Obama trip to highlight U.S. interests in Africa
BY LYNN SWEET - CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
Sen. Barack Obama, whose father is from Kenya, travels to Africa -- and the village where his father lived -- in August on a trip designed to highlight the importance of the continent to the United States and the rest of the world.
Obama's itinerary for two weeks of travel starting mid-August includes stops in South Africa, Kenya, Sudan and possibly Congo -- holding the first elections in four decades later this month -- and Djibouti.
Robert Gibbs, Obama's spokesman, said the purpose of the trip is to underscore that the fate of African nations has an effect on the United States and other nations "especially when it comes to stable governments, terrorism, energy security and humanitarian crises such as genocide and AIDS.
"The trip, we also hope, will help further establish and improve on important relationships the United States has with two of the continent's largest countries in South Africa and Kenya, underscore the importance of the biggest election ever organized by the United Nations by visiting Congo, visiting troops stationed in Djibouti to combat international terrorists in the region and finally seeing what can be done about the genocide in Africa's largest country, Sudan.''
Obama plans meetings with government officials and speeches in Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa. The trip starts in Cape Town at Robben Island, the infamous prison where Nelson Mandela was jailed during the apartheid years. The Congo and Djibouti visits will be brief because of security issues. Sudan, grappling with the ongoing conflict in the western region of Darfur, will be the last stop.
Almost a week will be spent in Kenya, in Nairobi and the Masai Mara region.
It's not unusual for members of Congress to travel to African nations -- a House delegation was in Kenya last week, led by House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.). Dreier was in Kenya to observe the work of the U.S. House Democracy Assistance Commission, which helps new democracies establish government services.
But Obama's unique situation -- the only African American in the Senate -- a son of an African with family in Kenya whose popularity in the United States is soaring to the point where he is being talked about as a presidential candidate -- makes this journey special, a trip of symbolism as well as substance.
Obama is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel on African Affairs. Obama, sworn into office in January 2005, in his freshman year visited Russia and other former Soviet states; Iraq, Kuwait, Israel and the West Bank.
The African trip has been planned for months and comes as Obama's high profile is set for another vault with the presidential talk and the massive publicity surrounding the October publication of his second book, which will include a chapter on Obama's foreign policy views.
The son of a father from Kenya and mother from Kansas, Obama barely knew his father, who left his family in Hawaii when Obama was a baby to attend Harvard, never to return.
Obama has visited his father's Nyanza Province in Kenya twice -- but never, obviously, as a U.S. senator.
Interest in Obama's homecoming will be enormous. Last week, Dreier, in Nairobi, made news by confirming the Obama visit to Kenya next month.
Dreier told the Kenyan press last Wednesday that Obama was "very enthused and looking forward to this opportunity to come back home to Kenya.''
Dreier said he talked with Obama before he left and "he asked me to carry greeting and regards to everyone here in Kenya.''
A reporter from Kenyan television NTV put it this way in the story that ran about the coming Obama trip: "Barack Obama who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004 was born to a Kenyan father who hailed from a sleepy little village in Kogelo, Siaya district. And this village will perhaps be more eager to welcome their son home come next month.''