Thursday, July 04, 2013
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Obama's Africa Visit; Strategic or is Africa missing its Strategic and Fast Growing Influence?

Thursday, July 04, 2013
Pic Source: USA News
By: Watwii Ndavi, Port Elizabeth - South Africa

In less than 48 hours, the President of the United States of America, His Excellency Mr. Barack Obama made a swift stopover in South Africa, as part of his Africa tour, which saw him visit Senegal and Tanzania, in his 2nd term as President. Was this visit strategic in any way? What was the value added for South Africa and Africa as a whole?

President Barack Obama visited South Africa over the weekend and his visit could not have come at a worse time. He was on “egg-shells” during the weekend because any small faux pas would have instantly offended the hosts. I say this, not because I was not gunning for Obama (I actually was rooting for him and was glad when he won), but for the past few weeks South Africans have been engrossed with Nelson Mandela’s ailing condition. Madiba, as he is fondly referred to, is lying in intensive care surrounded by family, in a critical but stable condition after weeks of treatment for a lung infection. The news of his condition has definitely overshadowed Obama’s visit both locally and internationally. It was a visit that was neither impactful nor relevant. It was a very uncomfortable visit. This has without a doubt hurt Obama’s intentions. 

Pic Source: ABCNews (South Africa)
Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama are both respected icons in their own rights, first and foremost because they are the first black presidents of their respective countries, and secondly they have above all demonstrated humility and reaching out to all in their leadership style. This is exemplary in situations when individuals of African descent were/are considered an inferior race. They are role models and an inspiration in many ways to all of us, especially the new generation that is taking up or will take up leadership of nations that have been traumatised by past/current regimes. They both preach peace and forgiveness and leaving the past behind for better nations. But that is where the commonality ends. 

Back to the visit – president Obama was on a mission to enhance bi-lateral ties and seek business opportunities especially with African allies, and specifically sought out South Africa, which is as an emerging global economy. The US is a major trading partner of South Africa. With over 500 US companies in South Africa employing more than 150,000 South Africans, this bi-lateral relationship focuses on investment, tourism and technology. 

When South Africa joined the new economic power house, the “BRICS”, in 2010 it definitely had implications for the US-South African partnership. In March, the BRICS summit was held in Durban, South Africa. 
  1. First on the agenda was continued talks regarding the formation of a global financial institution, which would be a new development bank, 
  2. Second was the signing of a trade and currency deal that would see the BRICS countries prioritise trade among themselves without using the US dollar as the “middle-man” currency. A silent message is being drafted…Does this mean countries are losing interest in the US? Bearing in mind that Africa, the world’s youngest continent, is expanding and growing dramatically. 
Pic Source: WSAU (Senegal)
The growing middle class in Africa is proving to be a formidable group with majority being young Africans. The anxiety and nervousness that comes with not being in accord with the US is rapidly disappearing. Could this be a reason as well as the fact that Chinese leadership and partnership has evidently been welcomed with open arms by many African countries? The Chinese have flooded every corner of the continent and in all playing fields. Meanwhile, travel warnings continue to be issues and sometimes hindrances to American citizens, visiting/working in various countries on the continent, often hurting the economies of these very nations. They have become an unpredictable guest. Could these be some of the reasons Obama’s visit may be viewed as a damage-control visit that is trying to protect and secure the economic and security interests of the US on the continent?

While addressing youth at the University of Johannesburg Soweto campus, Obama was also scheduled to receive an honorary law degree. This as well as his overall visit did not sit well with some and there were protests to show the displeasure. In a nut-shell, the US is seen as the leading human rights violator. Obama calls Madiba, who is admired as a symbol of resistance against injustice, his “personal hero” yet his foreign policies and performance on human rights issues are contrary to his hero’s mantra. From the jailing of the Cuban 5, to the presence of AFRICOM (the US Africa Command) and the trade policies that perpetuate the underdevelopment of Africa and other developing nations. 

Pic Source: Haki-Ngowi (Tanzania)
President Obama made myriads of promises when he was campaigning in his first round, some of which included closing down Guantanamo Bay prison as well as an overhaul of the US health sector and ensuring pro-poor policies. He still has not delivered bearing in mind that this is his second term in office. With all his references regarding trade and development in Africa including the renewal and improvement of AGOA, which he expressed in Senegal a few days before, how is Africa to believe or even take president Obama at face value? He is a good orator granted, but actions speak louder than words.

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all visited Ghana, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania as presidents. Why? Are there no other countries in Africa? Africa is a strategic, critical and fast growing determinant of not only the African economy and stability, but a global one at that. America must take a step back and look at the continent as whole, and not further divide and rule as had happened in the colonial times, if they are to benefit from Africa. Africa, the next emerging continent.

Watwii Ndavi is an econometrician from Kenya with a back ground in economics and statistics. She studied at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She has recently been deployed as an AU-YV at the AUC, Youth Division in the capacity of a statistician and data analyst. She loves playing the flute and squash and is for everything fair and free. Feel free to contact her on

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official policy or position of Connect African Development.

Editorial Team
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  1. Portia Tshegofatso Loeto4 July 2013 at 17:08

    Ms Ndavi is so spot on. Indeed, the Africa we need to see in 2063 needs such interrogations. We are on the rise. Yes, not without challenges, but Africa at this point cannot afford to leave things unquestioned. And the most important thing is for us to open our eyes and ears even wider, be critical when analyzing these visits and all other events related to our outside "partners". We need to be sure of what Africa's agenda is. Our Africa. Our Agenda. I say.


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