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A Cold Reception May Face President Obama at White House Africa Summit

By Andrea Billups   |   Monday, 04 Aug 2014 01:58 PM

President Obama may face a colder-than-expected reception from African leaders as he presides over a White House summit with 50 heads of state this week.

After a 2009 speech, which energized renewed hopes of a greater U.S. involvement and investment in Africa, those expectations have fallen away as little has changed under his leadership, POLITICO magazine reported.

“We realize that he is an American president, not an African president,” Maurice Okec Othiambo, a teacher at Kenya's Barack Obama Secondary School, told the magazine. “But we expected more. Our expectations have pretty much died out.”

Obama was ambitious when he spoke before parliament in Accra, Ghana, five years ago to lay out a broad vision and partnership for the two nations. But since then, corruption has flourished and even China has led the U.S. in investment in Africa.

“He has had very little impact on governance in Africa, which remains a highly corrupt continent,” said Adam Thiam, a journalist and former Harvard fellow who runs a website in Mali.

Despite the president's African heritage and relatives that remain in the country, “I would say that Obama represents a lost opportunity,” Thiam noted.

What progress has been made for Africa's interests and with American aid for its struggling residents could be overshadowed at the U.S.-Africa Leader's Summit by fears of the continent's ongoing Ebola epidemic as well as a growing climate of terrorism, the Wall Street Journal noted. The presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone will stay home to deal with the disease crisis.

Those issues could also impede any business growth in Africa from the rest of the world, the Journal added.

Some believe the president will use the global meeting in Washington to tighten the nation's circle with Africa amid concerns that China's influence is broadening, the U.K.'s The Guardian reported, noting the summit's focus on trade and business.

The president's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, pushed back on the notion that the summit was to shore up an alliance in the face of Chinese growth, but others believe that is the event's biggest purpose.

"The administration won't tell you that but it's at the front of their mind. America is losing influence and respect in Africa," Melvin Foote, founder of the Constituency for Africa, told the Guardian. "I hear it whenever I travel there."

One human rights activist and U.N. official told POLITICO that it may have been wrong for some Africans to have grand expectations of Obama's power there, even with his family connections.

“A lot of Africans wanted him to visit more, be seen more, use his moral pulpit more. But he’s had to put his focus on domestic health care and other issues, and Africa was moved off the agenda,” noted attorney Maina Kiai of Kenya, who serves as the U.N.'s special rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

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President Obama may face a colder-than-expected reception from African leaders as he presides over a White House summit with 50 heads of state this week.
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