Obama looks to make amends with official visit to Africa

US President Barack Obama. (AFP)

US President Barack Obama. (AFP)

US President Barack Obama's re-election on Wednesday has put him in the face of an array of global challenges including complaints by several of Africa's leaders that he has not prioritised the continent high enough.

Obama travelled to Africa only once in 2009 when he made a short stop in Ghana to deliver a speech stressing the continent's importance for the world, the pivotal role of governance and the devastating effects of conflict and corruption on Africa's development.

This week, US state department officials defended Obama's record on Africa and assured foreign journalists at a post-election briefing on US foreign policy in Chicago on Wednesday that he was planning to embark on an official visit to Africa in 2013.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian John R Nay, elections and US foreign policy ambassador, said Obama and his strategists were quietly but intensely working on an official visit to Sub-Saharan Africa that would see him visiting, among others, South Africa.

"The relationship with the African continent continues to be important to president Obama and his administration in general. I expect a far stronger relationship during his second term in office and some continuous efforts to work closely with South Africa and many other African countries such as Nigeria and so on ... I am not sure about his schedule but I am sure he will visit Africa soon," said Nay, a former US ambassador to South Africa during former president Nelson Mandela's term in office.

Obama, who was born to an American mother and a Kenyan father, raised hopes among Africans when he was elected the first black US president but this optimism has since evaporated with the passage of time.

Political differences
His re-election this week after defeating Republican nominee Mitt Romney failed to rouse the same level of jubilation in Africa that took place across the continent following his election victory in 2008.

The US is increasingly seeking to deepen its engagement with Africa but this has not taken off because of ideological and political differences on many issues.

President Jacob Zuma's administration is known to be unhappy with the US because it has not shown full support for its bid to secure a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

The US and South Africa are also at loggerheads over Pretoria's apparent reluctance to cut business ties with Iran.

South Africa used to import a quarter of its crude oil from Iran but has since come under pressure to cut the shipments as part of sanctions designed to halt Tehran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The two countries also do not see eye-to-eye on the issue of Palestine's efforts to gain UN membership.

US strategy
"The [US's] policy has been that it is important that there must be an agreement reached that before we move forward in supporting Palestine's membership the country must first be a sovereign state. Once you start admitting organisations or countries to the UN that are not yet sovereign states where do you stop or start drawing the line," asked Nay.

Obama launched the "US strategy towards Sub-Saharan Africa" in June this year in the hope of cementing his administration's relationships with African leaders.

But some of the continent's leaders have argued that the investments made by American businesses continue to be low and have not shown any significant increase.

Zuma has, however, enthusiastically congratulated Obama on his re-election.

"We value our relations with the United States and look forward to strengthening bilateral cooperation in the years to come. South Africa is confident that the United States will continue to play a positive role in this regard," said Zuma in a media statement.

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012). Read more from Charles Molele

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