Allegations that an Egyptian official called Sub-Saharan Africans “dogs and slaves” have caused unprecedented controversy in Africa. The insults were apparently uttered at the United Nations Environmental Assembly in Nairobi Kenya and were revealed to the public after a leak of a letter addressed to the dean of the corps to Kenyan media. Meanwhile, Egypt has distanced itself from the statements arguing all information available to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry had not confirmed the allegation yet.
Chair of the African Diplomatic Corps, Yvonne Khamati’s May 29 dated memo to the dean of the corps was leaked to the media causing an uproar over the blatantly racist remarks she claimed had been made by the head of the Egyptian Delegation, Mohamed Hesham Shoeir. In the memo, she said, “During our consultations with Egypt, the head of the Egyptian delegation and current President of AMCEN dismissed our concerns by informing that they would speak in their sovereign capacity and to that extent, referred to Sub-Saharan Africa as DOGS AND SLAVES in Arabic.”
These alleged utterances have been widely condemned as being clearly racist and encouraging the divide between the Arab African nations and Sub-Saharan Africa. Khamati herself went on to call out the head of the Egyptian delegation saying his utterances had no place in the unity of Africa. She further called them “uncivilized, undiplomatic, degrading and insulting to the fabric of Pan-Africanism”. That Egypt seems to have had problems with its Sub-Saharan neighbours has not helped the situation much as aptly observed by IBTimes, a British publication. As reported by the publication, “In March 2015, Egypt signed a deal with Ethiopia and Sudan to end a long-running dispute over the sharing of Nile waters and the building of Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam in Ethiopia.”
The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement addressing the allegations levelled by Khamati. It said, “We reject any attempts to cast doubt on Egypt’s belonging to Africa and its defense of the continent’s interests.”
This came after Khamati had said the statements showed “lack of loyalty towards Africa” on the part of Egypt and had recommended that Egypt “should not negotiate or take any leadership position on behalf of Africa”.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry Facebook page also said the Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry had ordered investigations to clarify the truth of what happened in the Nairobi meetings on the environment. He also ordered the Egyptian Embassy in Nairobi to send a memo to the Council of African Ambassadors repudiating Khamati’s claim.
One of the major storms this has brewed is a stereotyped view of all Egyptians as being cast from the same mould as Shoeir allegedly is. This has the effect of dividing the continent on racial line which is repugnant to modern civilisation. Egypt has however said, “Under any circumstances, it is unacceptable to generalise and present weak accusations to the Egyptian people doubting their belonging to Africa and the ability to present African interests.”
It remains to be seen if Egypt is simply fire-fighting but a lot of work needs to be done to regain the trust of the greater continent. As of now, the country says the information available to it shows no such utterances were made but Mrs Khamati is adamant. She told the Telegraph, “We all heard him.” In a tweet, she then further said, “He spoke to his delegation in Arabic in the presence of African delegates that speak:understand Arabic.”
Egypt’s Minister of Environment, Khaled Fahmy has also denied that “any Egyptian official could utter with such words”.
It is a relief that Egyptian citizens have also distanced themselves from the embarrassing statements which if proved true could be damaging to the African diplomatic discourse. The tweets in response to Khamati have largely been apologies with such messages as “Perhaps he doesn’t know that All #Africa(ns) are our brothers” and “As an Egyptian, I apologise, he does not speak for me.” This restores hope in the African citizenry which is now so united it will stand together regardless of reckless politics by leaders. As investigations continue, this will end up being a political issue but for the people on the ground, the brotherhood and Pan-Africanism subsists and will not be affected by statements made by one man (if they are confirmed).
Image Credit: EPA