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US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on January 14, 2018. Mr. Trump, who has been under fire for derogatory comments toward African countries and Haiti, has denied making the comments.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

As protests and condemnation continue to escalate, U.S. diplomats are scrambling to try to repair the damage caused by President Donald Trump's reported "shithole" insult to African countries.

Senior U.S. diplomats in South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana were hauled into government offices on Monday for formal protests against Mr. Trump's comments, after similar protests by several other African countries. The African Union demanded an apology, and African diplomats at the United Nations said the comments were "outrageous, racist and xenophobic."

South Africa's deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly elected leader of the country's ruling party, said the comments were "hugely offensive." In a television interview, he added a jab at Mr. Trump himself: "It demonstrates precisely the type of leader he is."

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Mr. Trump is widely reported to have described African countries as "shithole" countries in an immigration meeting with U.S. senators last week. He has denied the reports, but two senators have confirmed that he used the obscenity.

As the outrage grows, U.S. embassies and diplomats in Africa have hastily issued a series of statements in an effort to patch up the increasingly frayed relationship between Washington and Africa.

The U.S. embassy in Pretoria, confirming that its senior diplomat had been summoned to a meeting with South Africa's international-relations department on Monday, said it agreed on the importance of "strong relations" with South Africa "based on mutual respect and understanding."

In an earlier statement, the same embassy said the United States "deeply respects the people of Africa" and insisted there had been no change of policy. "Our partnership with Africa and our commitment to its continued growth and success is unwavering," the U.S. embassy said. "Our progress forward will not be diverted by anything contrary to those goals."

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Similar statements and reassurances were issued by U.S. diplomats across the continent, and by the State Department's bureau of African affairs, as Washington tried to undo the damage to its relations with a region that it increasingly relies upon for military and business co-operation.

But in a revealing detail, South Africa was unable to summon the U.S. ambassador for the formal protest on Monday – because Mr. Trump has never bothered to appoint an ambassador in South Africa.

Instead, the government could only summon the chargé d'affaires, the second-highest official in the embassy. It was another apparent sign of Mr. Trump's lack of interest in diplomacy or foreign relations, in Africa as elsewhere.

The South Africa ambassadorial position has remained vacant for more than a year, following the departure of former U.S. ambassador Patrick Gaspard in December, 2016.

Like many other senior diplomatic posts and State Department positions, Mr. Trump has simply left the South African post vacant, failing to name a replacement.

In a tweet, Mr. Gaspard noted that dozens of countries still lack U.S. ambassadors, a year into Mr. Trump's term. In addition, 75 senior positions in the State Department are vacant, and 60 per cent of career ambassadors have resigned, Mr. Gaspard said.

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"It's a decapitation of U.S. diplomacy," he said.

So far, formal protests against Mr. Trump's comments have been issued by the governments of South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana, Senegal, Ghana and Haiti, and more protests are expected this week.

In a statement on Sunday, the South African international-relations department said the Trump comments were "disturbing" and "crude and offensive."

The statement cast doubt on Mr. Trump's tweeted denial, noting that it was "not categorical" since it referred "only to Haiti" and failed to address the entirety of the reported comments.

The angriest reaction to the Trump comments came from African diplomats in the United States. The African Union mission in Washington, for example, expressed shock and outrage at the comments. It said the comments showed that the Trump administration had a "huge misunderstanding of the African continent," and it demanded a U.S. apology to all people of African descent worldwide.

In a separate statement, African ambassadors to the UN said the comments were part of a "growing trend" by the Trump administration to "denigrate" the African continent and people of colour.

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