May 21 (GIN) – Pres. Barack Obama embarks on a major presidential tour of Africa in June but his itinerary will circumvent Kenya, his ancestral homeland.
Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania will each receive the President and his wife Michelle. Kenya was scratched from the group, according to one news report, since being seen with the newly-elected president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who still faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, would certainly spark a new crisis for the beleaguered president.
Obama’s first trip to South Africa since he became president raises the prospect of a reunion with Nelson Mandela ahead of his 95th birthday in July. But Mandela’s health now appears so frail that any photo op will require delicate handling.
The presidential trip, from June 26 to July 3, comes late for many Africans who had hoped that the son of a Kenyan would give priority to the continent. After more than four years in power, he has spent less than 24 hours in sub-Saharan Africa – a solitary visit to Ghana in 2009.
Former Chinese president Hu Jintao, by contrast, has made five trips to Africa as head of state, while his successor Xi Jinping sped to three resource-rich African countries just a month after taking over. The Asian giant has exercised soft power through building schools and hospitals.
China has quickly overtaken the U.S. with an infrastructure-for-minerals approach that wins friends and influences people. Some governments have welcomed a lack of “preaching” on human rights, pointing out that America’s own record is checkered.
Last year, the White House last year put out a tepid Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa with vague objectives: to strengthen democratic institutions; spur economic growth, trade, and investment; advance peace and security; and promote opportunity and development.
Elsewhere, however, a new mantra of “Africa rising,” can be heard at investment conferences, thinktanks and in media commentaries.
“He’s totally neglecting Africa,” said Koffi Kouakou, a Johannesburg-based political commentator in a press interview. “There’s not enough time to catch up. It’s a strategic neglect that is going to be costing America big time.
“Our expectations were too high. His visit now won’t have the same degree of reverberation as when he first became president.”