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Obama in Africa: Can US rival China's new clout?

President Obama arrives in Ghana this weekend, but China's booming Africa presence may mean that he'll have less leverage to advance US interests than his predecessors.

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When President Obama lands in Ghana's capital, Accra, this weekend for his first presidential trip to sub-Saharan Africa, thousands of cheering fans will welcome him with pro-Obama banners, flags, and road signs, many of them homemade.

But most of the landmarks his motorcade is likely to pass – Accra's national theater, the Defense Ministry, the presidential palace, and a presidential mausoleum – were built with Chinese money, more often than not by Chinese contractors.

Mr. Obama commands popular adoration in Africa that no world leader can match. But analysts say that he may have less leverage than his predecessors when it comes to advancing US interests – increasing US business involvement in Africa and promoting democracy – in large part due to China's booming Africa presence.

"America needs to know that Africa has options," says Adama Gaye, economist and editor for West Africa magazine. "We are no longer in the unipolar moment [right after] the cold war. Today, America is a bankrupt country, and China appears as a rising power with financial muscle and a properly defined strategy."

Boom in China-Africa trade

China is buying up Africa's resources, breaking into industries that the West has dominated, and others it hasn't, and is complicating Western aid efforts by undertaking development projects with some of Africa's most reviled regimes.

And they are defying some of the economic downturn's gravity: In Ghana, the Chinese are carrying on with commitments like roads, telecommunication lines, and a 400-megawatt hydrodam.


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