President Obama’s visit comes at a moment when the world is gripped with the spectacle of a young American, Edward Snowden, fleeing the United States because he was promoting information freedom, against the militaristic and police state in America. With all the problems facing him at home – sequestration, unemployment, drums for escalating wars in Syria and divisions over immigration laws – Obama’s trip to Africa lacks substance and definition. What can he offer the continent? What does he bring to the table to justify his visit?
Both former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush visited Africa during their second terms in office. When Clinton and Bush made their journeys to Africa, the US foreign policy establishment had been guided by a three-pronged mantra. These were: (a) the notion that Africa was facing a “threat” from international terrorists, (b) that the United States had strategic interests in Africa (especially with the flow of petroleum resources), and (c) the emerging competition with China. The crisis of capitalism since 2008 and the hype about petroleum and gas self-sufficiency as a result of shale oil and new gas finds in the United States have added another layer to all. More importantly, the US plans for confronting China in Africa have been tempered by the reality that the US policy makers have to beseech China to continue to purchase US Treasury Bills. 
In previous commentaries I have critiqued the imperial merits of Clinton’s and Bush’s reasons for visiting the continent. They were at least arguably more substantive and better articulated than Obama’s. The lack of specificity of Obama’s upcoming visit supports the argument advanced by some that as the first Black president of the United States, he has to visit the Africa. After all, he has visited Europe numerous times. This argument renders his visit nothing more than an item to be checked off his overarching presidential agenda. But in the context of the sidelining of US economic interests in Africa by other key players like China, Obama’s visit could be seen as one effort to boost support for US capitalists on the continent. Giving credence to this argument is the fact that Obama is visiting two of the countries also visited by the President of China, Xi Jinping, a few weeks ago – Tanzania and South Africa.