TOPICS > Politics > africa

Presidential history: Obama opens first-ever visit to Ethiopia by U.S. president

July 26, 2015 at 4:40 PM EDT
After a three-day visit to Kenya, President Obama traveled to Ethiopia on Sunday, with the goals of strengthening trade between Sub-Saharan Africa and the U.S. and fighting terrorism. John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss Obama's visit.

HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama is in Ethiopia tonight, the first sitting U.S. president to visit that country.

His stop comes after a three-day visit to Kenya — one goal of the trip, strengthening trade between sub-Saharan Africa and the U.S., another, fighting terrorism.

To discuss those and other issues, I’m joined by former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell, now the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

So, let’s start with the terror one. How is fighting terror in Africa in, I guess, the U.S. interests today?

JOHN CAMPBELL, Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria: Terrorism in Africa is a direct threat, not to U.S. security, but to U.S. interests.

A fundamental U.S. interest in Africa is that there be continued progress towards democracy, towards development, towards stability. Terrorism is a threat to the Kenyan state, the Nigerian state. Terrorism is active in the — in the Sahel. These are all areas where the — the U.S. has been working for a long time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s talk a little bit about the economic impact as well.

There seems to be almost a race here to perhaps counter the influence that China already has in Africa as a trading partner, as in someone who is making significant investments there.

JOHN CAMPBELL: My own view is that that can be — that can be overemphasized.

China is now the second largest economy in the world. China obviously has economic interests in Africa. The real issue, I think, is that Chinese interests — economic interests in Africa be responsible, and that, particularly in peace and security questions, that China play a role commensurate with its economic position in — particularly in East Africa.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And so, when the president lays out at these sort of entrepreneurial forums or these business sectors that he wants to see these countries in Africa become the economic engine for the world, how realistic, how possible is that?

JOHN CAMPBELL: Well, it will take some time, obviously, but the population of sub-Saharan Africa is approaching one billion.

Now, there are all kinds of hurdles to be overcome. Sub-Saharan Africa amounts to only about 3 percent of world trade. And there is remarkably little intra-African trade. So, there is lots of works to be done, lots of development to be undergone.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the legacies that President Bush left behind, and Clinton as well, is PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. And President Obama has built on that. And there were some announcements about a new initiative focusing on adolescent girls too.

JOHN CAMPBELL: There was indeed.

Also, a very important U.S. initiative that’s often overlooked is malaria. Malaria, of course, kills enormous numbers of people every year. And yet relatively simple programs such as providing bed nets for people can greatly reduce the mortality rates, particularly amongst children.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there, in the longer legacy that Obama leaves behind, a different place for him partly because of his background?

JOHN CAMPBELL: Yes. I think so, really in two broad areas.

For one thing, because of his background, I think Africa has willy-nilly been introduced to some Americans who otherwise never would have thought about it.

Similarly, the fact that the president of the United States is an African-American, that — that is of a particular interest and indeed even pride straight across the African continent, so, yes, both in the United States, but also in Africa.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, John Campbell, thanks so much for joining us.

JOHN CAMPBELL: Thank you so very much for having me.