DAR ES SALAAM (AFP) – Delighted crowds thronged United States President Barack Obama in Tanzania Monday, as, homage paid to Nelson Mandela, he drove home the message that he wanted to help “Africa to build Africa, for Africans.”
Obama pushed initiatives to bring power to a continent largely still in darkness, to boost regional trade with America, to tear down customs and border logjams delaying exports and to save Africa’s endangered elephants and rhinos.
It was the kind of concentrated salesmanship for his evolving Africa policy overshadowed before and after Obama spent the weekend in South Africa, as his hero Mandela lay critically ill in hospital.
South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, gave an update on Mandela’s health later Monday, saying he remained “critical but stable” and urging his countrymen to begin planning for the anti-apartheid hero’s 95 birthday on July 18.
Tanzania, the final leg of an three-nation continental tour, is the kind of African democracy, aided by US health and infrastructure programs, that Washington wants to see duplicated in a region scarred by poor governance.
“Ultimately the goal here is for Africa to build Africa, for Africans,” Obama said after talks with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.
“And our job is to be a partner in that process, and Tanzania’s been one of our best partners,” Obama said, saying that “we are looking at a new model that’s based not just on aid and assistance”.
It did not escape Washington’s notice that Xi Jinping included Tanzania on his first foreign trip as president of China in March.
Throughout his Africa journey, which also included Senegal, Obama has implicitly touted US-style investment and partnership as superior to Beijing’s own Africa push, arguing US firms do more to build local economic capacity.
When Air Force One touched down after a flight from Cape Town in Dar es Salaam, Obama was serenaded by marching bands in red tunics and groups of traditional dancers clapping as a guard of honor blasted off a 21-gun salute.
Huge crowds, perhaps the biggest of his presidency, save for a trip to Myanmar last year, packed the roads into town. Kikwete said he had never seen such a welcome for a foreign leader.
“You are a true friend of Tanzania and a dear friend of Africa,” he said.
The promenade separating Tanzania’s State House from the glittering blue water of the Indian Ocean has been renamed Barack Obama Drive and proclaimed its name with a freshly painted sign.
“In Africa we have so many countries, so Obama choosing to come to Tanzania, it makes us feel happy,” said Francis Gedyman, 26, a driver.
Obama is due Tuesday to visit the Ubungo power plant, after unveiling a new $7-billion program, a mix of private and public funds and loan guarantees, to boost African electric power networks.
The initiative is designed to improve infrastructure to incentivise foreign firms to invest and to improve conditions for Africans seeking a good education.
Obama will also see a new invention that places a generator unit inside a football, which can be taken home after a kick around to power up lamps or even mobile electronic devices.
“Even as this continent faces great challenges this is also a moment of great promise for Africa,” Obama later said in a speech on trade given to leading business figures from around the East Africa region. “I see Africa as the world’s next major economic success story and the United States wants to be a partner in that success. We have got enormous opportunity to unleash the next era of African growth.”
On Tuesday, before leaving for Washington, Obama will lay a wreath at a memorial to those killed in the U.S. embassy bombing in 1998, alongside his predecessor George W. Bush.
Bush is in the country for a forum of regional First Ladies, hosted by his wife Laura, which will also be attended by Michelle Obama.