Britain’s new foreign secretary once referred to Africa’s “watermelon smiles” and “piccanninies”

Boris Johnson, paragon of British diplomacy.
Boris Johnson, paragon of British diplomacy.
Image: Reuters/Darren Staples
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Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, has been appointed foreign secretary of the United Kingdom. An unlikely diplomat, Johnson is known for knocking over a 10-year-old Japanese boy during a touch rugby game, telling the Chinese that the British invented ping pong, or “whiff whaff,” and jokingly comparing the Tory party with “Papau New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing.”

While Johnson’s gaffes and snide remarks span the globe, he may be uniquely unfit for diplomatic dealings in Africa. In an article criticizing then prime minister Tony Blair and his trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002, Johnson referred to Commonwealth members on the continent as “flag-waving piccaninnies.”

What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies; and one can imagine that Blair, twice victor abroad but enmired at home, is similarly seduced by foreign politeness.

They say he is shortly off to the Congo. No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.

It didn’t stop there. In April, Johnson accused ”part Kenyan” US president Barack Obama of being anti-British because of the country’s colonial history. Describing the president’s petition for the UK to remain in the European Union, Johnson wrote in an editorial in the Sun newspaper, “Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British empire — of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.”

During his mayoral run in 2008, Johnson apologized for the Telegraph article, as well as a series of columns published during his tenure as editor of The Spectator that described blacks as having lower IQs and the African American NBA player as “a freak of sorts… with arms hanging lower than its knees, its tongue permanently sticking out, an incessantly trash-talking thug.”

Asked whether he condoned the Spectator articles, Johnson said, ”I am sorry for what was previously written as it does not reflect what is in my heart.”