As a special bread roll, as a dish, as chewing gum, on backpacks, flags and t-shirts: U.S. president Obama is well represented and endorsed in Malawi. But why is America’s foremost citizen so popular in a country that -apart from aid- has so little to do with the States?
Although current Malawian politics are unfavourable towards foreign aid, America still holds a good record in the small, stretched African nation. For their aid and their pop culture, America is a land that Malawians look up to. Even more so, towards the president. He is considered the highest possible head and represents a future, almost mythical, goal for Malawians. Maybe by eating an Obama bread roll, one can gain some of the skills and powers that Obama possesses. You might laugh, but in a country where superstition and witchcraft is very much alive, ‘Obamizing’ goods might have an sales effect on some folks. According to some of the Malawians I spoke to, even existing president of Malawi Dr. Bingu likes himself to his American counterpart. Example: “He bought a plane, while we are starving. Who does he think he is? Barack Obama?” and: “He makes plans as if he is the American president”.
Maybe by eating an Obama bread roll, one can gain some of the skills and powers that Obama possesses.
But let’s forget about Malawian politics and focus on Obama. He is, apparently, a role model for a lot of Malawians. This has, in my opinion, much to do with the status of the States and that of the presidential cult. Another contributing factor is the fact that Obama is of African lineage and is black. Talk about emancipation, because one cannot deny the fact that Africa was colonized and controlled by (mostly) Europeans of whom most where white. Although Malawi did not suffer from a regime of such that sparked so much unrest as in the Congo or agitation against Britons as was the case in Zimbabwe, Malawians can identify with struggle against (white) oppressors. Even if this wasn’t the case, most white people Malawians see, are tourists or aid workers: the haves. So, to see a black man (Obama) in a position of a (super) have and a person who calls the shots, it is noteworthy to say the least. Even more so, it is admirable. To such an extent that people want to be him or like him. What better way to achieve this, than to eat a bread roll or wear a t-shirt? A Kenyan bubble gum manufacturer saw it too and thus Obama gum was born.
But does Malawi or Africa for that matter need Obama to be helped? Yes, they do. But a black U.S. president is only a role model. He is there on t-shirts, flags and in people’s minds to stimulate ambition. Stimulate young Malawians and other nationalities to do better, to finish school, to become well educated and built up African countries that so desperately need intelligent men and women.