Donald Trump has faced widespread condemnation over claims that he questioned why the US would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa.
The UN human rights office said the president’s reported use of an expletive to describe African countries could “potentially damage and disrupt the lives of many people”, and the African Union continental body said it was “frankly alarmed.
Haiti said it was “deeply shocked and outraged”, and called the remarks “racist”.
Mr Trump has denied using the vulgar expression, saying: “This was not the language used,” but UN spokesman Rupert Colville said: “You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’.”
He said the reported comments were “shocking and shameful” and added: “I’m sorry, but there’s no other word one can use but racist.”
He said the reported remark could endanger lives by potentially fanning xenophobia: “It legitimises the targeting of people based on who they are. This isn’t just a story about vulgar language, it’s about opening the door to humanity’s worst side.”
He added that the reported comments “go against the universal values the world has been striving so hard to establish since World War Two and the Holocaust”.
African Union spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo said: “Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice.
“This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”
African governments quickly found themselves in an awkward position. As top recipients of US aid, some hesitated to jeopardise it by criticising Mr Trump, especially as his administration has sought to slash foreign assistance.
“Unless it was specifically said about South Sudan, we have nothing to say,” said South Sudan government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny.
But South Africa’s ruling African National Congress called the comments “extremely offensive”.
Deputy secretary general Jesse Duarte said developing countries do have difficulties but the US has millions of people out of work or without health care, and “we would not deign to make comments as derogatory”.
South African opposition leader Mmusi Maimane called the comments “abhorrent”, adding: “The hatred of (Barack) Obama’s roots now extends to an entire continent.”
Botswana’s government called the remarks “reprehensible and racist” and said the US ambassador had been summoned.
Uganda’s state minister for international relations, Henry Okello Oryem, said the comments were “unfortunate and regrettable”, adding: “W e pray that the almighty god gives him wisdom to change his mind about people who are suffering and looking for safe haven in America.”
Ras Mubarak, a lawmaker in Ghana, called for a boycott by developing countries against the US until Mr Trump leaves office. “The sooner he is made aware that America needs the world and the world needs America, the better it is for all of us.”
The Haitian government said: “These insulting and reprehensible statements in no way reflect the virtues of wisdom, restraint and discernment that must be cultivated by any high political authority.”
It added that the comment as reported “reflects a totally erroneous and racist view of the Haitian community and its contribution to the United States”.
African media outlets and the continent’s young, increasingly connected population were not being shy in reacting.
“Well, that is the perfect definition of racism. That is all I have to say,” Kenyan entrepreneur Wangui Muraguri said in Nairobi.
“Casual Friday at the White House is soon to include hoods and tiki torches at this rate,” South African media outlet Daily Maverick wrote.
Many on the world’s second most populous continent reached for their smartphones, long-practised in defending the vast and varied region from easy stereotypes.
While 40% of the world’s poor live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Monetary Fund, the region also has billionaires, reality shows and a growing middle class.
Some quickly decided to own Mr Trump’s apparently vulgar language or throw it back in his face.
“Good morning from the greatest most beautiful ‘shithole country’ in the world!!!” South African Broadcasting Corporation anchor Leanne Manas tweeted.
“As someone from South Shithole, Trevor is deeply offended by the president’s remarks,” said a tweet from US chat programme The Daily Show, on behalf of its South African-born host Trevor Noah.
In Kenya, east Africa’s economic hub, political activist Boniface Mwangi pleaded: “Please don’t confuse the #shithole leaders we Africans elect with our beautiful continent.”
Mr Trump’s reported comments highlighted months of concerns about his lack of focus on Africa, including empty ambassadorial posts in key countries like South Africa, Egypt, Congo and Somalia.
A list maintained by the Washington-based American Foreign Service Association says eight posts are vacant.
Mr Trump has expressed negative opinions about the continent in the past.
“Every penny of the 7 billion dollars going to Africa as per Obama will be stolen – corruption is rampant!” he tweeted in 2013.
“He has not only insulted Africans, he has also insulted African-Americans,” said Sylvester Odion Akhaine, associate professor of international relations at Lagos State University in Nigeria.
“Internationally, such language will deepen the isolation of the United States, a country that is already losing its global prestige.”
As the outrage spread, the US government’s own Africa Media Hub tried to put out the flames.
Without directly referring to Mr Trump, it tweeted: “US remains committed to working together w/Africans to realize the promise of a more peaceful, more productive, more prosperous 21st century Africa. US deeply respects the people of #Africa & values its partnerships with them.”