In an exclusive for The Root, President Barack Obama writes of the deeply personal significance, as well as the strategic goals, of his upcoming trip to Kenya and Ethiopia.
Tonight I begin my fourth visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, the most of any U.S. president. I’ll also become the first sitting American president to visit Kenya, Ethiopia and the headquarters of the African Union. My visit to Kenya, where my father was born, obviously holds deep personal meaning for me, and my visit will be a chance to reaffirm the ties of family and friendship that bind us as Americans and Africans.
The focus of my trip, however, reflects my approach to Africa since taking office—that it’s in our national interest to deepen our partnerships with the nations and people of Africa who are leading their continent’s remarkable progress. Despite its many challenges, Africa is a diverse region of incredible dynamism and opportunity and the world’s youngest continent—a place of unlimited potential.
On this trip, I’ll focus on three areas: strengthening our economic ties, combating common threats to our security, and reinforcing strong democratic institutions and human rights.
Africa is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, and it’s in our economic interest to make sure we deepen our trade relationship. Since I took office, we’ve boosted U.S. exports to Africa, which last year supported 280,000 American jobs. We’ve joined with Africans to launch historic initiatives to promote health, agricultural development and food security. With our Power Africa initiative, we aim to bring electricity to 60 million African homes and businesses.
Now we have to build on this progress. Thanks to members of Congress from both parties—especially the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus—I recently signed into law a 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the foundation of our efforts to support more trade and good jobs in both Africa and the United States. During my visit to Kenya, with its new technology hubs and startups, I’ll co-host a summit to expand our support for the entrepreneurs—especially young people and women—who can help unleash the next wave of African economic growth.
Throughout my trip, I’ll also stress that the economic growth Africans seek also depends on good governance. That includes free and fair elections; strong, democratic institutions; freedom of speech and the press; vibrant civil societies that give citizens a voice; and respect for universal human rights so that all people are free from discrimination and violence. Some African nations have made impressive progress on these fronts. Others have not. My trip will be an opportunity to address these issues candidly, both publicly and privately in my meetings with leaders.
Finally, our shared progress and security with Africa also depends on addressing common threats, from extremist ideologies to global climate change. The United States has a national-security interest in preventing terrorists from using African nations to radicalize, recruit, seek sanctuary or secure the financing they need to support their terror. That’s why we’re working to help strengthen the ability of local forces to defend their own nations. We support Nigeria and its regional partners in their fight against Boko Haram, and African-led efforts against al-Shabab in Somalia. During my trip, I’ll discuss how we can step up our common efforts to counter violent extremism wherever it exists.
Twenty-seven years after I first visited Kenya as a young man, it’s remarkable to look back at how far the region—and the entire African continent—has come. This progress is a testament to heroes like Nelson Mandela and to world leaders, including Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who made historic investments in Africa. Most importantly, Africa’s progress is a tribute to the people of Africa who have never stopped working for the future they deserve.
My visit to Africa reflects my abiding belief that if we keep working with our African partners, in a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect, then we’ll continue to unlock Africa’s limitless potential, which will benefit us all for generations to come.