Africa: Is Obama Fighting a Losing Battle?

When Obama won the presidential election back in 2008, all of Africa responded as if it was its own son arriving at the White House. And yet, six and a half years later, Africa feels somewhat abandoned by the U.S. president. Today (July 23) Obama sets off for Kenya and Ethiopia. This will be his third journey to sub-Saharan Africa following visits to Ghana in 2009, and Tanzania, Senegal and South Africa in 2011. Within the same continent, Obama has also traveled to Egypt and to Nelson Mandela’s ancestral home in order to attend his funeral. This, however, is the first time a U.S. president will be setting foot in Kenya.

Despite suggestions that the U.S. president seems to have forgotten Africa, before departing, Obama re-iterated his hope that “we can deliver a message that the U.S. is a strong partner not just for Kenya, but for sub-Saharan Africa generally.” The president intends to resurrect collaboration in matters of health, education and counterterrorism. His government denies claims that the president has ignored the continent and recalls the many Western efforts and the $7 billion initiative to bring electricity to several African countries in 2013. This, however, is a minimal investment when compared with the billions China has spent improving African infrastructure. Today, the rivalry between Beijing and Washington is particularly notable in Africa. In 2009, when Obama arrived at the White House, the Asian giant replaced the U.S. as Africa’s largest commercial partner. And Obama is barely able to equal the success of his predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The former will forever be remembered for his program to fund HIV treatment in Africa. The latter approved a law drastically reducing trade restrictions on imports to 35 African countries. While Obama may have continued in the footsteps of his predecessors, he has so far yet to adopt an initiative of his own.

Kenya is currently experiencing a significant urban boom: buildings, bridges, and anything that can be constructed quickly and at a low cost now bears the label “made in China.” And the Asian giant seems well positioned to conquer the rest of Africa. Kenya is the economic center uniting Eastern and Central Africa: All negotiations must first pass through Kenya. In 2013, China was therefore able to invest $474 million in Kenyan soil, almost double the U.S. investment.

As previously mentioned, in 2013, China doubled its lead in commercial trade over the United States. Therefore, trade relations between Beijing and Africa generated $200 billion. Africa also became an important source for the communist regime in China. Its strategy involved producing infrastructure, including electronics and vehicles, and then selling it in exchange for natural resources. And Beijing holds yet more advantages over Washington. For example, China has no problem turning a blind eye to the disastrous trend of African leaders regarding human rights and democratic principles. Obama, on the other hand, has been heavily criticized for not putting pressure on African leaders about this issue.

And Obama’s visit to Kenya may provoke several protests. Members of an anti-gay organization have announced plans to protest naked in Nairobi in order to demonstrate their opposition to his support for minority, gay, lesbian and transsexual rights.

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