By comparison, Obama visited one country in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana, for less than 24 hours in his first term, and he’s visiting three countries on this trip, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
Bush helped broker peace in warring Sudan, and he proposed creating the Millennium Challenge Corporation – a foreign aid agency that’s primarily helped Africa – and a pair of programs to combat malaria and AIDS/HIV.
Obama has continued two of Bush’s biggest successes: the Millennium Challenge Corporation – which has approved more than $8.4 billion in programs worldwide in agriculture, transportation, water supply and sanitation, education and other areas – and the AIDS relief programs.
Some anti-AIDS activists accuse Obama of reducing money for the AIDS program. The White House says Obama has increased funding for overall global health programs as he looks to turn the initiatives into a comprehensive approach to health. Obama himself chafed at the criticism, telling reporters on this trip that he couldn’t get as much money out of a Republican-led House of Representatives as Bush did.
“Given the budget constraints, for us to try to get the kind of money that President Bush was able to get out of the Republican House for massively scaled new foreign-aid programs is very difficult,” he said. “We could do even more with more resources. But if we’re working smarter, the amount of good that we can bring about over the next decade is tremendous.”
On Sunday, Obama tried to forge his own agenda in Africa in a broad speech, pledging that the United States would do its part, not by offering a handout but by partnering with African governments and private companies to lure businesses to the continent. He promised “a new chapter” in U.S.-African relations.
“I think everything we do is designed to make sure that Africa is not viewed as a dependent, as a charity case, but is instead viewed as a partner; that instead of chronically receiving aid, it is starting to get involved in trade, get involved in production, and over time is going to be able to feed itself, house itself and produce its own goods,” he said. “And that’s what Africa wants.”
The most ambitious proposal is a $7 billion program to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. Obama also pledged to continue a program he started to help farmers produce new technologies.
Still, African experts say Obama’s overall long-term strategy is still a work in progress.
“President Bush . . . you could actually sense a real enthusiasm when he talked about Africa and his African trips and his African initiatives, and you don’t quite get that now,” Jennifer Cooke, the director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. “And I think this is President Obama’s opportunity to kind of reignite not only himself but Africans and the U.S. bureaucracy.”