Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Obama Tree

STONE TOWN, ZANZIBAR -- Although Tanzania is one whole country south of Kenya, you wouldn't know it from Tanzanians' exuberant emrace of Kenya's favorite grandson, Barack Obama. Residents of Stone Town, for example, created the Obama Tree, a deciduous shrine with "President Obama" spray-painted on its planter and cars festooned with Obama stickers circling it. Obama kangas (brightly dyed cloths that the women wear) are on offer in many shops. And the first thing that many Tanzanians ask me is, "What do you think about Obama?"

I've asked several folks why Tanzanians are so excited about our new president. A seafood vendor at the night market said that it's not just because they think that Obama is going to ship boatloads of foreign aid to his paternal homeland--though they do think this--but also because they hope that Americans won't be afraid to travel to Africa anymore. "They see that Obama is African, and that he's a good man. And so they will come to Africa themselves," he says. Likewise, a young man on the ferry--the head of the Youth League of the ruling CCM party, as it turns out--hopes that Obama will turn the tide of sentiment the world over: "Bush made everyone afraid of everyone else. Maybe Obama will make everyone feel safe again."

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