The president's trip to Ghana challenges him to build on the work of his predecessors.
Every recent US president has faced major crises in Africa – the Rwanda genocide, US embassy bombings, Darfur, Zimbabwe. Barack Obama, who makes his first presidential visit to sub-Saharan Africa July 10 and 11, inherits several of these crises. Others loom.
The lesson for Mr. Obama? To develop a cohesive strategy for Africa that gets at those conditions that may lead to conflict.
His two recent predecessors gave him something to start with. Bill Clinton put Africa firmly on Washington's foreign-policy agenda – an accomplishment in itself. Eventually, his boosterism culminated in a hard-won Africa trade agreement, but its potential is far from realized.
George W. Bush invested in a spending surge on HIV/AIDS, changing the narrative from funerals to hope for millions of Africans. And in a program known as the Millennium Challenge, he linked development grants to criteria: good governance, investment in health and education, and sound economic policies. Still, little money has actually been disbursed.
These have been important additions to US policy in Africa, but they are just points in a picture – not a fully framed vision. Obama's challenge is to fill in the missing pieces so they fit together as a whole. And this at a time of tremendous pressure on US spending.