President Obama courts business in Africa

Ends visit with trade meetings

Bandmembers in khangas with President Obama’s image performed as the US leader arrived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Bandmembers in khangas with President Obama’s image performed as the US leader arrived in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — President Obama on Monday courted African business leaders and announced trade initiatives to open East Africa’s markets to American businesses, as he sought to counter the rise of Chinese economic influence in the continent.

The United States, he declared, wants to ‘‘step up our game’’ in a region that is home to six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies.


The president was welcomed in Tanzania by the largest crowds of his weeklong trip to the continent where his family ties run deep. Thousands of people lined the 20-minute route as his motorcade sped from the airport to the center of this city on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Some onlookers wore shirts and traditional khanga wraps bearing Obama’s image. The oceanfront road leading to the residence of the Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete, had been permanently changed to ‘‘Barack Obama Drive’’ in honor of the visit.

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Throughout his three-country trip, Obama has touted a new model for US partnership with Africa, one based not just on aid and assistance but also on trade. While the United States has long been a leader in foreign aid to Africa, China has surpassed America as sub-Saharan Africa’s largest trading partner. Countries including India, Turkey, and Brazil also are increasing their presence on the continent.

‘‘I see Africa as the world’s next major economic success story,’’ Obama told American and African business leaders Monday. He spoke after a private meeting with top executives, including representatives from Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and General Electric.

Obama will close his Africa trip Tuesday with a rare meeting on foreign soil between two American presidents. George W. Bush is in Dar Es Salaam for a conference on African women organized by his institute and hosted by his wife, Laura Bush. The presidents will attend a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the victims of the 1998 US embassy bombing in Tanzania.


In earlier stops in Senegal and South Africa, the president said he welcomed world economies turning their sights to Africa, declaring ‘‘the more, the merrier.’’

But he also challenged African leaders to pick their international partners carefully, saying they should push back against countries that bring in their own workers or mine Africa’s natural resources but handle the production outside the continent — all criticisms that have been levied against China.

Seeking to draw a contrast with Beijing, Obama said his administration’s goal was ‘‘for Africa to build Africa for Africans,’’ and for the United States to be a partner in that process.

Obama’s trip marks his first stop in Africa since 2009, when he spent 24 hours in Ghana. China’s new president, Xi Jinping, embarked on an Africa swing less than two weeks after taking office earlier this year.

During his meetings in Tanzania, Obama revealed a venture, dubbed ‘‘Trade Africa,’’ that aims to increase the flow of goods between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. The initial phase will focus on East Africa — Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania — and aim to increase the region’s exports to the United States by 40 percent.

The program is designed to assist those countries trade with each other. The president cited the laborious physical roadblocks and border crossings on the continent that delay the transport of goods and products.

Obama’s two-day visit to Tanzania marks the final leg of his weeklong visit to Africa. He arrived in Dar Es Salaam Monday afternoon, along with wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha.

President Obama said his administration’s goal was ‘‘for Africa to build Africa for Africans,’’ and for the United States to be a partner in that process.

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During a joint press conference with Kikwete, Obama appeared moved by the welcome from the exuberant crowds.

He cited his ties to neighboring Kenya, where his father was born, and said that his father’s family had spent time in Tanzania.

In advance of his Tuesday meeting with Bush, Obama praised the anti-AIDS program the former president began during his tenure, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

‘‘I think this is one of his crowning achievements,’’ Obama said. ‘‘Because of the commitment of the Bush administration and the American people, millions of lives have been saved.’’

Obama rejected the notion that he has reduced the United States’ commitment to the program, saying lower spending on it is due to efficiencies in treating more people.

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