WASHINGTON, May 21 – President Barack Obama will leave on a first African tour next month, visiting Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa, but his itinerary released on Monday bypasses Kenya, an ancestral homeland.
Obama disappointed many Africans by spending only a few hours in sub-Saharan Africa – in Ghana – during his first term, but is keen to implement a sweeping new regional strategy, prioritizing democracy and economic reform.
Speculation will center on whether America’s first black president will see ailing 94-year-old South African anti-Apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, on a trip on which he will be accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama.
The White House said the long-awaited visit was intended to underscore Obama’s “commitment to broadening and deepening cooperation between the United States and the people of sub-Saharan Africa” to advance peace and prosperity.
Obama will meet officials, businessmen, and civil society leaders, including young people, on the trip between June 26 – July 3 – an unusually long journey for a president who normally dashes across timezones on trips abroad.
But early scrutiny will concentrate as much on where he will not go in Africa, as his planned stops, with Kenya, the land of Obama’s late father, where he still has living relatives, a glaring omission.
Obama frequently uses his past and background to connect with foreigners, remembering his childhood stays while in Indonesia, his Irish heritage in Ireland, and as a Hawaii native, posing as America’s “first Pacific president.”
But politics appears to have scuppered hopes for Obama to reconnect with his roots in Kenya.
It would likely be seen as unseemly for Obama to appear with Uhuru Kenyatta, elected president in March, who is due to go on trial in July at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity in post-election violence in 2007-08.
An administration official said on condition of anonymity that Kenyatta’s election had been a complicating factor in setting Obama’s schedule in Africa.
Obama did visit Kenya in 2006, shortly after he was elected to the Senate, but before he announced his 2008 run for the White House.