By Charles Hallman
In spite of criticism and skepticism, President Barack Obama’s recent Africa trip has the potential to reap benefits for both this country and the African continent.
Prior to the trip, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, during a June 21 conference call in which the MSR participated, briefly addressed the criticism that the trip was too costly. “The costs for these types of trips, as well as any presidential trip” is determined by the Secret Service and the White House Military Office, explained Rhodes. “That’s been the case no matter who is president.
“We take this [African] region very seriously,” added Rhodes. “We see this as fundamental to maintaining our leadership in the 21st Century. There’s nothing that can make an impact more, in terms of our foreign policy and our economic and security interests, than the President of the United States coming and demonstrating the importance of our commitment to this region.”
Some even questioned whether the Obama African trip would have any effect for U.S. Black-owned businesses. However, the head of Minneapolis’ convention and visitors’ bureau disagreed.
“It certainly brings focus on the continent of Africa, and I think we will be able to build upon that trip in order to build the trade ties, cultural ties and economic ties,” believes Meet Minneapolis President and CEO Melvin Tennant. “It’s not only going to benefit the citizens of Africa, but also the citizens of Minneapolis. Minneapolis has a sister-city relationship with Eldoret, Kenya,” noted Tennant.
During Obama’s second trip to sub-Sahara Africa since being elected president, he met with African business leaders in Senegal, participated in a youth town-hall meeting in Tanzania, visited South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and spoke at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
“It is a special joy to welcome the president to Africa, the continent of his forbears, the cradle of humanity,” proclaimed Tutu. “When you became the first Black incumbent of the White House, you don’t know what you did for our psyches. And you repeated the feat when the odds were stacked against you.”
“America has been involved in Africa for decades,” noted the U.S. president. “But we are moving beyond the simple program of assistance, foreign aid, to a new model of partnership…a partnership of equals that focuses on your capacity to solve problems, and your capacity to grow.
“I see Africa as the world’s next major economic success story,” predicted Obama, who while in Africa also announced several new initiatives:
• A $7 billion energy program over the next five years in such countries as Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania that is expected to double electricity access to over two-thirds of the population in countries that currently don’t have it, including over 85 percent of rural residents.
• A five-year fellowship program to bring at least 1,000 young African leaders to U.S. universities and colleges each year, beginning in 2014, as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative Obama started in 2010.
• A trade partnership with five East African countries — Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda — to increase exports from these countries by 40 percent.
First Lady Michelle Obama also appeared at a young people’s forum in South Africa that was televised throughout Africa. “I learn from young people every day, but what I hope for all of you here and out there and all the young people who are seeing this [is] that this is the beginning of a conversation that you are going to keep having with one another.”
The Obamas also visited Goree Island in Senegal, where millions of Africans once were enslaved and sent to America and other foreign lands. “It’s a very powerful moment…especially for Michelle and Malia and my mother-in-law to be able to come here and to fully appreciate the magnitude of the slave trade,” said President Obama.
“We pray for you to be a great success,” said Tutu to America’s first Black president. “We pray that you will be known as having brought peace in all of these places where there is strife. We are bound to you — you belong to us. And your victory is our victory.”
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