Africa comes to the White House

U.S. President Barack Obama met his first African leader in the White House earlier this week — Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. The two talked the talk on everything from “health, education, and agriculture, and working with other partners in the region to solve some of the most pressing conflicts on the African continent,” according to ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
585342_090603_tanzania2.jpg
585342_090603_tanzania2.jpg
WASHINGTON - MAY 21: (AFP OUT) President Jakaya Kikwete (R) of Tanzania leaves the White House after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama May 21, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama met with Kikwete as part of an ongoing engagement with Muslim leaders ahead of his speech to the Islamic world in Egypt next month. (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama met his first African leader in the White House earlier this week -- Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. The two talked the talk on everything from "health, education, and agriculture, and working with other partners in the region to solve some of the most pressing conflicts on the African continent," according to the White House press release.

Between the Tanzanian visit and the Ghana trip scheduled for this July, I can't help noticing that Obama is going in for the softballs. Both countries are democratic, pretty darn stable, and relatively rich for their respectives regions in East and West Africa. Maybe he's warming up? 

U.S. President Barack Obama met his first African leader in the White House earlier this week — Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. The two talked the talk on everything from “health, education, and agriculture, and working with other partners in the region to solve some of the most pressing conflicts on the African continent,” according to the White House press release.

Between the Tanzanian visit and the Ghana trip scheduled for this July, I can’t help noticing that Obama is going in for the softballs. Both countries are democratic, pretty darn stable, and relatively rich for their respectives regions in East and West Africa. Maybe he’s warming up? 

I’d like to think there’s more strategic thinking at work here. As I wrote last month, Ghana is at a pivotal moment — just having discovered oil and freshly out of a democratic presidential election. There’s something to be said for building up alliances with regional power players before tackling their more troublesome neighbors. 

With Tanzania, I would suspect two neighbors were on the leaders’ minds: Kenya and Somalia. Following election violence and the forming a subsequent coalition government last year, today Kenya is having a rocky go of things. The government claims not to be flailing with internal conflicts, though reports are widely to the opposite effect. And cleaning up the election hooplah looks equally troubled — with election reform slow to be seen. Kikwete was elemental in organizing the first power-sharing deal. And together with the U.S., he could put the pressure on, if by no other means than this visit’s message: democracy gets you a meeting at the White House.

And then there’s Somalia — little more need be said. It would be good news if this president chooses Tanzania over Ethiopia as its stallworth ally in that struggle. Because we all saw how well Ethiopia’s tries in Somalia went last time.

Hat tip:
Chris Blattman

Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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