Washington—Sen. Barack Obama, speaking on lessons learned from his recent trip to Africa, said Thursday there are plenty of reasons, especially economic ones, for the United States to consider the problems of the continent.
The Illinois Democrat told a predominantly black audience at a forum sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation that the United States is making a costly mistake by not competing with China for Africans’ gratitude.
“One of the striking things as I was traveling through Africa: everybody said that the United States’ absence is as noticeable and prominent as the Chinese’s presence,” he said. “The Chinese are everywhere throughout Africa. They are building roads … bridges … government buildings … hospitals.”
Obama said the Chinese efforts also are building good will and establishing relationships that could potentially allow them to corner the market on the continent’s natural resources, particularly oil.
“We’re not doing that because we don’t think it is important and, over time, that’s going to have an enormous impact on us,” he warned.
In response to audience questions, Obama also said the United States should be more willing to import African agriculture goods and that African-Americans need to lobby on behalf of African students who want to come here on student visas.
Obama was quick to note that he represents a major farm state, and that he must first represent his constituents. But he indicated there is room to consider Africa.
“The truth is African producers are not going to compete against Illinois corn and bean farmers,” he said. “What they grow are specialty crops,” such as flowers.
Obama, the Senate’s only black member, also urged his audience that if they want to see more Africans obtaining student visas to visit the United States they need to be as forceful in making their case as other immigrant groups.
“There are immigrant anchor groups in this country that are fierce in terms of their advocacy around immigration issues and, as a consequence, immigrants from these countries get better treatment and students from these countries get better treatment because somebody’s in their face all the time saying, `Why aren’t you doing this?’” Obama said.