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Africa weighs Obama's first year

After one year as president, Obama makes subtle changes to US policy toward Africa.

Nor did oil get much of a mention yet, “energy security and diversification are important drivers of U.S. policy in Africa,” according to Vines. Africa now supplies America with 20 percent of its oil, more than the Middle East.

While critics say that oil and security are the lenses through which the U.S. views Africa, Witney Schneidman, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs under Bill Clinton and a campaign advisor to Obama, has little time for these arguments.

“It’s easy to say U.S.-Africa policy is all about oil and the reality is that energy security is one of the issues, but to think that it’s the only issue or the driving issue is simplistic,” he says.

He points to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s seven-nation Africa tour in August in which she visited two major oil producers — Angola and Nigeria — but also addressed a range of non-energy issues in a variety of other countries.

Among those she met was the president of the United Nations-backed Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, a country that fell very much within the scope of George W. Bush’s ideological "war on terror."

The rhetoric has shifted but the policy remains the same: giving political, financial and military support to a weak government that has no popular mandate while occasionally assassinating alleged terrorists with missiles and special forces.

In neighboring Kenya, Obama has shown some tough love vocally criticizing Kenya’s bickering government and banning at least 15 senior officials from traveling to America after accusing them of blocking the reforms needed to prevent a repeat of the violence that followed the 2007 elections.

It is, says Vines, “a bit like presidents of Irish origin being much more interested in Northern Ireland.” But if Kenya’s political elites had hoped for special treatment from a U.S. president with Kenyan ancestry this is probably not what they had in mind.

Obama's decision to skip Kenya on his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa was taken as a deliberate snub.

As Obama’s second year in office begins African hopes remain high as does the pride felt by so many. But Vines warns that these expectations have to be kept in perspective, not least because of the bruising financial crisis: “Finances very much dictate what can be achieved. Africa is not a priority policy for the Obama administration.”

Obama’s first year for Africa: The key moments

• January 2009: Across Africa, and especially in Kenya, people celebrated Obama’s inauguration as America’s first black president.

• March: Retired General Scott Gration appointed as Special Envoy to Sudan.

• May: The first African head of state to be welcomed at the White House is Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete, president of a stable and democratic country.

• June: U.S. sends a 40-ton arms shipment to Somalia’s besieged government.

• July: Obama makes his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa and gives a speech to Ghana’s parliament emphasizing good governance.

• August: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes an 11-day, seven-nation tour of Africa that focuses on trade, governance, health, oil, security, peace, human rights and democracy.

• October: New Sudan strategy unveiled that spreads focus beyond Darfur to include
South Sudan and outlines a range of incentives and penalties for Khartoum.

• December: After the attempted suicide bombing of a plane headed for Detroit, allegedly by a Nigerian man, three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan — are among 14 whose citizens will undergo additional screening if they want to enter the U.S.

• January 2010: Hillary Clinton gives a speech in Washington saying that development, diplomacy and defense will be equal partners in U.S. foreign policy.

(Read an overview of how the world views Obama one year later.)