J. Peter Pham, an Africa specialist at the Atlantic Council, a Washington, D.C. think tank, noted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made Africa a diplomatic priority in Obama’s first term, visiting 23 of the continent’s 54 countries. Pham said Obama has yet to fully deploy “the immense personal capital” he has on reserve in Africa.
The White House and State Department declined to comment on whether Obama will spend more time in Africa. Johnnie Carson, the State Department’s top Africa official, said this month that the Obama administration has helped Somalia stabilize and South Sudan gain independence and that the U.S. has provided more aid to Africa the last four years than any other country.
Obama’s national security adviser said in November that the president’s time is the White House’s most valuable resource, and Doherty said Obama’s lack of time in Africa reflects compelling global priorities, not a lack of importance for Africa.
Though Obama’s father is Kenyan, there is a perception that the younger George W. Bush did a lot more for Africa and Africans, said Seay, especially after the creation of the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, a $15 billion commitment to fight HIV/AIDS.
But even if Obama hopes to visit his father’s homeland, he may not be able to politically if Kenya’s March presidential election turns as violent as the last one. One top presidential contender faces trial at the International Criminal Court over accusations he orchestrated tribal violence that killed more than 1,000 Kenyans in 2007-08.
“It’s certainly the case that presidents of both parties spend more time in countries that have long traditions of clean democratic elections,” said Doherty, the author of “The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign.” ”I would not be surprised if the aftermath of the Kenyan elections last time added to the president’s team’s hesitance to send him to Kenya.”
Seay said that if this year’s election goes smoothly, she wouldn’t be surprised if Obama visits. Many in Kenya would love to see that happen.
“He is a symbol for hope, and a role model for upcoming politicians who can change the way Kenya is run by following his footsteps,” said Ochieng, the Kenyan political leader. “Kenyan politicians can learn from Obama that politics should be issue-based, not the tribal kind of politics we practice here.”