, CAPE TOWN, Jul 1 – President Barack Obama heads to Tanzania Monday, on the last leg of an African tour in which ailing Nelson Mandela’s offstage presence complicated a key US diplomatic push in a rising continent.
Obama warned on Sunday that Africa could only fulfil its destiny with leaders who strive to improve the lives of their people, and his stop in Tanzania is intended to boost a democracy viewed with approval in Washington.
He will be hot on the heels of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who included Tanzania on his first overseas tour in March. Talk of an economic rivalry in Africa between Washington and Beijing has been a theme of Obama’s trip.
Obama spent the weekend paying homage to Mandela, the political hero who drew him into politics, on an ascent that led him to become the first black president in America, a country, like South Africa, with a tainted racial past.
He decided not to visit the father of modern South Africa, who lies critically ill in a Pretoria hospital, but paid repeated tribute to his legacy, painting him as one of history’s most important political figures.
On Sunday, Obama stood in the tiny cell once occupied by Mandela on Robben Island outside Cape Town, and took his daughters to the lime quarry where Mandela and fellow prisoners once did futile, back-breaking, hard labour.
Later, in a speech at Cape Town University, Obama decried “thugs and warlords” who hold back the promise in Africa.
In a strident call for democratic change and good governance, Obama used the political legacy of Mandela and South Africa’s emergence from grim years of racist apartheid rule as proof that freedom will ultimately prevail.
“History shows us that progress is only possible where governments exist to serve their people and not the other way around,” said Obama, drawing loud and prolonged cheers from his audience of more than 1,000 people.
While Africa is “on the move,” progress is based on a fragile foundation, Obama said.
In Tanzania, Obama will hold talks and a press conference with President Jakaya Kikwete and visit the Ubungo power plant, after unveiling a new $7 billion program to enhance Africa’s electric power networks.
He will also lay a wreath at a memorial to those killed in the US embassy bombing in 1998.
His wife Michelle Obama will take part in a First Ladies forum hosted by her predecessor in the role, Laura Bush.