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Will the Obama administration show a greater interest in Africa in the second term?

Question submitted by Nuno Halpern, from West Sussex, September 30, 2013

Answered by: Jendayi Frazer, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Africa Studies

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The Obama administration is demonstrating a renewed interest in African economic partnerships after largely ignoring the continent during the president's first term. During his summer 2013 trip to Africa, President Obama articulated a policy focus on energy and business ventures. He announced that the United States would aim to expand sub-Saharan Africans' access to electricity and committed $7 billion over five years to the "Power Africa" initiative. He also vowed to send more trade missions to Africa and invite African leaders to a U.S. summit in 2014.

Furthermore, the appointment of specific individuals to major posts in the administration brings greater credibility to U.S.-Africa policy in Obama's second term. The president's new Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is a well-respected point person for U.S.-Africa relations who will be able to significantly enhance U.S. visits with African leaders and craft a coherent policy based on mutual economic interests. Obama's choice of Susan Rice—the former assistant secretary of state for African affairs—as the new National Security Adviser can bring greater strategic focus to his Africa policy. Michael Froman's appointment as the U.S. trade representative will likewise help elevate Africa as an important economic interest for the United States. Froman previously worked on President Obama's Africa Trade and Power initiatives as the former deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs and the U.S. sherpa to the G7, G8, and G20 summits.

Yet there is still room for the president to build on his Africa policy, especially in light of China's expanding influence in Africa. Last year, for instance, trade between the United States and Tanzania totaled $360.2 million, compared to $2.47 billion between China and Tanzania. By skipping Kenya on his Africa itinerary, Obama missed a prime opportunity to meet with President Uhuru Kenyatta, who just signed a $5 billion deal with China to build a new railway system. The Obama administration should not let another chance to strengthen its ties with the African continent drift away.