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Obama, off to Africa, aims to reenergize US role there. Is time ripe?

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Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made strides in US Africa policy, but then “President Obama came in, and there was a sense of stall,” says Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington. “Africa just seemed to fall away in terms of excitement, in terms of energy and momentum.”

White House officials insist that the administration is serious about reenergizing the US role in Africa beyond what Ms. Cooke calls the “maintenance mode” of Obama’s first term. They say he will signal that new commitment not only through the 500 US business leaders who will accompany the president at some point on his trip, but also through his emphasis on the US “model” of a mutually beneficial relationship.

“The type of leadership that the US brings to the continent uniquely advances opportunities for more Africans, and frankly, we believe represents a better model of engagement not just for the United States, but for democratic development on the continent,” says Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. Citing “our democratic values … our businesses and … our focus on capacity-building for African solutions,” Mr. Rhodes says the American development model “is ultimately going to be welcomed on the continent” because it will be seen as in the interest of the widest range of Africans.

Given Africa’s emergence, they’ll be making determinations about their own futures and about their own partners," Rhodes says. “And we believe that what the United States brings to the table is a model of partnership that serves our interest but also the interest of people in sub-Saharan Africa.”

No one expects Obama to draw a specific comparison with China, but his emphasis on the broad advantages of partnering with the US will be clear enough, some regional experts say.

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