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Obama envy, and the two million Chinese in Angola

Wednesday April 29 2009



As the partners in Kenya’s grand coalition screamed at each other in recent weeks, every time you turned on the TV news or opened the newspapers, there were many people telling President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga to ‘‘put their personal political differences and ambitions aside for the greater good of Kenya’’.

I put myself in President Kibaki’s and Mr Odinga’s position and asked: ‘‘How easy is it for two strong-willed men who are supposed to be ‘equal’ partners to put their personal interest aside?’’

To answer this question, let us look at the recent G-20 summit meant to save, not just a single country like Kenya, but the world from its worst economic crisis in 65 years.

If the global economy doesn’t recover, the world could be plunged into deep poverty, millions would die from hunger and all sorts of diseases, and wars could break out.

Yet, even with such mega issues at stake, the world leaders who gathered in London still had time for petty sulk. After France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy returned home, at a meeting with French MPs, he belittled US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Zapatero.

Sarkozy said Zapatero was ‘‘not very clever’’, and rubbished Obama as a greenhorn: ‘‘Obama has a subtle mind, very clever, and very charismatic’’, Sarkozy said, ‘‘but he was elected two months ago and had never run a ministry. There are a certain number of things on which he has no position. And he is not always up to standard on decision-making and efficiency.’’

This was surprising, given that at the London summit, Obama and Sarkozy seemed to get along famously.

Turns out, at least according to British newspapers, that Sarkozy’s heart has been soured by jealousy towards Obama.

Sarkozy, the papers said, had hoped that with the US discredited by its actions in Iraq and the disastrous war on international terrorism, and also because of its role in plunging the world into the present economic mess, its new president would not have the clout to be the ‘leader of the world’.

The French president had hoped that he would assume the mantle, and be Obama’s mentor.

Instead, Obama became the star at the G20, and Europe and the world are madly in love with him, and don’t have time for Sarkozy. That has made him bitter. Sarkozy went on to praise the blunder-prone Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

That, said The Times of London, was significant because of what Berlusconi has said about Obama in the past. The Italian PM once described Obama as ‘‘suntanned’’ (which might suggest that a dark skin is not natural).

TWO WEEKS AGO, BERLUSCONI WAS touring a makeshift school in earthquake-hit L’Aquila when he told a black priest: ‘‘My compliments, you are very suntanned’’, and he told a black boy: ‘‘I wish I had as much time to lie in the sun as you do’’. Scandalous, really.

Race is something very many people struggle with, even in countries where the existence of racism is officially denied, like in China.

Well, it’s not that straightforward. One of China’s current sports sensations is a 19-year-old volleyballer called Ding Hui. The extremely talented Ding is expected to be at the centre of China’s quest for gold at the London Olympics in 2012.

In highly homogenous China, Ding is unusual because he is black. His father is a South African and his mother Chinese. The Times reports that the ordinary Chinese attitude towards black people is not sophisticated, partly because they rarely see black people.

There are ‘‘still plenty of Chinese who, unfortunately, think of black people as somewhat barbarous or automatically assume they are involved in crime’’, says the paper. Typically, one of China’s leading websites described Ding as: ‘‘Black skin, thick lips and big white teeth are his main characteristics.’’

To be fair, these sentiments don’t sit well with official China, because of Beijing’s many years of solidarity with Africa. In addition, in recent years, as the Chinese economy has boomed, Africa has become its most important source of raw materials.

One of the most sensitive topics for China is the alleged ‘‘Chongqing Experiment’’ which is supposed to settle up to 12 million Chinese farmers in Africa. China denies any such plans, but not everyone believes it.

This is especially if you look at what is happening in Angola, which reportedly already has two million Chinese living there! Lucky they are not two million Berlusconis.