By: April Ryan, aprildryan.com
President Barack Obama’s Africa trip is going on full steam ahead. He is there for seven days visiting three Sub-Saharan African countries: Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. President Obama is slated to visit a slave house in Senegal and the Door of No Return, which is said to be one of the final stops in Africa for blacks who began the Middle Passage into slavery. He is also expected to participate in a State Visit in South Africa with President Zuma. While in South Africa the White House is hoping the President will be able to meet with the first Black President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. The 94 year-old is in critical condition. White House sources contend as the world prays for Nelson Mandela, there is hope his legacy will promote a new crop of African leadership particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
PJ Crowley, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Obama Administration says, “For modern South Africa, Mandela is [Abraham] Lincoln, leading the country through a critical transition. No one else could have done what he did.” Crowley is speaking of Mandela moving South Africa from Apartheid.
The regions Obama is slated to visit are anticipating his arrival. It will be Obama’s first visit to all three countries as President of the United States. It will also be his first visit with Nelson Mandela as President. Some speculate his appearance might reignite the Obama “Rock Star-in-Chief” status on the other side of the world. Crowley says, “I would expect an extraordinary reception for the President, a son of Africa.” President Obama’s late father is Kenyan, although there are no plans for the President to visit Kenya this trip.
On the continent, there are various issues of concern for the administration like, civil wars and terrorist breeding grounds in non-democratic countries in Africa. African leaders are working on their issues. Suzan Johnson Cooke, U.S. Ambassador for International Freedoms says, “There is an appointment for the African Union, for a big summit to happen.” Crowley contends “There is no question that many parts of Africa are advancing, but progress is uneven and the caliber of governance needs to keep pace.”
On the flip side, Africa is also a place of economic promise that could result in jobs back in the United States according to White House sources. This Presidential trip will focus on the economy and trade and investment.
Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor spoke with reporters on the phone last week about the President’s trip. Rhodes says, “This is the President’s second trip to sub-Saharan Africa. He previously went to Ghana in his first term. And it’s a very important opportunity for him to advance U.S. interests in a range of areas — in particular, U.S. engagement in Africa at the beginning of his second term. Frankly, we see Africa as one of the most important emerging regions in the world, and a place for the U.S. to significantly increase our engagement in the years to come. There are growing economic opportunities there for increased trade and investment and increased engagement by U.S. businesses. We, frankly, have heard a high demand signal from the U.S. private sector for us to play an active role in deepening our trade and investment partnerships in Africa. And I think one of the things you’ll see on this trip is we’ll be incorporating events that bring in the private sector in each of the countries that we’re visiting. And we’ll also be bringing a number of members of the President’s economic team from our new USTR, Mike Froman, to representatives from OPIC, from the Export-Import Bank, and including Raj Shah, our AID Director, who also plays a role in these issues. So trade and investment and the economic opportunities on the continent are going to be an important part of the agenda; also democracy and democratic institution-building.”
“Each of the countries that we’re visiting are strong democracies, and the President has made it a priority to support the consolidation of democratic institutions in Africa so that Africans are focused not just on democratic elections, but institutions like parliaments, independent judiciaries, and strengthening of the rule of law — both as necessary elements of a democratic government, but also as necessary elements of development.” Rhodes says.
“Because when you have the assurance that comes with the rule of law, it is easier for companies to invest and for economies to take off. I think you will also see a focus on young people. Africa has an extraordinarily large youth population, and it’s important for the United States to signal our commitment to investing in the future of African youth. And this, too, is a part of unleashing development on the continent because if you have young people who are able to access opportunity and able to shape the direction of their countries, that’s going to be in the interest of Africa and the United States as well. And you’ll also see the President speaking to the key pillars of our development agenda, which has focused on economic growth and also on issues such as food security and global health, where we’ve really shifted to a focus on capacity-building on the continent. So it’s not simply a model of assistance, it’s a model of capacity-building so that Africans are forging solutions to their own challenges. All of this, I think, adds up to a U.S. engagement and leadership on the continent that is focused on unleashing African economic growth, democratic progress, and ultimately that will have a positive impact on a range of issues, including peace and security issues — because if we’re working and partnering with strong economies and strong democracies, we’re going to be better able to deal with the security challenges on the continent as well.”