As President Trump spoke to African leaders at the United Nations on Wednesday, he made not one but two references to a country called Nambia.
“Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient,” Trump said approvingly at one point.
Unfortunately, there's a problem — good health care or not, Nambia doesn't exist. And so the U.S. president's laudatory comments about a nonexistent country swiftly invited ridicule online, with many suggesting that Trump had created an entirely new nation by combining two existing ones — Zambia and Namibia.
A White House transcript of Trump's comments corrected his error, making clear that the president had not intended to invent a new nation and had, in fact, been referring to the very real country of Namibia, which is in southern Africa.
So how did Namibians react to “Nambia”?
Namibia isn't often the subject of Western attention. The country of just 2 million was granted independence in 1990 after a long war with neighboring South Africa, which had occupied the former German colony in 1915. It is perhaps best known internationally for its long-standing diamond mining industry.
Hage Geingob, Namibia's U.S.-educated president, was in the room with Trump as he made his speech. In public at least, he offered no reaction to the suggestion that he was the leader of “Nambia.” Graham Hopwood, executive director of Namibia's independent Institute for Public Policy Research, said this might be because of diplomatic protocol, but he also suggested that the gaffe was likely to have been overlooked by Geingob anyway for the sake of good ties between Namibia and the United States.
Neither the Namibian Embassy in Washington nor Namibia's Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation responded when asked by WorldViews on Thursday about Trump's comments. The talk of “Nambia” was also surprisingly absent from the websites of many major Namibian media outlets, including the newspaper the Namibian and the Namibian Broadcasting Corp.
On social media, the reaction wasn't so muted. Some poked fun; others were angry.
“Namibians on social media have reacted with a mixture of anger and humor,” Hopwood said. “Many Namibians are not surprised that Trump didn't know about Namibia or how to pronounce it, since his administration has shown scant interest in Africa.”
In some quarters, there was actually relief. Namibia maintains good relations with North Korea, spending about $100 million on Pyongyang-led projects since 2002, officials recently told The Washington Post — a position that could bring Namibia into conflict with the Trump administration.
Hopwood also noted that the United States has greatly aided Namibia's fight against HIV/AIDS, with funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), established during the George W. Bush presidency, set to continue under the Trump administration.
A number of Namibian social media users suggested that “Nambia” could wind up being good for their country. A viral video produced in Namibia earlier this year had satirically asked Trump to let the country be “first” in Africa, in exchange for letting America be first in the world.
Now some Namibians are using the Nambia hashtag to promote their country on Twitter.
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