LOTS of Americans spent this Black Friday scrambling to get good deals on holiday gifts, but few of them can expect the haul President Barack Obama gets, including from a clutch of African leaders.
The US government’s official Federal Register just published its annual list of gifts to federal employees from foreign governments for 2014, and it reveals that being president has its privileges. Or maybe not so much, considering that ethics restrictions require federal officials to deposit the loot for which they don’t want to personally pay at the National Archives or another arm of the federal government.
According to the records, Obama appears to be taking a pass on all of the foreign offerings—including one that Nigeria’s ex-president Goodluck Jonathan gave without batting an eyelid.
The late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz lavished the president and his family with six gifts with more than $1.3 million. They included a men’s watch for the president, which was estimated to cost more than $18,000, and a “diamond and emerald jewellery set including earrings, necklace, ring, brooch, and wristwatch” for Obama’s school-age daughters, Sasha and Malia, that came to $80,000.
Various Chinese officials were also generous: President Xi Jinping gave Obama two computer tablets during a time his government is believed to have been carrying out large-scale hacks of American computer systems, including the database of federal employees.
Many gifts are traditional formal offerings — fountain pens, vases, cognac, and the like. Others demonstrate patriotic pride, including French wines or traditional garb of a given country, with African particularly keen on gifts depicting wildlife. In the past, though, Obama has also received whackier fare, including 20 baseball caps with his face on them, as reported by Yahoo.
Some reflected the gift-givers: Prince William gave Obama a signed and framed portrait of himself. Estimated value: $888. Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, a former folk singer, gave “audio and video recordings” of herself performing to First Lady Michelle Obama.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan gave the president a book entitled, Goodluck Jonathan—Champion for Women. The gift from Jonathan, who since lost an election, came when his administration was being heavily criticised for its handling of the abduction of hundreds of school girls in the country’s remote north-east.
The resulting ‘BringBackOurGirls’ campaign went international, drawing in even First Lady Michelle Obama. The majority of the girls are yet to be rescued.
Michelle Obama tweeted a photo that shows the First Lady holding a sign that says, “#BringBackOurGirls,” in reference to the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, on May 7, 2014.
Algeria’s ambassador to the US Abdullah Baali also delivered six boxes of dates, and 12 bottles of wine, which while received in December 2013, are included in the year due to late receipt of information related to them. The Algerians also gave a ceremonial dagger.
Cape Verde president Jorge Carlos Fonseca gave a painting, and an autographed book titled ‘Kiki Lima’ with an estimate value go $1,055.
The Ivorian government also gave a painting, Le Joueur de Cara, and a bronze staff, with a value of $1,035. Swaziland’s Mswati gave a chess set worth $445 while deposed Burkina Faso leader Blaise Compaore in July 2014 gave a 16” brass and copper statue of a man playing a stringed instrument and a framed copper relief, both worth $880.
Libya PM Abdalla Alteni gave a multi-coloured carpet and an engraved platter both worth $600.
Paintings are a hit—Togo president Faure Gnassingbe also gifted Obama one in addition to three pieces of traditional clothing, all worth $1,940. DR Congo’s Joseph Kabila and The Gambia’s Yaya Jammeh and Mauritius PM Navichandra Ramgoolam also handed in paintings.
Mrs Obama also targeted
Madagascar president Hery Rajaonarimapianina gave a gold pin “in the shape of a bull’s head with three eyes made of gemstones” and a scarf, both worth $696.
The Comoros gave two boxes of carved wood and various spices and oils, in addition to the staple painting while Mali’s Boubacar Keita gave two black masks.
Mrs Obama also received gifts, including a carved apple and book, Visions of Africa: KOTA, from Gabon First Lady Sylvia Ondimba. Mswato gave her bowl made from recycled glass, and two customised glass mugs, in addition to more drinkware.
Compare gave her table linen and a rug while Ghana First Lady Lordina Mahama gave Kente cloth and a book.
The First Ladies of Senegal and Mali also weighed in with gifts ranging from gold pins to rugs and painting. Jammeh, not to be left behind, also gave her a painting.
Most of the gifts were worth under $2,000, but African leaders have not been shy in gifting Obama—Gabon’s Ali Bongo Ondimba in September 2011 gave the president a “14” blue mask sculpture by Daum” valued at $52,695.
The justification for accepting each gift, provided in the Register, is that “non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US Government.”
The Obamas don’t appear to have bought any of the gifts, meaning they went to the National Archives and Records Administration or, if perishable, were “handled pursuant to United States Secret Service Policy.” (It’s not clear exactly what that means, but US government ethics guidelines say foodstuffs and similar items “may, with approval, be given to charity, shared with the office, or destroyed.”)