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Kenyan Cartoonists and Media Are Questioning Obama's Visit to Africa

Kenyans have questioned their country's relationship to the first US president of African descent, while Chinese critics say the US is only interested in countering Beijing's influence in Africa.

by Charlotte Meredith
Jul 27 2015, 2:40pm

Imagen vía Twitter/@malonebarry

Cartoonists and Chinese state media are doing their very best to pour cold water on President Barack Obama's visit to Africa.

Chinese Critics Say the US is now only interested in the continent because of Beijing's own influence there, and Kenyans have speculated on their country's relationship to the first US president of African descent.

On Friday, a group of Kenyan cartoonists opened an exhibition at a Nairobi art gallery that looks critically at Obama's visit and what the country's connection to the US president, whose father was Kenyan, has meant both domestically and internationally for the East African country. 

The show, called the Obama Cartoon Exhibition, was created by Patrick Gathara, who explained the cartoonists' motivations in an email to Okayafrica.

Obama's election in 2008 was "a cause for much celebration in Kenya," he wrote. "Across the country [it] was seen as a beacon of hope by many Kenyans and a harbinger of a closer and perhaps even privileged relationship between Kenya and the US. However, this has not come to pass."

"At some point, he became an American president, not a Kenyan in the White House," Gathara told Buzzfeed

Meanwhile in China, the Global Times newspaper said that the US could not compete with China in terms of relations with Africa. 

The paper said Monday that "offsetting China's growing influence in this continent and recovering past US leverage" were major factors in Obama's visit. The US, it said, is "taking China as a rival in Africa."

In contrast to China's steady and fair-minded interactions with Africa, the US "obviously lacks a consistent Africa policy," said the paper, published by the ruling Communist Party's flagship People's Daily. It cited what it said was Obama's "cold shoulder" to the continent during his first term as an example of US inattentiveness.

The official Xinhua News Agency took a similar tone, criticizing what it described as ineffective US aid programs for Africa while proudly touting China's own projects, largely in roads, dams and other infrastructure.

"Obama may have to work even harder if he wants to build his legacy on a continent where US commitment has long been questioned," Xinhua said.

Obama huddled with Ethiopia's leaders Monday for talks on counterterrorism, human rights and regional security issues, including the crisis in neighboring South Sudan.

His visit to Ethiopia, the first by a sitting US president, followed a stop in Kenya, his late father's homeland.

China's economic ties with Africa have soared in recent years, with two-way trade in 2013 — the last year for which figures were available — hitting a record $200 billion, mainly in Chinese imports of African oil, copper and other raw materials.

US trade with Africa has fallen, meanwhile, hitting $85 billion in 2013.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Charlotte Meredith on Twitter: @CHMeredith

Watch the VICE News documentary, "Jihad In Kenya."