I found this painting in a humble little clothing stall in the merkato in Addis Ababa, during my last day there, when I finally got some free time to wander around and explore this fascinating city a little bit.
Amongst all the funky art & tchotchkes, this painting caught my eye for obvious reasons.
What you can’t see, of course, are all the other exemplars of Obama’s presence here in East Africa. People walk around with Obama’s face on t-shirts, bumper stickers, hats … his face is pasted onto the clear glass shelves in the jewelry shops, and to the sides of the little “blue mule” micro-buses.
This is a good thing.
Invisible to just about everyone in the U.S., we are in a struggle for influence in Africa, which more and more people are calling “The Last Frontier.” China is spreading around the oceans of money (that we gave them in exchange for cheap plastic consumer goods, but that’s another story), and they are doing it in a very tricky, manipulative way. The U.S. and Western Europe have had decades of work, trying to figure out ways to actually benefit countries with their foreign aid. It has not been the easiest process.
However, we have figured out that nation-building takes time. Lots of it. And the investments tend to be gradual, building up infrastructure, institutions, ecosystems. The kinds of things that people really don’t see all at once – but if you take a snapshot of a country 10 or 20 years apart, you see the radical transformations. I know I did when I went back to both Colombia and Venezuela after 20 years absence in 2007-8.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are throwing up big, showy projects. Roads, bridges, dams, buildings. And slapping their branding all over them. Ordinary people see this and say, “Well look, the Chinese are actually doing something for us. What do the ferengi leave behind? They talk a lot, but what do we have to show for it all?”
In this kind of environment, having an African-American as President of these here United States is a definite advantage.