Obama to Increase Engagement With Africa in 2011

Julie Pace, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), January 3, 2011

President Barack Obama is quietly but strategically stepping up his outreach to Africa, using this year to increase his engagement with a continent that is personally meaningful to him and important to U.S. interests.

Expectations in Africa spiked after the election of an American president with a Kenyan father. But midway through his term, Obama’s agenda for Africa has taken a backseat to other foreign policy goals, such as winding down the Iraq war, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and resetting relations with Russia.

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In a blunt speech before the Ghanaian parliament [in 2009], Obama said democracy is the key to Africa’s long-term development.

“That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long,” Obama said. “That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.”

The White House says Obama will travel to Africa again and the political calendar means the trip will almost certainly happen this year, before Obama has to spend more time on his re-election bid. No decision has been made on which countries Obama will visit, but deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said stops will reflect positive democratic models.

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Rhodes said the White House understands that U.S. involvement in African politics can be viewed as meddling. But he said Obama can speak to African leaders with a unique level of candor, reflecting his personal connection to Africa and that his father and other family members have been affected by the corruption that plagues many countries there.

Officials also see increased political stability in Africa as good for long-term U.S. interests–a way to stem the growth of terrorism in east Africa and counterbalance China’s growing presence on the continent.

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