Obama in Mandela′s shadow | Africa | DW | 01.07.2013
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Obama in Mandela's shadow

"Yes I can, Africa" is the message Obama wants to convey on his three nation tour of the continent, the last leg of which takes him to Tanzania. But Africans have become jaded about Obama since he came to power.

Some powerful photographic images have emerged from Obama's Africa tour. They showed the US president visiting Goree Island in Senegal, a former slave-trading post, and Robben Island, off Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Perhaps a picture of Mandela himself would also have been interesting, but Obama said nonchalantly that he didn't need a snapshot of the ailing former South African president and freedom fighter and that he respected his privacy.

Is a black president automatically an African president?

Obama's first trip to Africa as president was to Ghana in 2009 and it lasted less than a day. This trip is being overshadowed by Mandela's ill-health - which is keeping South Africans on tenterhooks - and also faces a number of other challenges.

A man in uniform on electricity mast. (c) www.BilderBox.com, Erwin Wodicka,

President Obama promised to invest 5.4 billion euro ($7billion) in the energy sector in Africa

The US president with a Kenyan family background was almost under an obligation to prove to disappointed Africans that he was more interested in his father's continent than his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The two former presidents' billion dollar heath and trade programs are still being praised by Africans. "Even Bush has done more in Africa than Obama" read the headline of a South African newspaper on his arrival.

Protests against the United States

Even before Obama set foot in South Africa, leftists and student groups had taken to the streets in protest against the US's Middle East policy and were calling the US the "world's biggest killer."

At the University of Johannesburg, Obama unveiled a scholarship program for 500 young trainee African managers, which will be awarded annually. His announcement was greeted with applause in the lecture hall, but outside on the streets angry anti-Obama protestors were being fired upon by police using rubber bullets.

The atmosphere was calmer on Sunday (30.06.2013) when Obama visited Robben Island prison outside Cape Town, where Mandela spend 18 of his 27 years in prison.

"The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island," Obama, who was accompanied by his wife Michelle and their two daughters, wrote in the guestbook, after he visited Mandela's cell and the notorious lime quarry where he toiled each day.

Criticism of the host country

On Sunday evening (30.06.2013) Obama delivered a remarkable speech at the University of Cape Town (UCT) that recalled the rhetorical brilliance he displayed when campaigning for election. For the first time on this trip, South Africans were to witness his powers as an orator fully deployed.

He referred in this speech to an address delivered by former US Senator Robert Kennedy in exactly same place in June 1966 when he compared the anti-apartheid freedom struggle in South Africa to the black civil rights movement in the United States.

Obama condemned - to the applause of his audience of around 1000 African dignitaries - "stealing or discrimination against others."

U.S. President Barack Obama with first lady Michelle Obama. (Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed)

US President Obama visited Robben Island prison during his trip to South Africa

Those who were so inclined could regard this as an oblique reference to Obama's host, president Zuma and senior members of this government. They are implicated in numerous cases of corruption, which is one of the reasons why the voters on the Cape, unlike the rest of the country, regularly vote for the Democratic Alliance (DA) instead of Zuma's ANC.

African solutions to African problems

Obama also stressed that Africa needed to face up to its responsibilities. He spoke of the neighboring Zimbabwe, a country in which "the promise of liberation gave way to the corruption of power and then the collapse of the economy." He also promised to invest 5.4 billion euros ($7 billion) in the energy sector in sub-Saharan Africa.

His visit to Tanzania, which started on Monday (01.07.2013) is being watched with interest. It may seem like a coincidence, Obama's itinerary is following that of the Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also visited the resource-rich Tanzania and South Africa in March 2013. China overtook the US as Africa's largest trading partner in 2009.

Efforts by White House strategists to present Obama as an "African president" have not worked. Even in Senegal, Obama spoke mostly of Mandela, whom he praised again and again as "inspiration for the world." Obama's speech in Cape Town speech was the only one of any substance.

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