Obama’s historic visit to Africa among other American leaders

When President Barack Obama’s plane touches down in Kenya today, he will be writing history as the first sitting US president to visit the East African country in a world where presidents are still judged on their global itinerary.

The African continent has rarely been considered an important partner in the US global foreign policy. And in the few cases that it has, the honour has largely gone to Egypt, which has gobbled up about 50 per cent of the trips to Africa by sitting US presidents.

That marks the importance attached to the country as the fulcrum in the debate of peace in the middle east.

Jimmy Carter was the first sitting US president to visit an independent Sub- Saharan African state when he went to Nigeria, a nation that provided nearly 40 per cent of America’s crude oil imports, in 1978.

Earlier, Franklin Roosevelt had travelled to Liberia to meet President Edwin Barclay in an informal visit in 1943.

Cairo conference

President Obama is among the only seven sitting US presidents who have visited Africa since 1900. US presidents have only visited 13 African countries while still in office, meaning that 75 per cent of African countries have never played host to a sitting US president.

According to the website of the US Department of State’s Office of the Historian, only 115 countries have hosted sitting US presidents.

In Africa, sitting US presidents have visited Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Liberia, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda.

President Roosevelt travelled to Morocco in January 1943 to attend the Casablanca Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

After leaving Morocco, he crossed over to Liberia for an informal visit where he also met President Arthur Barclay.

Months later, in November 1943, Roosevelt made an overnight stop in Tunisia, en route to Egypt, where he was attending the First Cairo Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

He went back to Cairo in December 1943 for the Second Cairo Conference with Churchill and Turkish President Inonu.

In February 1945, Roosevelt went back to Egypt where he met with with King Farouk, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, Saudi Arabian King Ibn Saud, and Churchill.

In December 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower travelled to Tunisia to meet President Habib Bourguiba and then to Morocco where he held talks with King Mohammed V.

Richard Nixon travelled to Egypt in 1974 to meet President Anwat Sadat. Four years later, Jimmy Carter went back to Egypt to meet President Anwar Sadat and German Chancellor Schmidt.

In 1978, Carter became the first sitting US President to visit Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, where he met President Olesegun Obasanjo. He left Nigeria for Liberia to meet with President William R Tolbert.

In March 1979, Carter travelled to Cairo where he met President Sadat.

Relief workers

George W Bush visited Egypt in 1990 to discuss the Persian Gulf crisis with President Hussein Mubarak. Three years later, he travelled to the towns of Mogadishu, Baidoa and Baledogle in Somalia to visit international relief workers and US military personnel.

Bill Clinton, who has been seen as a friend of Africa, made numerous trips to the continent during his ten-year tenure.

Clinton’s numerous trips to Sub-Saharan Africa during his presidency included Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Nigeria.

However, Clinton’s highly publicised visit to Africa came only after his administration received worldwide condemnation for its refusal to intervene as part of an international peace keeping force to avert the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Clinton was to respond with increased American financial assistance to fight the HIV/AIDs virus that by that time had claimed 17 million African lives. He was criticised for responding too late.

In 1994, President Clinton travelled to Egypt to meet President Mubarak and Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat and travelled back to the country in 1996 to attend the Summit of the Peacemakers.

After Egypt, he travelled to Ghana in 1998 to meet President Rawlings and to visit a Peace Corps project, then journeyed to Uganda where he met President Yoweri Museveni and the presidents of Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and the Congo.

Public addresses

He then left Uganda for Rwanda where he became the first sitting US president to deliver a public address. He also met with President Pasteur Bizimungu.

After Rwanda,  Clinton went to South Africa to meet President Nelson Mandela. He addressed a joint session of parliament before travelling to Botswana to meet President Quett Ketumile Joni Masire.

Clinton concluded his trip in Africa by delivering several public addresses, visiting Senegalese peacekeeping troops and meeting with President Abdou Diouf in Senegal.

He travelled back to Morocco in 1999 for the funeral of King Hassan II.

In 2000, Clinton made another round of visits to Africa - travelling to Nigeria, Tanzania and Egypt.