Zanzibar, Tanzania: The Big Show had arrived with the Secret Service bringing all traffic in Dar es Salaam to a halt as President Obama set down in Tanzania, the third stop on his three country African "tour." The cheering crowds were out on cue, as a military band played the US National Anthem, not once but twice, less anyone miss the gesture.
I spoke today with some Tanzanians who were there. They seemed shell shocked. "I felt like we were being invaded," said one. In preparation for the visit, homeless people and venders--all poor and vulnerable--were rounded up and literally thrown out of town as officials cleansed the downtown to make the setting for the Presidents more sparkling.
All traffic was halted for Obama's 45 car motorcade and the city "frozen" with no one allowed in or out. "We had American flags draped everywhere including over our national monuments. There were security people and undercover cops everywhere. It was very intimidating." The sense I had was that rather than feel good about American benevolence, many locals were pissed off and felt pushed around.
The US is playing a poor catch-up game with China whose trade with Tanzania totaled $2.47 BILLION last year as opposed to a skimpy $360.2 million with the US.
Fresh from a symbolic stop at Nelson Mandela's prison cell on South Africa's Robben Island, you would think that the President might have a word of thanks to offer Tanzania for its long years of support for Mandela's ANC in exile where his law partner Oliver Tambo escaped capture, as he organized resistance to apartheid in a country then known for African Socialism and the self reliance doctrine of its brilliant founding president Julius Nyerere, also known as Mwalimu, (The teacher.)
Tanzania had guts to defy the bullies of the apartheid state by providing offices and a School to the ANC, despite threats.
Barack Obama left his uplifting pro-liberation rhetoric behind in South Africa, in order to get down to business in Tanzania. His little "present"--a power initiative parsed out to many countries over five years, a corporate creation and nothing like the Tennessee Valley Authority that was born during the depression as a more cooperative way of governments providing rural electrification in league with Co-ops.
Obama is focusing on cutting deals that will profit power companies like our own General Electric--- that's the "power to the people' he champions--while, in sharp contrast, another form of power--cultural power-- is on display a two hour boat ride out in Indian Ocean on Zanzibar, a scenic Island nation with its own government that is also part of the United Republic of Tanzania.
I am on Zanzibar for the 16h annual edition of one of the most impressive festivals in the world, the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) that brings regional and international filmmakers to show their work , and join a multi-cultural event that also showcases musicians, artists, storytellers from all genres, and even a fabulous fashion show representing local designers.
Ironically, while the presidential party waved the American flag in in Dar, the festival has been showing films made worldwide, including in Iran and Palestine, two countries out of favor in official Washington.
Festival Director, Martin Mhando, a Tanzanian who also teaches in Australia, projected quite different values than the ones the politicians use in their official capacities.
Here's how described ZIFF's intent to unite the region, known as the Dhow Countries, named after the sailing ships that created a web of regional identity through trade, back into the middle ages.
"The spirit of the Dhow countries has always been that of sharing--sharing the values of justice, freedom, love and harmony in our history of maritime relations., " he writes in the Festival program. "We have tried to include as many perspectives as positive from the 48 countries represented in the films shown that reveal diverse viewpoints on events and issues."