The U.S. says while President Obama cannot visit Nigeria, both countries remain in partnership.
The United States President, Barack Obama, will not travel to Nigeria on his planned trip to Africa this week, despite a strong partnership between the two countries, as the three nations slated for the visit will allow Mr. Obama reach a broader African audience and also demonstrate impressive democratic records, a top U.S. official said on Tuesday.
In place of Nigeria, Mr. Obama will visit fellow West African nation, Senegal, and will visit Tanzania in place of Kenya in the East, in addition to South Africa.
The three countries for the visit were “purposefully” chosen to allow Mr. Obama reach a broader audience, and they are also strong democracies the president has made it a priority to support, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, said in a conference call addressing Mr. Obama’s itinerary.
The schedule of the U.S. president’s second African trip, which excludes Nigeria for the second time, has again fired concerns amongst Nigerians about the country’s international standing amid the turmoil of insecurity, corruption, and the political wrangling it faces.
Mr. Obama’s first visit to Africa as president was to Ghana after his election in 2009.
“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 U.S. business investment in Nigeria and through our security cooperation,” Mr. Rhodes said, in response to a question why Nigeria was again sidelined from the visit.
“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 United States….But at this point, we just were not able to make it to Nigeria on this particular itinerary.”
Despite the snub, Mr. Rhodes said the U.S. believes it will have an opportunity to further “engage the Nigerian government through bilateral meetings going forward”. He said while in South Africa, Mr. Obama will also try to use technology to reach young Nigerians and Kenyans.
“We recognize we’d like to go to as many countries as possible. Time only permits us to go to these three. But we want to make sure that in each country we’re speaking to the broader region. And we’re going to make use of technology and other means to do so,” he said.
Mr. Obama’s sidelining of Nigeria and Kenya is viewed by many as voicing the U.S. disapproval of the two leading African nations’ troubling democratic, and perhaps, human rights and corruption records.
Kenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was elected despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court on allegations he masterminded the killing of hundreds of people during Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections.
Mr. Kenyatta’s candidacy was clearly opposed by western nations, including the United States and Britain; and his success at the polls has barely diminished the discomfort western leaders have working with him.
Explaining why Mr. Obama will again be avoiding the East African nation where he has strong family ties, Mr. Rhodes highlighted that concern.
He said while the U.S. respects Kenyans’ right to choose their leaders, “We also as a country have a commitment to accountability and justice as a baseline principle. And given the fact that Kenya is in the aftermath of their election and the new government has come into place and is going to be reviewing these issues with the ICC and the international community, it just wasn’t the best time for the President to travel to Kenya at this point.”
Mr. Obama will arrive in Senegal on Wednesday June 25, and will later travel to South Africa where he will deliver a speech at the University of Cape Town before rounding off his visit in Tanzania on July 2.