Obama’s Trip to Africa, which concluded last week, has been analyzed by many, touted as a success by some, and a waste of taxpayer money by others. The Brookings Institution published a report on the trip titled “Symbolism and Substance,” which I think captures the essence of the trip very well.
The symbolism of Obama’s visits to Goree Island and to Robben Island, venues that possess much emotional history for black victims of oppression throughout the world, keeps a focus on the legacies we must overcome, and the need to remain vigilant against the violation of human rights for all people. The excitement over Obama’s presence in South Africa, at a time when that country is anxiously praying for Mandela’s health, cast a bright light on the reality that life has its cycles, and there will always be new leaders to pave new paths.
The substance of his trip was defined by his sharp focus on economic development, which marked a clear evolution in US policy towards Africa. At the same time that Obama led the US to a place where the “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” policy, with respect to gays in the military, became an obsolete phrase that harbored vestiges of an old way of thinking, on this trip, “Trade, Not Aid” was rarely heard. It seems to have similarly morphed into an outmoded expression. It is now just about trade and investment, with no need to reference a previous cornerstone of US policy towards Africa.
The major substantive outcomes of this trip were three:
a) The Young African Leaders Initiative, which will take 500 young Africans for training in the US each year at American universities, and public and private institutions.
b) Power Africa, which the US government is funding to the tune of $7 billion to help provide efficient electricity generation in eight countries, with a goal of bringing power to 20 million African households and commercial enterprises.
c) Trade Africa, a policy which was announced, but with fewer specifics unveiled than the first two programs listed above. The goal is to increase trade with East Africa, and to support expanded exports from Africa to the US.
Obama suggested that this would not be his last trip to Africa. When asked at one event why he did not go to Kenya, his response was, “I have three and a half more years as President of the United States.” We hope that the foundation he laid on this visit will be built upon in additional engagement with Africa in the remaining years of Obama’s administration.
Africa.com was privileged to participate in the Obama visit to Africa as part of the official White House Traveling Press Corps. Find below a summary of the articles, slideshows, and videos we produced to record this historic trip. As always, we welcome your feedback. Please send any thoughts about our coverage to me at Teresa@africa.com
Visit our Obama in Africa page to view our comprehensive coverage of this historic event, which includes:
Teresa’s Diary - An insider view of what it’s really like to travel with the U.S. President
Video Highlights - Reports filed by executive editor Teresa Clarke from the ground.
Slideshows - Stunning sights from the trip, including African fashion inspiration for Mrs. Obama
Michelle Obama - Coverage of the First Lady’s activities during her time in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania