togo voted, and Eyadema declared victory before the votes were counted. After his death, his son, Faure Gnassingbe, was installed as president. Now his son rules the country.
I doubt that Donald J. Trump could find my home country on the map, but he was referring to African nations and Haiti in January 2018 when he reportedly asked a group of lawmakers why the U.S. accepts so many immigrants from (I am using a less offensive phrase) “bumhole countries.” Like Black people and people of conscience of any background, I was deeply offended and enraged. The people of Togo and other African nations are as worthy of respect and admiration as people from Germany, where Trump’s paternal grandfather was born.
If countries like mine have problems, and they do, those problems can be traced back to two main causes. Togo has ethnic rivalries that predate the slavery and colonial eras, when European nations exploited our people for their labor and our land for its resources. In fact, slave traders preyed on ethnic rivalries to capture laborers as war captives, and they exploited ethnic rivalries to divide the people to take over their land. I grew up in Togo speaking French, along with several African languages, because France was the dominant colonial power in the part of West Africa nationalized as the Togolese Republic.
In the post-colonial era of so-called independence, Africa has suffered many dictators like Eyadema in Togo. I left Togo for the United States in part to escape Eyadema and the ethnic rivalries and economic inequities that made Eyadema possible.
I have been thinking about this painful history of Africa and Togo since the election of Donald Trump and his offensive, inhumane and racist remarks about “bumhole” African countries. Because I have watched for the past four years as Trump made the United States look more and more like the weakened, turbulent Africa nations he described in these foul terms.
Trump has exploited racial divisions in America like the African slave traders of past centuries, by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and questioning the citizenship of President Barack Obama. His tax cuts widened the income and wealth gaps in this country, making it closer in economic structure to the post-colonial countries in Africa with a few very rich people and a great many very poor people.
And then, with his handling of the 2020 elections, he acted exactly like Eyadema, exactly like an unelected dictator falsely claiming victory. The United States, which recently went around the world supposedly investigating and enforcing democracy in other nations, has been turned into a farce, a parody, of democracy by Trump.
Whatever Trump saw in African nations that made him refer to them as a “bumhole,” he turned his own country into a nation much more like them. Indeed, Trump’s America could learn from many African nations about holding fair, democratic elections and accepting their outcomes.
Haiti and African nations do not deserve to be described by this foul and offensive term. Neither does the United States, though it is weaker, less equal, more divided and less democratic after four years of President Trump. The facts are clear: In his own terms, looking at his performance and what he did to his country, Trump was a bumhole president.