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Visiting Africa, President Obama Hopes to Boost Trade and Investment


President Barack Obama arrived in Dakar this afternoon to start a week-long trip through the three Sub-Saharan African countries of Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, his first extended trip to the region since taking office.  


The President selected the three countries because they serve as "positive examples to neighboring states," with robust democracies and growing economies, according to Michael Froman, the newly appointed US Trade Representative, who will accompany the President.  Throughout the trip discussions will mainly focus on trade and investment, as well as security and governance.   With his eye on increasing investment in the region as well as bilateral trade, President Obama plans to hold meetings with CEO's, power supply companies, and energy developers in addition to government leaders.


The President's trip comes well after other countries, such as China, Brazil, and Turkey, have had considerable success in opening up trade with Africa.  China in particular has capitalized on partnerships with African governments, often times controversially, as infrastructure agreements have come at the cost of massive land grabs.   As demand for roads, mobile technology and energy increases across the continent, the US is seeking to find an equitable solution to meet this demand.  


While President Obama plans to meet with agricultural organizations and NGO's leading the effort to establish food security and meet humanitarian needs across the continent, he is clearly most interested in increasing trade and investment in the region, having recently stated, "We think it's important to focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance" 


While acknowledging the need to focus on jobs and growth, non-governmental organizations and non-profits are calling on the President to also address humanitarian concerns, ranging from hunger eradication to clean water initiatives.    World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim says the answer to such seemingly competing agendas is to create partnerships between the private and public sectors to bridge the gap between these factions, and through collaboration spur private sector growth that benefits the poorest communities.   He cited the success of the HIV/AIDS movement to that grew from a social cause to a sucessful, profit-driven private sector initiative to create affordable treatments to treat HIV positive patients and prevent HIV transmission.


Amid reports that Nelson Mandela's health is in critical condition, it appears as though a meeting between the two leaders will not take place while Obama visits South Africa.