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Does Obama’s Africa visit come too late?

What’s the significance of President Obama’s historic trip to Africa? Judy Woodruff discusses the visit and the president’s record on Africa with Johnnie Carson of the United States Institute of Peace and William Gumede of the University of the Witwatersrand.

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    Tomorrow, in Addis Ababa, Mr. Obama will be the first American president to address the African Union.

    Joining me now to discuss the visit and President Obama's record on Africa is career diplomat and former Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs under President Obama Johnnie Carson. He's now a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace. And William Gumede, he's an author and professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

    And we welcome you both.

    WILLIAM GUMEDE, University of the Witwatersrand: Thank you.


    Professor — welcome.

    Professor Gumede, let me begin with you. How do you think this trip has gone, and how much difference do you think it's going to make?


    Unfortunately, almost — this trip is almost coming too late, at the tail end of the Obama presidency.

    And you must understand what has been happening the last couple of years in Africa. We had — China has become a really big factor in Africa's growth and influence in Africa. So, Obama coming to Africa, he has made the right democratic noises, but he's almost a little bit too late.


    Ambassador Carson, what about that? Is the president coming too late?

    JOHNNIE CARSON, Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs: Absolutely not.

    I think that, in fact, it's turning out to be a very substantive and positive trip, with President Obama focusing on expanding trade and commercial opportunities with Africa, with these two countries and the United States, and strengthening the security partnership that the United States has had with both Kenya and Ethiopia.

    The president is also getting a chance to talk about some of the new initiatives that he has been responsible for, Power Africa, to substantially increase the amount of electrical power reaching African cities and communities, Feed the Future, which is designed to promote a green revolution across Africa, to help end starvation and famine at the village level and to expand agro-industries at the upper level, and particularly a focus on youth, the next generation.

    So this is an important trip, and it's his fourth trip to the continent and may not in fact be his last.


    Well, Professor Gumede, these are some specifics you heard Ambassador Carson listing here that have to do with the economy, that have to do with working with young people.


    Just to repeat what has been happening over the last couple of years, we have seen the longest growth spurt in Africa, you know, I mean, since independence and since the Second World War.

    And if you look at how the dynamics of this growth, the dynamics of this growth has been driven really, you know, by newly emerging markets buying Africa's products, getting engaged in Africa, whether it's China, Brazil, or India. That is the nature of — there's been a big game-changing couple of moments the last couple of years in Africa.

    And the U.S., you know, has almost lagged behind and is really going to have to work much harder, you know, to catch up with what has happened on the continent. If you just think about it, at the moment, civil society on the continent, where the new African leadership should be coming from, you know, have struggled the last couple of years, because, you know, the foreign funding that they used to get in the past has declined after the global financial crisis.

    And many of the civil societies, the democracies in Africa have struggled and had hoped that the U.S. would have played a much bigger, much stronger role in providing them with capacity, yes.


    Well, let me ask — put that question to Ambassador Carson.

    Why — to listen with to what the professor is saying, it sounds as if the U.S. has dropped the ball, China has been active there, other countries, that there has been an opportunity to engage, and the U.S. hasn't taken advantage of it.


    The United States has been deeply engaged in Africa, not only as a development assistance partner, but increasingly as a trading partner as well.

    The United States remains one of the largest single bilateral contributors to development assistance in Africa. And the United States remains one of Africa's largest trading partners. I think that President Obama, over the last several years, has gone out of his way to encourage American businessmen and investors to increasingly look at Africa as the last global economic frontier.

    You may recall, Judy, that, in 2014, President Obama held the first U.S.-Africa Summit.




    And the first day of that summit was devoted all to economic, commercial and investment interests.


    Professor Gumede, it almost sounds like you're talking about two different situations, with your description that the U.S. has been absent, and Ambassador Carson saying the U.S. has been very engaged. How do you account for that?


    Well, the U.S. has been engaged with Africa, but, you know, it's been engaged almost in the wrong way. It's been engaged sort of in the old way — let's call it your old pre-financial crisis ways, whereas Africa has moved and, you know, and the world, unfortunately, has moved, and for developing countries have moved, and Africa has also moved.

    So, for me, the U.S. is really catching up and needs to do quite a lot to catch up. But just in terms of looking into the future, I think, you know, if Obama, if this trip, if out of this trip could be a focus on African civil society, because that's where the future leadership are coming — will be coming from. That's where the future democrats are going to come from, if they can be supported and given the capacity, which has not happened the last couple of years.


    Well, we hear you.

    And, Ambassador Carson, I do want to give you a chance just quickly to comment on the president's remarks in his public speeches in Africa about human rights, about sexual orientation, the lack of respect for that. Are these the kinds of statements that are going to have resonance on the continent?


    Absolutely, because I think that democracy, strengthening democratic institutions and promoting good governance are at the basis of having a well — good, well-organized society.

    I think that a society that protects the rights of individuals also protects the intellectual property of those individuals. A society that protects civil liberties also protects corporate liberties. And I think a society that is open and inclusive is a society that generates both good ideas and greater productivity from both men and women.


    Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Professor William Gumede, we thank you both.

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