DAKAR, Jun 27 – US President Barack Obama met Thursday with Senegal President Macky Sall, but the rest of his Africa tour was shrouded in doubt with Nelson Mandela apparently slipping ever closer to death.
Obama was due to travel on to South Africa on Friday, but his plans could change should the country be plunged into mourning before he arrives on the second leg of a tour of a continent where he has deep ancestral roots.
White House officials have declined to comment on contingency plans for the trip, which is also scheduled to include a visit to Tanzania, but behind the scenes they were working to respond to various possible scenarios.
Obama and his wife Michelle arrived at Senegal’s presidential palace, where the presidents will hold a press conference, before the US leader heads to the Supreme Court in Dakar to discuss the rule of law.
Washington is keen to highlight Muslim-majority Senegal as an example of democracy and good governance in a corner of Africa plagued by instability and the threat of Islamic extremism in neighbouring Mali.
Then, in a moment of high symbolism, Obama, America’s first black president, will take a ferry to Goree Island off the Senegal coast, a memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Africans claimed by the slave trade.
In a “full circle” moment of history, Obama, the son of a Kenyan father, and his wife Michelle, the descendent of slaves, will acknowledge a dark period of American and African history which still resonates today.
“There’s this link between Obama, an American originating from Africa through his father, and his wife, an African-American originating from Africa through her ancestors,” said House of Slaves curator Eloi Coly.
“I think with all these ingredients gathered together, this visit by the Obamas should be very special.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the visit would be an important moment.
“A visit like this by an American President, any American President, is powerful,” he told reporters.
“I think that will be the case when President Obama visits and I’m sure particularly so, given that he is African-American.”
The US president’s arrival in Africa came at a delicate time as the world prepared to say a farewell to Mandela.