June 28, 2013

Obama yet to have African legacy like predecessors

By Nedra Pickler / The Associated Press

CENTURION, South Africa — President Barack Obama is receiving the embrace you might expect for a long-lost son on his return to his father's home continent, even as he has yet to leave a lasting policy legacy for Africa on the scale of his two predecessors.

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USAID administrator Raj Shah, left, and President Barack Obama talk to Nimna Diayte, president of the Farmers Federation, during a food security expo on Friday in Dakar, Senegal.

The Associated Press

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush passed innovative Africa initiatives while in the White House and passionately continue their development work in the region in their presidential afterlife. Obama's efforts here have not been so ambitious, despite his personal ties to the continent.

His first major tour of Africa as president is coming just now, in his fifth year, while Bush and Clinton are frequent fliers to Africa. Bush even will be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, next week at the same time as Obama, although they have no plans to meet. Instead, their wives plan to appear together at a summit on empowering African women organized by the George W. Bush Institute, with the former president in attendance.

For Obama, one potentially memorable aspect of this trip – a meeting with former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela – remained in doubt. Mandela is hospitalized in Johannesburg in critical condition. Obama arrived in South Africa Friday after visiting Senegal.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Obama said it was uncertain whether he would get an opportunity to see the 94-year-old Mandela, a personal hero to the president.

"I don't need a photo-op, and the last thing I want to do is to be in any way obtrusive at a time when the family is concerned about Nelson Mandela's condition," he said.

In French-speaking Senegal, Africa's westernmost country, spirited crowds greeted Obama on his visit, with revelers frequently breaking into song and dance at the sight of the first African-American president. However thrilled they were to see him, many said they wish his visits weren't so rare.

"Two visits in five years, it's not enough," said Faye Mbissine, a 30-year-old nanny who took an early-morning bus to come see Obama on Thursday outside the presidential palace. "We hope that he can come more."

Manougou Nbodj, a 21-year-old student, said he hopes Obama will bring American resources like jobs and health care. "If Obama can work with Macky Sall the way that George Bush worked with Africa before him, then we will be happy," he said, referring to the Senegalese president.

One of Bush's chief foreign policy successes was his aid to Africa, including AIDS relief credited with saving millions of lives and grants to reward developing countries for good governance. Bush followed on momentum on African policy that began under Clinton, who allowed several dozen sub-Saharan countries to export to the U.S. duty-free.

Obama has continued the Bush and Clinton programs during tough economic times. But his signature Africa policy thus far has been food security, through less prominent programs designed to address hunger with policy reforms and private investment in agriculture.

On Friday, Obama toured displays in small thatched booths at his hotel grounds on a bluff overlooking the ocean, meeting with farmers and entrepreneurs who are using new methods and technologies to advance the cause of food security.

"This is a moral imperative," he said. "I believe that Africa is rising and it wants to partner with us not to be dependent but to be self-sufficient.

Witney Schneidman, former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said Obama's efforts are not like Bush's AIDS initiative "where you put people on a medicine to save their lives – very, extremely important. This is more of a structural change, and I think that's going to take time."

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