Africa is mine, the diaspora is mine

Curator's Note

In February 2008, President Bush went on a five country tour of Africa. The six-day trip/media event was reproduced as a home-style, slide show, assembled and narrated by the president himself. President Bush spoke to members of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation while flipping through the visuals of his experience. The Sullivan Foundation works with the African diaspora, friends of Africa, and international corporations to empower Africa. Bush’s slide show has a personal, “I’m-just-telling-my-friends-about-the-good-times-I-had-in-Africa” feel. The President likes the times he had in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. He notes that “America is on a mission of mercy” and that he very much enjoys the drumming and the dancing and the colorful garb. There are visits to AIDS clinics, signings of investment treaties, and skit watching—about sexual abstinence. What seeps out of the slides, though, is not the good times, but rather the American self. The slide show becomes an example of manufactured memory and political narcissism. Every stop on the trip is reinvented as something that basically emanates from the U.S. It’s an attempt to tame and reframe. Take for example a meeting with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The first female president of a post-colonial African state, Johnson-Sirleaf was once of part of the African diaspora, earning several degrees in American universities. President Bush is proud of her achievements and even more so of the fact that she is made in America: “I'm pretty certain the President was educated at the University of Pennsylvania. The more people who come to be educated in the United States from abroad, the better off our country will be. (Applause.)” (Actually, Johnson-Sirleaf received a B.A from Madison Business College in Wisconsin, a diploma from the Economics Institute at the University of Colorado, and a Masters of Public Administration from Harvard.) Why does a U.S. President have to claim her fame? Is the American state leery of the potential power of “exilic energies” (Edward Said)—those migrant forces that transcend consolidation, appearance and constraint? Is a home-style, slide show an attempt to subsume, as one, those “hybrid counter-energies” that flow beyond devouring notions of an American me, my and mine? It appears that the United States is more local than most are willing to admit. It is a state incapable of meeting the global, and so it must in-picture itself in everything. [See,, for the full show.]


I agree with you on the analysis of President Bush's speech on his recent visit to Africa. To proclaim that "America is on a mission of mercy” is an insult to the integrity of African people. It denotes the high moral ground posture America has assumed in her relationship with other nations. The reference to US education is a testimony that economic and political re-colonisation of Africa is a state policy and is good for America. Consequently, direct rule of Africa is jettisoned for indirect rule by Africa leaders who have been mentally colonised. Hence, these western educated leaders implement policies without regard for local knowledge and relevance. Dont look any further for the reasons why Africa is still underdeveloped.

"we are the world." the attempt to make align progress, america, and development is an old and familiar trope. an interesting issue also seems to be the fact that bush presents his trip to africa in a slide show to the sullivan foundation. it seems it is usually the other way around as the NGO/non-profit (if that is what the sullivan is) usually courts the state. new formations of political economy?

The West to the resuce of the Rest. Well when you can't do such a slideshow on Iraq or Afghanistan, it is always helps that one can go to Africa. It is also interesting to think about the images of cheering crowds for Bush in light of his low ratings here. If I recall correctly, the President of Liberia was interviewed on the Oprah Show in precisely the same vein-- that education in the West helped her become the leader that she is and likewise bring "progress" to Liberia.

It is really interesting that Bush presents the visit to Africa as a trip in the form of a 'slide-show'. It of course replays the old (and not so old) screenings of imperial travellers and explorers showing their adventures to the folks back home (usually at a meeting of an anthropological society or at a university). As well as a home-style screening of family pictures on holiday. This very form says something about how Africa and its diaspora is being positioned - within a sort of global Oedipal drama, with Bush playing the part of the father - encouraging words and veiled threats of punishment to the African child.

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