The Senegalese Press Isn’t Exactly Swooning Over Obama

Consider it a case study in getting off on the wrong foot. Snarled traffic, shut-down streets, and security everywhere. These are things Senegalese news outlets are talking about today — not development, investment, and American engagement — as President Barack Obama kicks off a three-country visit to Africa with a stop in Senegal. “Yankee paranoia ...

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Consider it a case study in getting off on the wrong foot.

Snarled traffic, shut-down streets, and security everywhere. These are things Senegalese news outlets are talking about today -- not development, investment, and American engagement -- as President Barack Obama kicks off a three-country visit to Africa with a stop in Senegal.

"Yankee paranoia at the Radisson." That's how the Senegalese daily Le Populaire begins its coverage of the security measures that have accompanied Obama on his jaunt to Senegal. Americans, the paper notes, have conquered not only the sea and the sky, but also telephone communications -- and now they've added to that list the Senegalese presidential palace, which has been inundated with Secret Service agents. "These Yankees, they need to be reassured by controlling everything," the paper complains.

Consider it a case study in getting off on the wrong foot.

Snarled traffic, shut-down streets, and security everywhere. These are things Senegalese news outlets are talking about today — not development, investment, and American engagement — as President Barack Obama kicks off a three-country visit to Africa with a stop in Senegal.

“Yankee paranoia at the Radisson.” That’s how the Senegalese daily Le Populaire begins its coverage of the security measures that have accompanied Obama on his jaunt to Senegal. Americans, the paper notes, have conquered not only the sea and the sky, but also telephone communications — and now they’ve added to that list the Senegalese presidential palace, which has been inundated with Secret Service agents. “These Yankees, they need to be reassured by controlling everything,” the paper complains.

Obama, with roots in Kenya, remains broadly popular across the continent (one survey this year revealed that 78 percent of Senegalese have confidence in Obama’s ability to handle international affairs). But the kind of liberal disenchantment that has marked his time in office in the United States has been mirrored in Africa. In March, Gallup found that while global assessments of U.S. leadership are strongest in sub-Saharan Africa, that support has declined steadily since 2011 (in Kenya, for instance, approval dropped 15 percentage points between 2011 and 2012). Obama’s critics argue that his trip to Africa is too little too late after the president spent his first four years in office paying scant attention to the continent — a notion that some in the Senegalese press seem to agree with.

“Should we glorify or grieve that the president of the leading economic power in the world has chosen our country for his first real tour of the African continent?” Sud Quotidiene asks. “We would have liked to welcome President Barack Obama in the heat of a fraternity found unreservedly with enthusiasm and hope, like a prodigal son who returns welcomed and wreathed in glory to the land of his ancestors!” the paper continues. “But the results are far from satisfactory, and it must be recognized that Obama has not lived up to the expectations placed upon him by Africans, his black compatriots, and defenders of human rights,” the paper wistfully notes.

Meanwhile in South Africa, the next leg of Obama’s journey, the Cape Times gave front-page billing on Thursday to a story about lawyers seeking to have Obama arrested on war crimes charges:

The president’s trip could also get pushed further to the backburner if Nelson Mandela dies in the next few days. Obama may be the leader of the free world, but next to Madiba, he’s still nothing.

Signs that Africa’s love affair with Obama is wearing off aren’t confined to the Senegalese press. “His only activity of note has been to ramp up U.S. military activity in Africa, adding drone bases and deploying significant numbers of troops,” the Nigerian columnist Tolu Ogunlesi laments. In fact, compared to his predecessor, “Obama comes across as positively neglectful.” George W. Bush launched PEPFAR, his landmark anti-HIV/AIDS initiative, helped end brutal conflicts in Sudan and Liberia. Compared to that, Ogunlesi wonders, what does Obama have to offer?

So far, only bad traffic and overeager Secret Service officers.

Twitter: @EliasGroll

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