A statement issued by the Public Affairs section of the US Consular Office in Lagos noted that Obama’s visit was intentionally targeted to cover West, East and South Africa. But beyond the geographic spread, the major plank in choice of the nations to visit was their democratic inclination and standing.
The statement derived from a conference interview the Lagos office had with three key Obama aides – Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser, Grant Harris, Senior Director on African Affairs and Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Development and Democracy indicated this much.
The interaction revealed that by the assessment of the US presidential team in selecting where their president should go, what was most paramount was to visit nations with very strong democratic institutions.
According to Rhodes, “The countries we’re visiting are strong democracies. And the president has made it a priority to support the consolidation of democratic institutions in Africa so that Africans are focused not just on democratic elections but institutions like parliament, independent judiciaries and strengthening of the rule of law both as necessary elements of a democratic government but also to necessary elements of development”.
From Rhodes’ position, it implied that those key nations in Africa left out in the itinerary were of questionable democratic pedigree. Earlier in the week, a Yahoo online news report had noted that Obama leaving out Kenya in his trip to three African nations, his father’s home country was a sign he disapproved of the wobbly and trouble-ridden last presidential election of the nation.
The report also pointed out that President Uhuru Kenyata facing gross human rights abuse charges at the International Criminal Court, the Hague, did not speak well of his democratic credentials.
While Obama would visit Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, a neighbor to Kenya, he would again skip his fatherland, a nation that observed public holiday to celebrate his electoral victory as first black president of US.
But the interview later narrowed issues down to Nigeria, which Obama would be leaving out of his African trip, the second time.
Concerning Nigeria and the Obama tour, Harris noted pointedly that, “with respect to Nigeria, we certainly believe that Nigeria is a fundamentally important country to the future of Africa. We’ve put a lot of investment in the relationship with Nigeria through their leadership of ECOWAS, through the significant US business investment in Nigeria and through our security cooperation.
“Obviously, Nigeria is working through some very challenging security issues right now. And in that process, they’re going to be a partner of the US. We certainly believe we’ll have an opportunity to further engage the Nigerian government through bilateral meetings going forward. But at this point, we just were not able to make it to Nigeria on this particular itinerary”.
On the main focus of Obama’s trip, the team of advisors noted that: “Trade and investment and the economic opportunities on the continent are going to be an important part of the agenda; also democracy and democratic institution-building”.
He added that there is “high demand signal from the US private sector for us to play an active role in deepening our trade and investment partnership in Africa. And I think one of the things you’ll see on this trip is we’ll be incorporating events that bring in the private sector in each of the countries we’re visiting. And we’ll also be bringing a number of members of the president’s economic team”.