Obama to visit Africa – and SA’s on the bill

2013-03-10 10:00

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American President Barack Obama is coming to South Africa this year – his advisers are just trying to decide on the best time for the visit.

Obama was heavily criticised for failing to visit the land of his father’s birth, Kenya, during his first term as president, between 2008 and 2012.

During his most recent election campaign, he was accused by African-American organisations of neglecting that constituency during his first term in the Oval Office.

Now Obama’s advisers are mulling over having the president visit Kenya shortly after the conclusion of that country’s elections, in a bid to show his commitment to the democratic process in Africa.

“Obama’s visit to Africa will rest on four pillars: democracy building, security, trade and development,” a US government official told City Press. “A visit to Kenya will satisfy the first pillar.”

Another option being mooted by his advisers is to have Obama attend the special African Union (AU) summit to be held in Ethiopia in May.

The summit will celebrate 50 years since the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor of the AU.

“This will be an opportunity for the president to meet everybody in one go, and then no one will feel left out,” the official said.

Obama’s second visit to Africa – in July last year he visited Ghana – will include some time in South Africa, government officials confirm.

City Press reported that he was jealous of the good time his wife, Michelle, had when she visited South Africa last year with their daughters and her mother.

Meanwhile, Obama is soon set to announce that his former political director Patrick Gaspard will be the new US ambassador to South Africa.

Gaspard is known as “a policy guy”, officials say, and will therefore be more knowledgeable on US domestic policy than most ambassadors are.

Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the 45-year-old Gaspard’s parents moved from their native Haiti in answer to former Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba’s call for French-speaking academics of African descent to move back to Africa.

Gaspard was three when his parents packed up again, for New York this time.

He was part of Jesse Jackson’s 1998 presidential campaign and later served in the campaign of David Dinkins, who became the first African-American mayor of New York.

It was in his capacity as a member of Dinkins’ delegation that he travelled to South Africa in 1992 and met former president Nelson Mandela.

Gaspard will take up the reins from Donald Gips, who was a key fundraiser for Obama before becoming ambassador to South Africa.

In April, a conference is due to be held in Addis Ababa about the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gives preferential US import concessions to some African countries, including South Africa.

Gaspard will have to convince South Africa to reciprocate on this arrangement because the Republican-run Congress insists that middle-income countries should not get such preferential treatment.

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