National Edition

President Obama’s African trip emphasizes economic partnership over aid

Published: Tuesday, July 2 2013 5:15 p.m. MDT

U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama board Air Force One at the end of the final leg of their weeklong visit to Africa, at the Julius Nyerere airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Tuesday, July 2, 2013. President Barack Obama on Monday courted African business leaders and announced new trade initiatives to open up East Africa's markets to American businesses, as he sought to counter the rise of Chinese economic influence in the growing continent.

Ben Curtis, Associated Press

President Barack Obama ended his three-country tour of Africa Tuesday by meeting with former President George W. Bush to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the site of a terrorist bombing in 1998. Obama previously said that the meeting would be an opportunity to speak with Bush about the HIV/AIDS prevention program PEPFAR that Bush instituted during his first term in office. On his trip, Obama has responded to critics who say that unlike Bush, he has not paid enough attention to development and aid in Africa during his time as president.

The PEPFAR program has been very successful in reducing the levels of HIV/AIDS among the people of South Africa, according to the Washington Post. Rates of infection have fallen to 30 percent, and nearly 2 million people are on antiretroviral drugs. But since 2010, the budget for the PEPFAR program has been cut by more than 12 percent. This has left some advocates disappointed in the Obama administration’s commitment to reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS on the continent.

“Knowing that Africa has many challenges, with fighting AIDS being one of the biggest challenges, we were really expecting President Obama to continue where President Bush had left off,” Hilary Thulare, country director of the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told the Washington Post. “But it’s been a disappointment. Obama is retreating on AIDS and, by this, retreating on Africa.”

Obama has responded to these critics by saying the programs are running more efficiently and that the realities of the current economy and political climate make it more difficult to fund the program. "Given budget constraints, for us to try to get the kind of money President Bush was able to get out of a Republican House for massively scaled new foreign aid programs is very difficult," he told reporters during the trip.

Obama’s trip has reflected an African policy that is aimed more at development and trade than foreign aid, perhaps in response to China’s major investments in the continent. Africa's economies are growing faster than those of almost any other region of the world. And the three countries in which Obama stopped — Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania — have very different economies, but according to Quartz they share the distinctive feature that their trade with the U.S. is growing faster than the rest of Africa.

“I think everything we do is designed to make sure that Africa is not viewed as a dependent, as a charity case, but is instead viewed as a partner,” Obama said while in Cape Town, South Africa. He reinforced that message later in his trip. "We don't want to just provide food, we want to increase food self-sufficiency," Obama said at a news conference with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. "So ultimately, the goal here is for Africa to build Africa for Africans."

While in Cape Town, Obama pledged $7 billion to develop an electrical power grid in sub-Sarahan Africa over the next five years. Currently, two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to electricity, according to the White House. “It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs, and it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy,” he said.

EMAIL: dmerling@deseretnews.com

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