President Barack Obama’s last and only other visit to Africa was seen as a marker. It raised expectations that the first Afro-American president would build relationships across the continent which would boost trade and investment.
Now the president will start his first extended trip to Africa amidst a sense of disappointment. Some trade unions have called for a mass “NObama” protest in the South African capital on Friday. As Richard Downie, Deputy Director of the African Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies explained they feel he has neglected them, leaving investment opportunities to other countries.
“I think in that four-year period the United States has lost ground in Africa. Other countries, China leading the way have become much more engaged. And I think the US has lost influence to a degree in the meantime.
“The US tends to see Africa as a place of problems, a place that needs help. But I think times have changed now and Africans are looking and wanting the United States to update its view of Africa as a place of opportunity, a place where money can be made and investments made and business can be done,” he said.
The president is under pressure from Congress which is urging his administration to step up engagement with the continent. On Tuesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill which if it becomes law will boost trade with Africa. It will, said one Senator, “put Africa at the forefront of the US’s business and development goals”.
Stefan Grobe, euronews correspondent in Washington said: “Obama’s name used to hang like a talisman over Africa. But the continent’s delight to have a US president it can call its own, has given way to disappointment. Obama will have a lot of explaining to do as to why his administration never developed a coherent African strategy.”