Obama heads to Africa for week-long tour

GTY 158441009 A CLJ POL USA CTUS President Barack Obama and his family were headed to Senegal on Wednesday, where they will start A week-long stay in Africa.

During the trip, Obama will meet with Senegal’s President Macky Sall on Thursday, South African President Jacob Zuma on Friday and Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete on Monday.

On Friday, Obama will arrive in South Africa, where the continued hospitalization of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela has drawn the nation into a mood of worry and well-wishing for the 94-year-old former leader.

“We simply hope that he recovers,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on board Air Force One. “We continue to pray for him and his family, and obviously all of the South African people to whom he means so much as well as his admirers around the world.”

Carney was also asked about Wednesday’s decision by the US Supreme Court that handed victory to supporters of same-sex marriage, and whether the topic would come up in Obama’s official meetings in Senegal, where homosexuality is a criminal act.

“Well, I wouldn’t rule it out,” Carney said. “You can assume that that’s something that is both a concern to the president and the administration, and that would be something that we would discuss.”

Highlights of Obama’s trip will include a visit to Senegal’s Goree Island, the so-called “Door of No Return” for many African slaves; Robben Island off of Cape Town, where Mandela spent much of his 27 years in jail under the apartheid regime; and the memorial to the victims of the 1998 US embassy bombing in Dar es Salaam.

Obama will on Saturday host a town hall meeting at the University of Johannesburg in Soweto, part of his Young African Leaders Initiative. On Sunday, he is to deliver a major speech on his Africa policy in Cape Town.

On Tuesday, the final day of the journey, first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush will participate in an African First Ladies’ Summit in Dar es Salaam.

A driving interest underlying Obama’s journey – only his second to Africa since taking office in 2009 – is Africa’s economic boom and the investment competition coming from other parts of the world, including China. Obama will travel with a large economic and trade team.

Carney noted that the “intense focus on the Middle East” in the first decade of the century had “an unintended consequence that resulted in us not being as engaged in Africa … as President Obama believes we need to be.”

But he denied that the United States was “too late” and pointed out Washington’s ongoing engagement with Africa.Author: Pat Reber, dpa