Somebody had to do it. With President Obama reported to be breaking a record in visits to African countries, someone had to ask: “How many presidents have visited Africa while in office? And where exactly have they gone?”
A Washington Post blogger popped the question. And the answers were pitiful.
Before Obama’s current trip, American presidents had visited only 16 of Africa’s current 54 countries.
“In terms of most presidential visits, Egypt handily takes the top spot, followed distantly by Senegal and South Africa,” blogger Andrew Katz discovered.
The first president to go abroad was Theodore Roosevelt, in a brief November 1906 visit to Panama to observe construction of the canal.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first sitting American president to visit Africa. His first stop was an overnight layover in the Gambian capital of Banjul, under British rule at the time. But the real purpose of his secretive trip in 1943 was to meet British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Casablanca, Morocco, where they would discuss war strategies.
On his return, he made an informal visit to Liberia where he met with Pres. Edwin Barclay.
Among the other presidential visitors were George H.W. Bush in 1992 (to Somalia to visit relief workers and military personnel) and Jimmy Carter who was the first U.S. President to make a formal state visit to Liberia and Nigeria in 1978.
Bill Clinton’s 1998 tour initiated the modern era of formal visits to Sub-Saharan Africa. Meetings were held with the leaders of Botswana, Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa and Ghana in their respective countries. In 2000, he met with Pre. Nelson Mandela in Arusha, Tanzania, and with Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo in Arusha, Nigeria.
Barack Obama made a deliberate attempt to change the paradigm in 2009, when he included a stop-over to Sub-Saharan Africa at the end of his trip for a G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. In Ghana, Obama visited the dungeons of Cape Coast Castle, where many enslaved Africans died and others were loaded onto slave ships en route to the Americas and the Caribbean.
His visits to Africa have included Ethiopia (on this current trip), Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Ghana.
By the end of Obama’s trip, barring anything unscheduled, the number of countries visited by a U.S. president rises to 18, or one-third of Africa’s nations.