Obama was jealous of Michelle’s visit to SA

2012-11-10 15:15

US ambassador regrets that America’s first black president has not visited SA, but says there is something about Africa ingrained in him

It’s been the briefest of celebrations after US President Barack Obama’s decisive win over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Urgent economic challenges, a looming fiscal showdown and a still-divided Congress able to block his every move have meant that victory parties for Obama are brief. After all, there is work to be done.

“The expectations are high,” US ambassador to South Africa ­Donald Gips said on Friday.

He regrets that Obama has not visited South Africa.

“My biggest disappointment is that we couldn’t get him here. He was planning to come for the World Cup, but then we had an oil spill,” Gips explains, referring to the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gips said Obama was “a little jealous” that his wife, Michelle, and their daughters were able to come to South Africa.

Although Obama has spent less than 24 hours in Africa during his presidency – during just one brief visit to Ghana – Gips insisted he was engaged with issues on the continent.

He recalled how he went to brief Obama for a meeting with ­President Jacob Zuma on the ­sidelines of the nuclear summit in 2010.

“He knows more than you do. He had all these facts and it’s because he cares.

“He stays involved. There’s something about Africa ingrained in him.”

The US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) will be scaled down in South Africa because the programme will be handed over to the government this year.

Gips says Pepfar funding across Africa will remain the same, but money will be redirected to countries that don’t have a grip on the epidemic.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) expires in 2015.

Through Agoa, South Africa exports 98% of its products duty-free to the US.

“South Africa needs to do its part to convince Congress. The business environment must be equal and fair so that US companies can get on a level playing field,” Gips said.

In the US, Obama has to fill key positions in his Cabinet and in the White House.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have indicated they will be leaving soon. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta also wants to retire next year.

When asked if Clinton is stepping down to prepare for a presidency bid in 2016, Gips said she didn’t need to decide just yet because a presidential campaign did not need to start straight away.

“She would be a fantastic president. She is one of the most popular politicians in the US.”

Clinton is rumoured to be aiming to succeed Obama and, by serving in his Cabinet as foreign minister, she would have earned his endorsement as Democratic Party candidate.

Obama’s re-election generated sighs of relief around most parts of the world, but he still faces major challenges abroad, including Iran and its nuclear programme, the civil war in Syria, the winding down of the war in Afghanistan and dealing with an increasingly assertive China.

Obama re-election speech

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