President Barack Obama is facing large challenges in this phase of his presidency. After Americans gave priority to great difficulties in regions such as the Middle East despite the relative calm in Asia, Obama has decided to support the stability of his allies in Africa, as if to send a message to an American public whose tense opinions are affected by repeated racist incidents.
Obama got around during his trip to Africa from July 24 to 29, 2015. He headed to areas with which he has a special link: East Africa and the Horn of Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia. From there, he sent his first message to African-Americans concerning his African origins, noting that he was visiting a continent that was advancing economically at an astonishing speed — from a 3 percent growth rate in 1990 to 10 percent in 2014. In addition, a large number of congressmen and businessmen accompanied him, demonstrating that there is an open economic arena for American investments.
Obama did not intend to leave the African public with the idea that the United States was too concerned with Chinese penetration of the continent or with the dismaying leaps China has made since the beginning of the century, quadrupling its trading power in Africa, exchanging more than $200 billion in 2014 while the United States was still crawling toward $150 billion. Obama did not wish to discuss this particular point either, claiming that Americans accept the Chinese presence on the continent as competitors. Obama did not forget to compare U.S. aid in the areas of health and democracy with the Chinese practice of using Chinese workers to pave roads and build bridges. Some reacted to these remarks about China with sarcasm, as the most important speech of Obama's visit took place at the headquarters of the African Union, a building which is considered one of the largest, most important modern landmarks not only in Addis Ababa, but in all of Africa; a building which was built by the Chinese and given to the African Union as a gift in recent years.
Obama's speech at the African Union headquarters was directed toward the people of the continent, despite the fact that not even one African head of state was present. The entire visit was surrounded by a heavy, stylized public relations contingent from the moment it kicked off with a speech at Cairo University, which was directed toward the Arab and Muslim world. In this speech, Obama spoke eloquently and filled Cairo with promises that have yet to materialize, though the speech in Addis Ababa offered a greater feeling of empathy for the concerns of African people from a liberal trade, youth employment and terrorism perspective.
But that speech could not hide Obama's underlying contradictions, which are hidden in the crux of American policy in Africa. Although he congratulated African progress, he did not announce any large American projects in the region or any in partnership with the European Union. The only things mentioned were an electrical energy project and a conference of businessmen to be held soon in Washington. In mentioning power projects, he did not want to point to anything specific in Africa, nor to the dam in Ethiopia, or projects on other rivers. This is because of the great competition surrounding these projects. Yet at the same time, by addressing the youth of the continent, Obama involved himself in one of the most controversial issues in Africa.
Overall, Obama's latest trip has not had any great effect on American strategy, but it just goes to prove that Africa does not contain what America considers the most serious challenges. It is a location of limited terrorist activity — limited especially to Somalia, Kenya, and Nigeria — which has not been subject to any American plans. It is as if terrorism is considered something that only affects the northern part of Africa and the Middle East, operating only above the Sahara. It seems like we are not expected to understand terrorism on an international level or with respect to local disturbances, whatever level they should happen to be. Sometimes I feel that the Arab region itself needs a more in-depth understanding of the subject, instead of just casting it in the narrow description of religious and sectarian strife.