Ahead of President Obama's visit to Kenya, the Global Times, a tabloid newspaper published by Chinese state-run People's Daily, ran this cartoon.

Under the title "Homecoming," it shows Obama in ostensibly "native"or tribal garb, clutching a spear as he surveys zebra in an open expanse. It ran in last Friday's English-language newspaper without any other textual explanation or accompanying article.

The cartoon's choice of cliched African imagery is tactless and lazy; its supposition that Obama is coming "home" to an African wilderness is offensive, both to Kenyans and the American president.

Obama's election victory in 2008 was a matter of great curiosity in China, where racial attitudes can still be a bit jarring, particularly when it comes to views of blackness and African identity. To this day, "Black O." is a common online moniker for President Obama among Chinese netizens. A growing population of Africans studying and working in China still routinely complain of discrimination and prejudice.

The Global Times is known for espousing more hard-line and overtly nationalistic positions than other organs of China's state-controlled media, and some China watchers have urged colleagues not to draw too many conclusions from its provocative editorials.

But the lameness of this cartoon is worthy of note, particularly when set against some of the more amusing, incisive images drawn by Kenyan cartoonists themselves in time for Obama's arrival.

These mocked the commercialization and hype surrounding his trip...

...and the enduring inequities of the east African nation...

...and they pointed to the geopolitics underlying the Obama administration's renewed overtures to some of Africa's most dynamic, emerging economies.

The actual rivalry between the United States and China for influence in Africa belies the snide, flippant Global Times cartoon. China became the continent's largest trading partner in 2009.

An article in Foreign Policy transcribes a July 27 report in Xinhua, China's state news agency, which derided Obama's "paternalistic intervention" and his administration's "forcing of so-called democratic values" onto its African partners. It suggested, rather implausibly, that this tendency was what spurred "Africa's regional and tribal conflicts."

Whatever the case, the Global Times cartoon probably didn't have this critique in mind.

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