Obama hosts Africa summit with an eye on legacy

Washington - President Barack Obama is gathering nearly 50 African leaders in Washington for an unprecedented summit aimed in part at building his legacy on a continent where his commitment has been questioned.

But the backdrop for the conference that begins on Monday underscores what has been a constant challenge to that effort. Even as Obama immerses himself in talks on regional security, democracy building and business investment in Africa, the world's attention - and much of his own - will be on an extraordinary array of urgent overseas crises.

Among them: Gaza clashes, Russia's provocations in Ukraine and mounting extremism in Iraq, to name just a few. An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa also threatens to cast a shadow over the summit, with leaders from at least two affected countries cancelling plans to travel to Washington and the US setting up medical screenings for other officials arriving from those nations.

"It's the nature of the world we live in today where there are multiple crises at any time," said Witney Schneidman, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "But that should not paralyse us from moving forward on key areas to advance our interests."

White House officials say the American interests in Africa are immense. The continent is home to some of the world's fastest-growing economies and a rapidly expanding middle class. The US is competing for those consumers with China, which surpassed the United States in 2009 as Africa's largest trading partner.

"The importance of this for America needs to be understood," Obama said on Friday. "Africa is growing, and you've got thriving markets and you've got entrepreneurs and extraordinary talent among the people there."

He added: "Africa also happens to be one of the continents where America is most popular, and people feel a real affinity for our way of life."

From the start of his presidency, Obama has faced sky-high expectations from African leaders and US policy makers who hoped the son of a Kenyan would bump Africa up the White House list of priorities.

Obama's first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president - an overnight stop in Ghana in 2009 - also suggested that he could be an American president able to tell hard truths to the continent's leaders. During a speech to parliament in Accra, he declared that Africa "doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions".

But it would be four years before Obama returned to Africa again, a yawning gap that raised questions about the extent of his commitment. Unlike his predecessor George W Bush, who launched a $15bn programme to address HIV and Aids, Obama seemed to be lacking a signature Africa initiative.

nd his administration's focus turned instead to the Arab Spring movement sweeping through the Middle East, a heavily promoted rebalance toward Asia and a slew of pressing security concerns.

Analysts say Obama's second term has brought about a more robust focus on Africa. The president made a three-country trip to the continent last year and aides say he's likely to travel there again before the end of his second term.

He's also launched a new "Power Africa" initiative that aims to leverage billions in private sector commitments to bring electricity to 20 million households in sub-Saharan Africa. And he's launched a fellowship programme for young African leaders that received more than 50 000 applications for 500 slots this year.

Carl LeVan, a professor at American University's School of International Service, said those efforts, along with the Washington summit, suggest an administration undertaking "a concerted and calculated effort to construct its legacy, and its legacy toward Africa in particular, since expectations were so high".

China has ramped up its investment in the resource-rich continent and its leaders make frequent visits to the continent.

While Beijing may spend more money, US officials argue that the Chinese focus more on extracting resources rather than boosting African capacity and building long-term economic relationships.

"We do believe we bring something unique to the table," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "We are less focused on resources from Africa and more focused on deepening trade and investment relationships."

- AP
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Joel Sola 2014-08-03 12:46:27 AM
Barack 'Anti-christ' obama
Rice Safari 2014-08-03 03:10:46 AM
Obama is a naïve moron if he thinks America or Americans are popular in Africa. Only the American dollar is popular in Africa. From what I see Americans are routinely treated with silent contempt - unless they are handing out dollar bills.
Django Optimistic 2014-08-03 05:15:31 AM
The way of Mugabe shall be the way of all Africa. Lend a cursory glance at the history of humanity and you might just agree with me.Zimbabwe is literally the test case from which the continent will draw inspiration. Their "crisis" is not permanent. Despite the collective optimism of many, Nothing can delay for long that final civil war between the despairing convulsion of incomplete revolution and the agents of reactionary capital which have bequeathed to us a societies stricken with a mortal disease. Africa and South Africa can not survive in its current state. The old colonial orders the our "leaders" now brood over will be overthrown. It seems to me that the most sensible solutions to the critical South African problems of poverty, inequality and subdued growth prescribe a reductive and deductive effect on the welfare of whites. As is often the case, economic land lord who are mostly whites hold the turn-key. If they can have enlightened self interest they could save us all a lot of trouble. They have much to learn from their counterparts in Zimbabwe.
Wellington Nhakwaza 2014-08-03 05:29:21 AM
Thanks to Bob for civilising Zimbabweans,we have survived under those sanctions and we shall continue to survive with them .Americans are the terrorist of the world ,war mongers pursuing selfish ends and Africa seems to be worshiping these pple.
Jamill Ahmed 2014-08-03 07:45:23 AM
Jimmy Mashabela 2014-08-03 07:48:19 AM
I can only hope that African leaders would not fall for this Obama's empty promises and lies. America does not care about Africa, they are only interested in our resources. Since the dawn of our democracy, I have never seen any American President attending our South african presidential inauguration. This is the same America that never saw apartheid laws as being evil. The Nigerians are still waiting for their kids to be rescued from Boko Haram and nothing is happening yet they say America cares. But in Israel Obama and his administration are busy providing weapons that will finish Palestine for good. China is all over Africa, no chance for American crooks.
Mohammed Salajee 2014-08-03 08:33:01 AM
Remember ur words Obama wen u visited @ the funeral of madiba .U r a real double standard.
Mohammed Salajee 2014-08-03 08:47:16 AM
Obama u holding a summit while ur bosom friend is murdering R u insane!
Candice Cands 2014-08-03 09:09:26 AM
Y not help us whites here in Africa! Bring in their troops and help fight crime and corruption
Wellington Nhakwaza 2014-08-03 12:11:32 PM
I am one of the Zimbabweans living under economic hardships and have no intention whatsoever leave my country .To those who crossed ur so called boarders illegally or legally have the right to do so because Africans are the rightful dwellers of this continent,whites shall not dictate pace for African !!