A Conversation on President Obama’s Trip to Africa

In advance of President Obama’s trip to Africa, where he will visit Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, Brookings scholars Mwangi Kimenyi and Witney Schneidman, and Haroon Bhorat of the University of Cape Town discuss the top agenda items of the trip and U.S.-Africa relations. Topics covered include: Obama’s relationship with Africa, how Africans perceive Obama, U.S.-Africa relations over the last two decades, economic development and growth in the region, security, terrorism, HIV/AIDS, trade, investment and aid.

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Mwangi Kimenyi: 

“Africans were very excited when President Obama was elected and they expected deeper engagement than in the past, both in regard to policy and also in terms of actual visits to the continent given the president’s African heritage. On the policy side, Africans have been gradually disappointed, especially when they look at the focus on Africa by previous presidents, in particular President Clinton and President George W. Bush, who did quite a bit there.” 

Witney Schneidman: 

“I think this trip has the potential for laying the groundwork for a pivot to Africa. Whether that pivot is realized remains to be seen over the next several years, but I think that a number of things are in place that augur for a more dynamic U.S. policy.” 

Haroon Bhorat: 

“There hasn’t really been a presence of U.S. companies since 1994 taking advantage of the new opportunities in South Africa. And then mainly the new ones are taken up by China, by India and, to some extent, even by Russia. So you see new emerging markets entering into other emerging markets like South Africa and taking advantage of economic opportunities in a way where U.S., with a foothold, arguably hasn’t done enough.”