The Elephant in the Room


This elephant has been in my room — my studio — since 2008 just after I photographed him in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park.  While I have many elephants in my room, this one holds a special spot in my heart and on my wall.  The trip was the first safari in which my husband joined me, and Manyara was our first stop.  We encountered this giant on our first day, meaning that he was one of the first wild elephants Joe had ever seen.  He posed patiently, flaring his ears as though he might charge, but it was just for show.  I think this guy just liked to play with our adrenalin levels.  I’ve sold several prints of him, and it gives me great pleasure to know he occupies others’ rooms, a constant reminder of Africa’s majesty and the beauty of the wildlife living there.

More often than not, the “elephant in the room” is a metaphor, rather than a photograph, for something too sensitive or volatile to discuss.  We all have those elephants from time to time.  In politics and diplomacy, elephants are always in the room, and I’m not talking about the Republican type.  Case in point. President Obama is about to travel to Africa, his first, major African tour since becoming President.  As soon as the  trip was announced, innumerable special interests came forward with their wishlists for Presidential discourse during meetings with the leaders of Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. Elephant advocates are part of the choir (click here for story), particularly where Tanzania is concerned, as much of the poached ivory comes from that country.

Most likely, the elephant in the room during the Tanzanian meetings will be China.  The U.S. agenda will involve advancement of democracy and good governance, as well as economic ties.  The Chinese agenda (President Xi Jinpang visited this past March) involves investment and generating markets for its products and services. Period.  No altruism, just business, which has proven to be a highly successful strategy for China in penetrating the continent of Africa.  The U.S. investment, and hence influence, lags that of China’s significantly, something the U.S. wants to change. Stressing ideals over tangible investments, however,  may prove counterproductive in achieving that objective.  To make things even more tricky, a bomb detonated in Arusha last week during a rally of the opposition party was made in China (click here for full story).  Tanzania’s opposition party has accused the ruling party of being in China’s pocket and cooperating with the illegal ivory trade.  Meeting planners better get a very big room for the meetings the U.S. President and his delegation have in Tanzania.  But sadly, it is unlikely they will be discussing the fate of real elephants.  (Due to the bombing and security concerns, the First Family’s planned safari while in Tanzania has been cancelled.)