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Africans Disappointed, Indifferent About Obama Visit

posted 20 Jun 2013, 07:04 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 20 Jun 2013, 07:04 ]

Africans share mixed feelings of disappointment and indifference over US President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to the continent - only his second toAfrica since he took office five years ago.

 KOGELO, KENYA   (REUTERS) -  In 2006, US president Barack Obama visited Kenya as an American senator. He had been to the east African nation several times before but never as such a high profile government official.

Embracing his grandmother, "Mama Sarah Obama" as the media jostled with US security agents, it was then that many Kenyans should have began to realise that the son of one of their own - from the tiny village of Kogelo, did not belong tp them after all.

Kenya and Africa in general, celebrated when Obama became the first African-American to be elected president of the United States in 2008.

Now as president Obama and his wife, Michelle, prepare to travel to Senegal,South Africa and Tanzania late in June, some Kenyans feel jilted, as he leaves his father's home country out of a second Africa visit. Others remain aloof.

"I am angry that our son from home, especially from Nyanza, which is where I am from, has not made a stopover in Kenya. you know as the president of America, he is a super power so if he had come, I would have been very happy and I would have been proud as a Kenyan, for a fellow Kenyan to come and say hello to me," said Kefa Abong'o, a businessman in Nairobi.

"To me I don't see any problem because when Clinton was the president he never came that was back in 1998 he never came in Kenya. The same same thing applies to when the other presidents who have not been in Kenya, so I believe Kenyans have been rebelling against them so it is not an issue, to me it don't see any problem with them not coming to Kenya," said John Macharia an IT professional.

Nairobi based political and economic analyst Aly Khan Satchu says he is not suprised Kenya is not on Obama's itinerary. Kenya's president Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy president, William Ruto are both facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"There was a strong emotional bond, but clearly the political imperative for president Obama was that he could not be seen shaking hands with somebody, whoever, anyone who's currently going through the court process of the ICC, that would have been a brutal domestic blowback for president Obama domestically," he said.

In fact, Obama, who hailed his "African blood within me", only visited the wider sub-Saharan Africa once in his four years - a stopover of less than a day in Ghana in between summits elsewhere.

Many Africa's felt their enthusiasm for Obama was not requited by him in terms of increased U.S. commitment and fresh concrete initiatives on the world's poorest continent.

Satchu believes that Obama's second term, in which he will now visit three African nations, may be different.

"You are one of us just come around, give us a hug, let us feel that connection that we feel is there. So I think president Obama had to be seen as an American president of the United States of America and because of that he downplayed the African connection. Now in the second term I think there is an opportunity for president Obama to re-engage with the continent, ignite that soft power he has as a son of Africa and build on that and I think we are going to see a definite trend change in the way president Obama behaves with the African continent," he said.

On the streets of some African nations, there is a mix of disappointment and indifference with Obama, reflecting the continent-wide attention that this US president draws.

"I think when Obama came to power, we were happy especially in Africa because it was a miracle to see a black man, leading a country like the United States, because we never thought it was possible. But I think that with a second term, he can still catch up on what was lost. It is not too late, I think that with his second term, he will want to face Africa, and help Africa," said Theodore Tieby in Abidjan.

"To me Obama cannot change Africa, what will he do for Africa? Yes we hear he is coming to visit, he is coming to visit but what will he do for Africa? He is the president of the United States, he will come to visit just like any other presidents have, just like our president would go visit the US. It's not because he is the president of the US that he will come and change Africa," Narcisse Tohoua, also inAbidjan.

"I wish Obama would visit countries that have major problems, because since 1996Congo has experienced many problems. Because when a president from a super power

visits, you can feel relief amongst the people. But he (Obama) has only been visiting stable countries, stable democratic countries like GhanaSenegal, so based on his visits, I do not see a determination on his end to encourage democracy like he claims," said Dieudonne Manga in Kinshasa.

"We think that it's important for president Obama not to forget his roots, as he is of African origin. From time to time, it would be nice for him to visit Africa, for his own good, but also to examine the problems that Africans face, and from that perspective, I think he would be very welcomed," said Vincent Depaul in Kinshasa.

The White House said in a statement announcing Obama's trip, which will go from June 26 to July 3 he will meet with leaders from government, business and civil society to reinforce U.S. Africa ties.