Despite President Donald Trump’s reported call to reject immigrants from “shithole countries,” people from these countries actually have plenty to teach us.
Let’s start with a quiz:
Which country was the first in the world to ban government discrimination against gays in its constitution?
B) New Zealand
C) South Africa
Answer: It’s the so-called s-hole country, South Africa. It also bans discrimination based on gender and disability. Someday all the world will be so enlightened.
Here are other examples we can learn from:
1. Sierra Leone’s president has committed the country to providing free health care for children under 5 and for pregnant women, including prenatal care and deliveries, although care still lags. Meanwhile, in America the issue doesn’t get such high-level attention, so American women die in childbirth at five times the rate of British women.
2. Kenya is way ahead of the U.S. in mobile money. It’s easy in Kenya to transfer money by cellphone and to use a phone as a bank account. Nearly everyone has a mobile phone, and 88 percent of Kenyan mobile phone users also have mobile money accounts. Kenyans don’t understand why Americans are so backward in telecommunications.
3. Rwanda may eliminate cervical cancer before America, for Rwanda vaccinates virtually all girls against the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer. By also employing screenings for older women who were not vaccinated, it aims to eliminate cervical cancer by 2020. In contrast, only 65 percent of American girls get vaccinated for HPV, and a woman dies every two hours in the U.S. from cervical cancer.
“I wish parents in the U.S. worked as hard as those in Rwanda to get their daughters vaccinated, so that they will never need to know the horrors of cervical cancer,” says Dr. Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Indeed, while African leaders have worked very hard to raise vaccination rates and save lives, America has a president who has repeatedly cast doubt on vaccines.
4. Understanding the importance of languages in a globalized world, many Kenyans speak English, Swahili and a tribal language, and polyglots are common throughout Africa. In contrast, there’s the old joke: If somebody who speaks three languages is trilingual, and one who speaks two languages is bilingual, what do you call someone who speaks one language? An American.
5. African health officials have strongly promoted breast-feeding to make sure that babies get the healthiest possible start in life. So while 20 percent of American babies are exclusively breast-fed for the first six months of life, the figure is 42 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. In Rwanda, it’s a stunning 87 percent.
6. African governments have conscientiously followed recommendations of the World Health Assembly to curb infant formula marketing that discourages breast-feeding; the U.S. has not. In this respect, suggests Shawn Baker of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “The U.S. might benefit from technical assistance from Botswana.”
7. Nigeria ensures that 93 percent of households get iodized salt, to reduce iodine deficiency that causes mental disability as well as goiters. In the U.S., only a bit more than half of salt sold to households is iodized, and iodine deficiency is becoming more common.
8. At a time when much of the rich world has turned against refugees, Uganda has quietly accepted more than one million South Sudan refugees. Likewise, the Diffa region of Niger is heroic in taking in refugees from northern Nigeria, and it now resettles refugees at extraordinarily high rates, helping the newcomers rather than demonizing them.
9. In the latest Freedom House index, the U.S. fell in the rankings of freedom and democracy and is now outranked by two African countries, Cape Verde and Mauritius. Both successfully manage multiracial societies in a way we can learn from.
10. The fastest-growing economy in the world is Ethiopia’s, according to the World Economic Forum, with Tanzania’s and Djibouti’s also in the top six. They are all growing more than twice as fast as the U.S. economy.
11. The Trump administration could learn something about diplomacy from Botswana, which asked the U.S. to please clarify whether the U.S. considers Botswana a shithole. No bluster, no military threats, no rude tweets — but the point was made.
12. Immigrants to the U.S. from Africa show a passion for education that can inspire us all. Sub-Saharan African-born immigrants are likelier to earn a college degree (39 percent) than native-born Americans (31 percent). That education, I trust, makes them wary of invidious insults aimed at entire continents and of stereotyping people from those continents.
“Africa, like any continent, has its problems,” notes Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch. “But it also has its areas where it excels. We diminish ourselves when we dismiss entire nations with an epithet rather than open ourselves to the positive examples they set.”
Nicholas Kristof grew up on a sheep and cherry farm in Yamhill. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times since 2001, writes op-ed columns that appear twice a week. He won the Pulitzer Prize two times, in 1990 and 2006.