President Obama spent much of his first term fending off criticism that he hadn’t done enough for the black community, and that he wasn’t paying enough attention to Africa, where his father was born and where expectations soared after his election. In his second term, he’s making up for lost time. Earlier this year, he launched his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative aimed at boosting opportunities for boys and young men of color, and this week, he hosted 50 heads of state from Africa for a first ever U.S-Africa Summit aimed at building stronger ties with a continent where six of the 10 fastest growing economies are located.
Three of the four former living presidents were in Washington to participate in various summit events, demonstrating, amazingly enough, that Obama may have to elbow his way into the Africa Club. Jimmy Carter has worked tirelessly to eradicate guinea worm disease; George W. Bush instituted the wildly popular PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief); and Bill Clinton is often in Africa, promoting a range of projects from HIV prevention to reforestation through his global initiative.
“What Obama is doing fits under the headline, ‘Despite the commitment of previous presidents, lots of work remains to be done to create a healthier economic relationship’,” says William Galston of the Brookings Institution. He notes that unlike the initiatives of his predecessors, which are largely humanitarian, Obama is carving out a niche for himself as “the proponent for and advocate for a new kind of economic relationship in the developing world.”