August 7 2014

A Dinner That Left a Bad Aftertaste?

Charlotte Hays

President Obama’s pivot to Africa—which included a quasi state dinner—could have been a bit more low key and less sumptuous.

Don’t get me wrong. The U.S. should do everything it can to promote prosperity in Africa. But I have to agree with Keith Koffler of White House Dossier, who wonders why we rolled out the red carpet for “so many corrupt African satraps, some of whom run among the most repressive governments in the world.”

Sixteen of the leaders who were given the deluxe, state dinner treatment earlier this week run countries that are listed by Freedom House as “not free.” In a blog post headlined “Obama’s Unsavory Africa Dinner,” Koffler skewers, among others, “His Excellency Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea,” as our White House listed him.

Here is what Forbes had to say about His Excellency and his excellent regime:

Equatorial Guinea is one of the continent’s largest producers of oil and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into prosperity for its people. The country ranks very poorly in the United Nations human development index; the vast majority of Equatorial Guineans hardly have access to clean drinking water.

The country also has one of the world’s highest under-5 mortality rates: about 20% of its children die before the age of five. Many of the remaining 80% of the children don’t have access to quality educational and healthcare facilities.

Meanwhile, the first son of the president, Teodorin Obiang (who is in line to succeed his father), spends millions of dollars of state funds financing his lavish lifestyle which includes luxurious property in Malibu, a Gulfstream jet, Michael Jackson memorabilia and a car collection that could easily make billionaires go green with envy.

“His Majesty King Mswati III, Kingdom of Swaziland" was also feted at the White House:

Sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch presides over a country which has one of the world’s highest HIV prevalence rates: ver 35 percent of adults. Its average life expectancy is the lowest in the world at 33 years; nearly 70 percent of the country’s citizens live on less than $1 a day and 40 percent are unemployed.

But for all the suffering of the Swazi people, King Mswati has barely shown concern or interest. He lives lavishly, using his kingdom’s treasury to fund his expensive tastes in German automobiles first-class leisure trips around the worldand women

Lionel Ritchie sang, the president gave a speech (mostly about himself—he reportedly used the personal pronoun 97 times), and we fed the thieves and despots quite elegantly:

Chilled spiced tomato soup and socca crisps, which are made of chick peas;

Chopped farm-stand vegetable salad using produce from the first lady’s garden;

Grilled dry-aged Wagyu beef served with chermoula, a marinade used in North African cooking, sweet potatoes and coconut milk.

Cappuccino fudge cake dressed with papaya scented with vanilla from Madagascar.

American wines.

“These people are not the true Africa,” Koffler commented. “These are the people who have clawed their way over the corpses of innocent Africans so they could steal their money.”

I gather from the president’s remarks at a press conference yesterday that we are sending them more money. Prediction: The $$$$ will end up in the copious pockets of the very people we feted at the White House.

As for the press conference, held nearly an hour after its scheduled time, it was a surreal affair. A man who is not doing a very good job as president of the United States seemed to be extending his graciousness to Africa (which Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Nancy Pelosi had earlier in the week referred to as “a nation”).

An oblivious president who has not commented on the slaughter of religious minorities in Iraq, including the expulsion of Christians from their ancient home in the now Christian-free Mosul, or an American general assassinated in Afghanistan, seemed to think that all is right with the world. 

President Obama for once got tough questions from the press, though they did not think to ask about the two matters cited above.

If you had watched only the president's prepared remarks, you would think that this is a man living in a world at peace.

Perhaps that is because he seems to think exclusively about himself.

Indeed, this is the biography president—he believed when he was elected that his mere biography and specialness was what the world needed. That was both implicit and explicit in his 2009 Cairo speech.

And he told the rogues and despots gathered this week for Wagyu beef at the White House, “I stand before you as the President of the United States and a proud American.  I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa. The blood of Africa runs through our family.  And so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents, are deeply personal . . . “

To which one can only say, "Who cares?" If he were doing a better job as president, it might be able to indulge him.

But he remains the biography president, who still believes in one thing: the power of his own story. As the world erupts in fire and chaos, we see how silly and juvenile this is and always was.

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