By William Reed
President Obama and the first lady’s trip to sub-Saharan Africa, scheduled for June 26-July 3, will included South Africa, the West African nation of Senegal, and Tanzania on Africa’s east coast. If anyone wonders why the son of a Kenyan senior government economist isn’t traveling to his ancestral homeland, it has to do with the charges brought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague against Kenya’s newly-elected president Uhuru Kenyatta for “crimes against humanity.” By not going to Kenya, Obama also avoids jibes from “Birthers” about returning to his birthplace.
Nobody is playing this as, “Homeboy Returns.” The presidential trip holds meager expectations in regard to American foreign policy gaining any momentum in many of Africa’s 54 countries, and little toward Obama’s presidential legacy. According to the White House, the purpose of the weeklong trip is “to underscore the president’s commitment to broadening and deepening the cooperation between the United States and the people of sub-Saharan Africa to advance regional and global peace and prosperity.”
During the three scheduled stops, the president plans to meet and discuss strategic partnerships on bilateral and global issues with leaders of government, business and civil society, but there will only be a smattering of Black American business leaders in the presidential entourage. “It’s a shame that an American president would go to Africa and not have an African-American business delegation” said Lawrence Smith, a Washington, D.C-based international trade lawyer.
Located on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Tanzania is home to 50 million people. Tanzania produces massive amounts of precious metals and valuable resources, including natural gas. When the Obamas land in Senegal, they will find it to be one of the more stable countries in the region because of its higher GDP and its lack of civil conflicts. And South Africa maintains the continent’s largest economy, along with a stable government and political system.
According to the World Bank, South Africa has the world’s 28th largest economy and Africa’s 5th highest per capita income. It’s considered a newly industrialized country. The man Obama has tapped to be ambassador to South Africa is Patrick Gaspard whose parents are Haitian. Gaspard worked on the David Dinkins campaign for mayor of New York City in 1989.
This will be the president’s first visit to the three African countries. The first lady visited South Africa in an official capacity in 2011. Many had hoped Obama would meet icon Nelson Mandela, but “Madiba,” (his Xhosa tribe name) remains ill. During his first term, Obama met one day in Ghana with the late Professor John Atta Mills.
However, Obama’s overture of note regarding Africa occurred during a Washington D.C. interview prior to Obama’s departure to Africa, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the U.S. Machivenyika Mapuranga, said that President Obama is “rescinding regime change” practices. The White House recently dispatched former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young to Zimbabwe to initiate a new approach toward the government of President Robert Mugabe. The U.S. and the EU have relaxed some of the targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe.
In terms of generating any real trade with Africa, Obama’s delegation is a day late and a dollar short. In contrast to the lack of attention American presidents have paid Africa, China’s top five leaders visit Africa annually, as have the leaders of countries such as France, Brazil, Turkey and India, all of whom are actively investing in Africa. The Chinese have “constructive engagements” with at least 30 African countries.
China has African trade and development wrapped up, and America’s political practices don’t help its case. The Chinese “only want to trade and support the economic development of the nations of Africa.” America’s engagements with Africa are far more complex. The trip will show the continent’s “Homeboy” to be no different than his 43 White predecessors: a paternal view of Africa as development cases, rather than opportunities for partnership.
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.