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us africa policy, obama, africa us relations
US First Lady Michelle Obama begins a six-day visit to southern Africa on Monday where she will meet anti-apartheid leaders and highlight the spread of democracy on the continent.
But the visit to South Africa and Botswana that ends on June 27 “has resurrected criticism among vocal groups who say they are disappointed that the first US president with African roots has not personally focused more on the region,” the Washington Post reported on Saturday.
The newspaper quoted analysts who note that Mr Obama has spent only 24 hours in black Africa since moving into the White House two-and-a-half years ago.
It is rumoured that the president may make a longer safari to Africa this year — possibly including a stop in Kenya — although the White House is not confirming such speculation.
But some African-Americans suggest that because of his Kenya ties, Mr Obama would make himself vulnerable to political attack at home if he were to be perceived as closely focused on Africa.
“If he shows too much interest in Africa, he’ll be criticised for favouritism,” Haskell Ward, senior vice-president of Seacom, suggested in a speech last month to a US-Africa business group in Chicago.
Expressive of low priority
Other critics contend that Mr Obama’s stay away is expressive of the low priority his administration assigns to Africa.
They point out that Mr Obama has yet to launch an initiative of the scope of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) developed by President Clinton or the President’s Emergency Programme for Aids Relief (Pepfar) established by George W. Bush.
Obama administration officials reject such charges, pointing to initiatives such as Feed the Future, which, they say, aims to help Africa develop its agriculture.
Mr Obama’s defenders further cite the administration’s efforts to promote democratic governance in Kenya and other African countries.
They further argue that critics of the president’s anti-Aids efforts fail to take account of the $63 billion Global Health Initiative that aims to integrate Pepfar into a larger public-health framework.
Michelle will visit the South African cities of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town and the Botswana capital, Gaborone.
She will be accompanied by her two daughters, Malia and Sasha on a trip that the White House says will focus on “youth leadership, education, health and wellness.”
The first lady will also be travelling with her mother, Marian Robinson, and two nephews.
She will visit several places that are symbols of South Africa’s decades-long anti-apartheid struggle, according to a schedule put out by the White House.
After meeting Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, the wife of South African president Jacob Zuma, on Tuesday, Mrs Obama will visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, where she will be guided on a tour by Former South African First Lady Graça Machel.
There were no plans announced to visit retired president Nelson Mandela, who, at 92, is in fragile health.
However, the White House has left open the possibility of a meeting with South Africa’s first black president.
“She will be paying tribute to President Mandela’s legacy throughout her visit.
She, of course, would treasure any opportunity to interact with President Mandela; it depends on his ability to receive visitors,” said Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security advisor.
Mr Rhodes said that the anti-apartheid struggle was “an inspiration to both South Africans and people across the continent, but of course so many people across the United States as well.”
He noted that President Obama has spoken repeatedly about the anti-apartheid movement, which he has called his first political cause.