June 28, 2013

Obama yet to have African legacy like predecessors

By Nedra Pickler / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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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

Under Clinton and Bush "you had this major funding, major attention, major initiatives going to Africa, and then President Obama came in, and there was a sense of stall, in a way," said Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said that's understandable as he grappled with wars and an economic crisis, and she gave Obama credit for working diplomatically with African governments in his first term.

But, she said, "they weren't big, splashy initiatives that got peoples' attention either in Africa or here at home, and no big money and no big ideas that really helped define what Obama was about in Africa."

That disappointed those who were expecting more from the first African-American president, especially after his speech during a brief stopover in Ghana his first summer in office, in which he spoke personally of his father's life in Kenya and declared "a new moment of great promise" in Africa. "I have the blood of Africa within me," Obama said.

Schneidman argued that Obama's personal connection may also have been an impediment to deeper engagement in his first term. "The whole birther movement here in the U.S. that was sort of questioning his place of birth to begin with ... I think it was a real constraint on dealing with Africa," Schneidman said.

Mwangi Kimenyi, a Kenyan who directs the Brookings Institutions' Africa Growth Initiative, said Obama may be a victim of misplaced sky-high expectations on the continent when he was first elected.

"Africans still consider Clinton their president," Kimenyi said. "If you go to Africa and mention Clinton – I mean, he is a hero, even today. I don't think President Obama is going to approach the level of President Clinton at all, in terms of respect, in terms of what they feel, and it's partly because, as one whose family is from Africa, the expectations were rather high."

"There is not that feeling that, you know, we have our son there," Kimenyi said. "There's probably more reference of a prodigal son than a, you know, son."

Clinton first drew extensive attention to Africa in 1998 when he made the longest trip ever by a U.S. president, with stops in six countries that had never before been visited by any occupant of the Oval Office.

Bush's trip this week is his third in 19 months to promote his Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partnership to combat breast and cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. On this visit, he and his wife, Laura, plan to help renovate a cervical cancer screening and treatment clinic in Zambia before heading to Tanzania for the African First Ladies Summit advocating investment in programs for women and girls.

"Frankly, Africa is a place that we had not yet been able to devote significant presidential time and attention to," Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes said. "And there's nothing that can make an impact more in terms of our foreign policy and our economic and security interests than the president of the United States coming and demonstrating the importance of our commitment to this region."

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