Obama on three-nation African tour | Africa | DW | 26.06.2013
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Africa

Obama on three-nation African tour

US President Barack Obama is visiting Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. Africans are no longer euphoric about the first US black president, but some are prepared to give him a second chance.

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and First Lady Michelle wave as they board Air Force One to depart from Berlin June 19, 2013. Obama's first presidential visit to Berlin comes nearly 50 years to the day after John F. Kennedy landed in a divided Berlin at the height of the Cold War and told encircled westerners in the city Ich bin ein Berliner, a powerful signal that America would stand by them. REUTERS/Thomas Peter (GERMANY - Tags: POLITICS)

Obama Berlin

There were high expectations in Africa when Obama, an African American with Kenyan antecedents, was first elected US president in 2008. Who else, if not this president, could bestow on Africa the priority it deserved? More than four years later, the euphoria has evaporated. Obama's commitment to Africa isn't even up to the level of his predecessors.

A speech Obama delivered to the Ghanaian parliament in 2009 had encouraged Africans to expect more.

"After all, I have the blood of Africa within me. My family's story encompasses both the tragedies and triumphs of the larger African story," the US president said.

US President Barack Obama (R) smiles as he walks with First Lady Michelle Obama (2nd L) through a line of dancers during a departure ceremony in Accra, Ghana, July 11, 2009. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

"Africa's future is up to Africans" - Obama in Ghana in 2009

There was rapturous applause when Obama publicly acknowledged his African roots. He also lashed out at corruption in Africa and demanded that Africans shoulder more responsibility for their lives, but that was all but drowned out by the general excitement.

Who, if not the first black president of the United States, could turn a new page on US Africa policy and boost direct investment and tourism?

Eclipsed by financial crisis

It was not to happen. David Shinn served as US ambassador in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso and is now a professor of international affairs at the George Washington University. He said there were many enormous issues in the United States, particularly the financial crisis, that mitigated against more engaged policy towards Africa in Obama's first term. "I think he is trying to make up for that in the second term," he told DW.

Yet it would be unfair to accuse Obama and the State Department of losing interest in Africa. Obama intervened personally in the Sudan crisis and dispatched a special envoy to the continent to salvage the referendum on South Sudan's independence in 2011.

The following year Obama invited African leaders to the G8 summit at Camp David to participate in the US government's Feed The Future initiative on food security, which is now being implemented in 20 countries, including Senegal and Tanzania which on are on his itinerary for this tour.

Villagers raise their bicycles in the air to celebrate Obama's re-election, in the village of Kogelo, home to Sarah Obama the step-grandmother of President Barack Obama, in western Kenya Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (Foto:Ben Curtis/AP/dapd)

Keynans raising bicycles in celebration of Obama's re-election in Kogelo, home to his step-grandmother

The Obama administration has also not shied away from more controversial measures such as sending special forces to Central Africa to hunt down the warlord Joseph Kony or erecting bases for drones in Ethiopia, Niger and Djibouti.

War on terrorism in Africa

When Obama gave the green light for the deployment of drones over Somalia, critics accused him of favoring the war on terrorism at the expense of economic development programs for Africa. But David Shinn said it was actually President George W Bush who emphasized the war on terrorism in Africa, which has been continued by President Obama. The former US ambassador also said there has been more focus on democratization and human rights under the Obama administration than under Bush. "It has not been a totally consistent policy. In other words there was always the tendency to make allowances in the case of some countries which are important to the United States for other reasons, such as countering extremism," Shinn added.

Villagers at an all-night party to watch the U.S. presidential election celebrate after a television station called the result in favor of President Barack Obama, in the village of Kogelo, home to Sarah Obama the step-grandmother of President Barack Obama, in western Kenya Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (Foto:Ben Curtis/AP/dapd)

Kenyans may have celebrated Obama's re-election in 2012 but he will not be visiting their country on this tour

Issa Mansaray is a journalist from Sierra Leone and editor of the magazine The AfricaPaper. He is disappointed with Obama and said hhe hasn't seen any changes in US policy on Africa since he came to power. He cited as an example the continued presence outside the continent of the US Armed Forces Africa Command. "AFRICOM has its base in Stuttgart, Germany and not in Africa," he told DW.

A mixture of hope and disappointment would appear to be the most widespread reaction to the Africa policy of the first black president of the United States. Many Africans, such as Senegalese businesswoman Mame Kebe, haven't given up on him in his second term. "I'm hoping he's going to improve the relationships for the second mandate right now," she said.

Observers expect that Obama will be looking to create some impressive, symbolic images for the media, such as footage of his visit to Soweto, during his Africa tour. Yet in South Africa everybody is watching Nelson Mandela.

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