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How Obama Can Make His Africa Trip Worthwhile

President Barack Obama (center) with (left to right) President Macky Sall (Senegal), President Joyce Banda (Malawi), President Ernest Bai Koroma (Sierra Leone), and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves (Cape Verde) in the Cabinet Room of the White House on March 28 in Washington
President Barack Obama (center) with (left to right) President Macky Sall (Senegal), President Joyce Banda (Malawi), President Ernest Bai Koroma (Sierra Leone), and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves (Cape Verde) in the Cabinet Room of the White House on March 28 in WashingtonPhotograph by Joshua Roberts-Pool/Getty Images

On June 26, Barack Obama is making his second trip to Africa as America’s president. It’s questionable whether the trip is worth it—and not just because, as the Washington Post guesstimated, the trip’s price tag is as high as $100 million, including costs for fighter jet coverage as the First Family tours around. (That’s equivalent to two months of government health spending in Tanzania, a country of 46 million people.) A week of presidential visits to Robben Island and glad-handing local leaders will mean little if the U.S. doesn’t change policies to engage with the region more seriously.

According to the U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania, Obama’s trip to Africa, five years into his presidency, will focus on economic cooperation, strengthening democracy, and “investing in the next generation of African leaders.” Compare that with recent Chinese engagement with the region. Xi Jinping visited three African countries on his first foreign trip as Chinese president this year. Also in 2013, China’s vice premier visited Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, where he spoke during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the African Union at its new $200 million headquarters—which was built and paid for by the Chinese. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was at the same celebrations, but was bumped from the official program, which ran long after the vice premier’s speech and one from the president of Brazil announcing the forgiveness of $900 million in African debt. Kerry recognized why: “China and Brazil have frankly been investing more in Africa than we have. That has to change,” he said.