Tanzanians roll out red carpet for Pres. Obama, hopeful for trade
By Gabriella Schwarz and Jessica Yellin
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (CNN) — Tanzanians, hundreds wearing white shirts and hats bearing President Barack Obama’s face, said “karibu,” or “welcome,” to the U.S. leader as they lined the street — temporarily renamed “Obama Avenue” — leading to the State House on Monday.
Tanzania is the latest democratic country the president is visiting to promote the White House’s increased partnership with Africa amid criticism the administration has focused its attention on other areas of the globe and only primarily military interests in Africa.
Tanzania is an important partner with the United States on security issues and development initiatives. The president will likely underscore the partnership during his visit to a country that has received increased attention from other foreign governments, especially China.
Tanzania lies in a strategic location on the shores of the Indian Ocean, an outlet for its many landlocked neighbors and an ideal jumping-off point for companies looking to expand in a region that is seen to have huge consumer growth potential.
Tanzania has enormous economic potential with largely untapped agricultural and mineral resources, and Obama is trying to put forward the case for African consumers and their governments to look West rather then East.
But is he already too late?
China became the continent’s largest individual trading partner three years ago, surpassed only by the European Union.
Earlier this year, just 10 days after taking office, Chinese President Xi Jinping made Tanzania the first stop on a three-nation Africa tour, signing 16 trade, cultural and diplomatic accords in Tanzania alone.
According to the local arm of the China-Africa business council, there are approximately 8,000 Chinese owned businesses operating in Tanzania, ranging from large-scale construction projects to small shops and market kiosks.
And more Chinese citizens are flocking to seek their fortunes across Africa.
“Everyone knows that China is the factory of the world. All the big countries, including the U.S., have their factories there,” said Hao Jianguo of the China-Africa Business Council, noting that the import-export pipeline is direct and prices favorable.
“Where there’s an opportunity for business, the businessmen find it. Our motto is, ‘Follow the profit,'” Jianguo said.
Obama and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete spoke and answered questions before the vast building adorned with American and Tanzanian flags on grounds complete with peacocks.
The respect between the two leaders, as well as the appreciation Kikwete has for the United States was clear.
“The people of Tanzania love you,” Kikwete said, looking at Obama. “There has never been a visit by a head of state to Tanzania that has attracted such big crowds.”
Kikwete was the first African leader Obama welcomed to the White House, a sign of the shared interests between the countries, Obama said. He noted their cooperation over health care, infrastructure, energy and job creation.
“The goal here is for Africans to build Africa for Africans,” Obama said.
“Africa needs the United States, the United States needs Africa,” Kikwete said.
Obama will visit a power company on Tuesday, continuing a theme of the trip during which he has pledged an additional $7 billion to increase power infrastructure across the continent.
He is also expected to announce Trade Africa on Monday, a partnership between the United States and African nations intended to expand trade with countries including Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.
“The key thing is to make it possible for our businesses to come in, help them understand what the opportunities are, help them address the risks that they see,” U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman said aboard Air Force One headed to Tanzania.
Among companies to be represented at Monday’s business roundtable are GE, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Symbion Power Corp, which partnered with GE to build the site of Obama’s Tuesday visit. The project was launched by the Clinton Foundation’s Millennium Challenge.
At the State House there was a celebratory greeting for Obama and first lady Michelle Obama with a band, dancers and a mass of applauding, whooping crowds lining the red carpet as the Obamas shook hands making their way to the whitewashed building.
On Tuesday Obama will join former President George W. Bush for a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the August 1998 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, which killed 11 people and wounded hundreds.
Bush has been in Zambia to help renovate a clinic that serves as a cervical cancer screening and treatment center. Michelle Obama and Laura Bush are scheduled to attend the African First Ladies Summit, organized by the George W. Bush Institute, in Tanzania on Tuesday.
Obama wrapped up his visit to South Africa on Sunday with a visit to the prison cell where anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was held and a call to students to help build a new Africa.
Speaking at the University of Cape Town, Obama said a rising Africa offers new hope for a continent where more than 60% of the population is under 35. But he said Africa’s economic growth and political progress in African states “rests on a fragile foundation,” still vulnerable to corruption, repression and inequality.
“Just like previous generations, you’ve got choices to make. You get to decide where the future lies,” he said.
“You’ve got time and numbers on your side, and you’ll be making decisions long after politicians like me have left the scene,” he added. “And I can promise you this: The world will be watching what decisions you make.”
Obama told students that the American college campaigns against investment in apartheid-era South Africa in the 1980s inspired him to get involved in a public cause for the first time. Cape Town University was the site of a famous speech by Sen. Robert F. Kennedy at the height of apartheid in 1966, and Obama said the leadership of figures like Kennedy, the now-ailing Mandela and Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi — who began his career as a lawyer in South Africa — “stand as a challenge to your generation.”
Obama tours Mandela prison
Obama spoke after touring Robben Island, where Mandela was held during most of his 27 years in prison for fighting South Africa’s now-dismantled system of white minority rule and racial segregation. The president spent a few minutes in the cell where Mandela slept during that stretch, quietly contemplating the concrete walls and the mat that served as a bed.
Veteran anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, who had been imprisoned with Mandela on the island, was the first family’s guide during the visit.
Obama had visited the island prison once before, in 2006. Sunday’s visit was the first for the family members who accompanied him — first lady Michelle Obama; the couple’s daughters, Sasha and Malia; Mrs. Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson; and a cousin, Leslie Robinson.
“For me to be able to bring my daughters there and teach them the history of that place and this country … that’s a great privilege and a great honor,” Obama told the students.
Obama also visited the anti-HIV program now led by Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and another leading anti-apartheid campaigner. While Obama praised the center’s battle against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, Tutu urged Obama to keep up his efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“As you have been here before to Africa, you have heard us speak of something called ‘ubunto,’ ” Tutu said. “Your success is our success. Your failure, whether you like it or not, is our failure. And so we want to show you that we pray for you to be a great success.”
Mandela, 94, has been in a Pretoria hospital for more than three weeks and has been in critical condition since June 23. He was hospitalized for a lung infection that has plagued him since his days on Robben Island.
Obama met some of Mandela’s relatives Saturday and spoke by telephone with his wife, who maintains a vigil by his bedside.
The president’s decision not to visit the hospital was out of respect for the family’s wishes, according to the White House.
A meeting between the U.S. president and Mandela would have had historic significance. Like Obama, Mandela broke through racial barriers to become the first black president of his country. The two met when Obama was a senator.
Mandela became an international figure for his fight against apartheid. He was elected to the nation’s highest office in 1994, four years after his release from prison, and remains popular worldwide as an icon of peaceful reconciliation.
Obama’s visit to Africa’s biggest economy was part of a three-nation trip that started in Senegal and ends in Tanzania.
It aims to bolster U.S. investment opportunities, address development issues such as food security and health, and promote democracy. It comes as China aggressively engages the continent, pouring billions of dollars into it and replacing the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner.
During the trip, Obama pledged $7 billion to help combat frequent power blackouts in sub-Saharan Africa. The “Power Africa” campaign aims to double access to electricity throughout the region, extending service to 20 million new businesses and homes, the White House said.
“Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by, the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business. It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs, and it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy,” Obama said at Cape Town University.
His visit also included a town hall with young people in Soweto, a Johannesburg neighborhood at the heart of the anti-apartheid struggle. He also held bilateral talks with South African President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria, with trade high on the agenda.
CNN’s Matt Smith, Faith Karimi, Ashley Killough, Laura Smith-Spark and Nima Elbagir contributed to this report