Historic trip of President Obama to Africa
In what was another historic moment, the First family today embarked upon an eight-day trip to Africa aimed at reviving U.S. engagement with the continent, although that will be overshadowed by the uncertain health of South Africa hero Nelson Mandela
Obama’s trip, his second to the continent as president, will take him to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. While the president hopes to spotlight trade and economic development themes, his visit would be dwarfed if Mandela’s condition takes a turn for the worse.
The 94-year old former South African president remained hospitalized in critical condition after being admitted more than two weeks ago with a lung infection, the government said on Tuesday.
Air Force One carried Obama, his wife Michelle, their daughters Sasha and Malia, as well as the first lady’s mother, Marian Robinson, and an Obama niece, Leslie Robinson.
Africans feel a special bond with Obama, the first African American U.S. president, and have been impatient for him to make an extended visit to the continent. Africans are also disappointed that the Obama administration has not engaged with the continent as much as the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Administration officials say the trip is an opportunity to jump-start the relationship. Obama’s first stop will be Senegal, where he will visit Goree Island, the site of a monument to Africans who were sent to slavery in the Americas.
His next stop will be in South Africa, where aides say he will be available to visit Mandela but will defer to the wishes of the Mandela family to determine whether the former South African leader is up to such an encounter.
In South Africa, Obama is due to make a speech outlining his Africa policy at the University of Cape Town, where Robert F. Kennedy gave his famous 1966 address comparing the struggle against apartheid in South Africa with the struggle for civil rights in the United States.
The president will also visit Robben Island, where Mandela and other political prisoners were held, and visit a health clinic.
Obama’s last stop will be in the East African nation of Tanzania, where he will take part in events with business leaders and visit a power plant.
But while most in the continent eagerly anticipated the visit, there were some who expressed concern over the impact the Obamas’ visit might have on the city’s industry.
The Africa Review reported that the people of Senegal were ‘drawing lessons from the past’ and ‘leaving nothing to chance’ after previous high profile visits led to a fall in profitability.
They recall business in Dakar taking a severe blow during other high profile visits – including when former U.S. president Bill Clinton visited the Senegalese capital.
Locals endured long traffic jams while distinguished guests passed through, loss of sales when prevented from selling their wares in the street and complained of being ‘held prisoner’ in their houses.
They say businesses, particularly in downtown Dakar and surrounding areas, have already started recording low sales due to this anticipation.
Mbaye Ndiaye, an economist formerly employed by the Trade ministry, says the visit will ’cause losses of several million dollars, especially to the informal sector [hawkers, sex workers] who will take months to recover’.
‘While the Americans are capable of making our country a better place, Obama is also capable of making our small businesses in Dakar poorer,’ doughnut and coffee seller Ndeye Diop added.
Elsewhere, some have criticised Obama for the soaring cost of the tour, which could reportedly reach $100m. Some scoffed when a safari was vetoed after it was revealed the president would have required Secret Service agents to act as snipers in case of a wild animal attack.
Further controversy surrounded Obama’s decision to bring his mother-in-law Marian Robinson and her daughter and Obama’s niece Leslie on the trip, which the White House Dossier says detractors have said makes it a ‘de facto vacation’.