Thursday, January 24, 2013

Obama Re-election Opens Door For Return Visit to Africa


With messy recession politics and a second presidential campaign in his rear view, President Obama may be able to refocus on Africa during the next four years. During his first term the president only managed to visit sub-Saharan Africa for a single day, making a brief stop in Ghana. As a U.S. senator, Obama visited his father’s homeland of Kenya, where his ancestral roots are widely celebrated.

“I’m positive that before my service as president is completed, I will visit Kenya again,” Obama promised Kenya’s state broadcaster in summer 2010.

The continent is often a low priority in American politics, as attention is focused on more high-profile relationships and concerns in Europe and in the Middle East. Obama also spent a large portion of his first term dealing with domestic issues such as health care and a recession economy. Now, the nation’s political climate should allow Obama to keep his promise.

“Presidents do take special pleasure in traveling to places where they have ancestral ties,” presidential historian Brandon Doherty told The Associated Press. “Given the large role that Africa plays in the family history of President Obama, I’d be really surprised if he didn’t travel there in the second term.”

Doherty notes that a return to Kenya specifically may be hard to manage, because of the country’s tumultuous election history.

In 2007, Kenya’s presidential election sparked widespread violence between ethnic groups across the nation, resulting in over 1,000 deaths and displacing 600,000 people, according to a report from the Overseas Development Institute. With general elections due in March, Kenya may once again be in a state of unrest.

“It’s certainly the case that presidents of both parties spend more time in countries that have long traditions of clean democratic elections,” Doherty said. “I would not be surprised if the aftermath of the Kenyan elections last time added to the president’s team’s hesitance to send him to Kenya.”

Obama’s sole visit to sub-Saharan Africa during his first term follows a trend set by his predecessors. Bill Clinton never made it to the region during his first four years, and George W. Bush only visited Somalia during his first term in office. However, both men made time to visit multiple African countries during their second terms, with Clinton reaching six nations in sub-Saharan Africa, and Bush touring five.