Obama’s visit: Setting the record straight


READING the so-called independently owned newspapers this week, one got the impression that United States President, Barack Obama was at the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, addressing the bloc’s 53 heads of state.
Screaming headlines such as ‘Obama excludes Mugabe from AU meeting’, were the order of the week.
After reading one of the stories in the NewsDay that said Mugabe will not be among several African leaders scheduled to meet visiting US President Barack Obama, one was forced to consult the internet just to find out the other heads of state who had attended the meeting.
There weren’t any.
They were a few links such as www.the.star.co.ke that had headlines such as Remarks by US President Barack Obama to heads of state at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
But after opening that link there were no heads of states.
Obama never met with any other heads of state besides Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Dasalegn as heads of their countries.
And when he visited the AU headquarters which was built by the Chinese, he was not there to address any African heads of state.
He was there to meet the AU staff members.
And President Mugabe who is the AU Chair had delegated the AU Commission Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to meet Obama on his behalf.
Obama held a bilateral meeting with Nkosazana-Zuma and other officials of the continental bloc.
“The chairman does not run the AU centre,” said Presidential spokesperson George Charamba in response to the NewsDay.
“Obama has come to Ethiopia for an official visit and to address the staff there.
“There are many dignitaries who come to the AU headquarters and you can imagine if all come wanting the President’s input.”
Barack Obama is just a head of state of another country and Madam Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is big enough to receive him.
She has received many dignitaries including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang before.
Obama might be the first sitting American president to visit the AU, but he is not the first leader from outside Africa to do so.
Many people thought Obama’s trip to Ethiopia was just another visit.
However, his speech at the AU Headquarters was appealing to Africa to do business with the US.
It is not a secret that America is threatened by the Chinese presence in Africa.
Obama speaking to the BBC said China had been, “able to funnel an awful lot of money in Africa, basically in exchange for raw materials that are being extracted in Africa.”
“What is certainly true is that the United States has to have a presence to promote the values that we care about.”
Trade between China and Africa, valued at US$222 billion in 2014, has been rising swiftly and is now about three times the amount of trade between the United States and Africa, according to figures from the World Bank and the American government.
That is the imbalance Obama hopes to correct in his short-lived term.
Remember in 2013 when President Kenyatta ran for president, American officials did not hold their tongues.
The Obama administration’s top official for Africa at the time issued a veiled warning, reminding the Kenyans that ‘choices have consequences’.
And when Kenyatta took office, he said it was time to ‘look East’ instead of West.
On his first trip out of the country he chose Beijing and Moscow perhaps because the Chinese and Russians are mutual business partners.
America and Western Europe on the other hand want to control.
It’s the colonial mentality hangover.


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