Campbell said Obama handled the situation deftly, declining a visit with the hospitalized Mandela out of deference to the ailing former leaders peace and comfort.
Leaders in some other African nations have been criticized in recent weeks for visiting Mandela, and with the large security force required for a presidential trip, an Obama visit might have been viewed as arrogant and insensitive, Campbell said.
Instead, Obama met with the former presidents family, paid tribute to his legacy in remarks in Cape Town and visited Robben Island, where Mandela had been imprisoned for 18 years.
The administration acknowledged ahead of the trip that thered been great disappointment on the continent that the first African-American U.S. president hadnt made Africa a priority in his first term, and Obama told a group of business leaders in Tanzania that he was making the trip early in his second term because I intend for this to be the beginning of a new level of economic engagement with Africa.
He pledged to build on the trip, and said his treasury and energy secretaries would visit the region soon; Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker plans a major trade mission to Africa, Obama said.
Some U.S. business leaders had expressed disappointment that private companies werent more active on the visit; Obama said his administration planned a major conference for American investors on doing business in Africa.
Though the president said he considered Africa the worlds next major economic success story, the U.S. is playing catch-up with emerging economic powers such as India and China, which overtook the U.S. as Africas largest trading partner in 2009.
Across the board, we want to step up our game, Obama told the business leaders.
If there was disappointment with the president, it wasnt apparent by the reception. In Tanzania, crowds lined the main road from the airport to watch his motorcade roar past. And the name of the road is scheduled for a change: It soon will be known as Barack Obama Drive.
VIDEO: Obama vows to help Africa build `Africa for Africans