WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama wrapped up a weeklong visit to Africa on Tuesday, a tour overshadowed at times by the legacy of his predecessor and a political hero with a bid for his own mark on the continent.
Obama headed home to Washington after ending his tour of Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania with a pledge to help Africa with a seemingly simple service thats hampered the continents development: electricity. Nearly 70 percent of Africans dont have electricity, Obama said in Tanzania, calling it one of the biggest hurdles to Africas economic development.
The U.S. is committing some $7 billion toward Obamas initiative, Power Africa, to double access to electricity. Private companies have committed more than $9 billion.
Thats what all our efforts are going to be about: making sure that Africans have the tools to create a better life for their people, and that the United States is a partner in that process, Obama said.
Before the event, Obama appeared with former President George W. Bush, whom hed criticized on the campaign trail but whose dedication to eradicating disease and poverty in Africa he hailed at several points during this trip.
He and Bush stood side by side, heads bowed, in a moment of silence to remember the victims of an al Qaida terrorist attack. The two laid a wreath at a memorial for the victims of the August 1998 U.S. Embassy truck bombing in Dar es Salaam, which killed 10 Tanzanians and wounded more than 85 Americans and Tanzanians. They talked quietly with embassy staff whod survived the attack and with victims family members, but they didnt speak publicly.
That was left to their wives. First lady Michelle Obama shared the stage with her predecessor, Laura Bush, at a summit Bush hosted for African first ladies. The two talked about serving as modern first ladies and poked a little fun at their husbands as they championed efforts to empower women.
I want to encourage every first lady to speak out and speak up and let people know, because people are watching and they are listening, Laura Bush said. And you can be so constructive for your country if you speak up about issues that you think are important.
Obama invoked the focus on what she wears and how she styles her hair, telling the first ladies to ignore the critics.
We take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see, and eventually people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what were standing in front of, Obama said.
The appearance for the two presidents was coincidental, but Obama found himself faced with Bushs legacy numerous times during the trip, praising the former presidents commitment to Africa.
Bushs AIDS program cost billions and would be unlikely in the current political climate, said John Campbell, the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a research center.
Obamas power initiative also might have a far-reaching effect on the continent, Campbell said.
Its not as dramatic and it takes a lot longer, but the payoff for the continent could be considerable, he said.
The faltering health of former South African President Nelson Mandela cast a shadow over the trip, transforming Obamas visit to the country into a tribute to the anti-apartheid leader who inspired his political career.