WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama wrapped up a weeklong visit to Africa on Tuesday, a tour overshadowed at times by the legacy of his predecessor and a political hero with a bid for his own mark on the continent.
Mr. Obama headed home to Washington after ending his tour of Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania with a pledge to help Africa with a seemingly simple service that has hampered the continent's development: electricity. Nearly 70 percent of Africans don't have electricity, Mr. Obama said in Tanzania, calling it "one of the biggest hurdles" to Africa's economic development.
The United States is committing some $7 billion toward Mr. Obama's initiative, Power Africa, to double access to electricity. Private companies have committed more than $9 billion.
Before the event, Mr. Obama appeared with former President George W. Bush, whom he had criticized on the campaign trail, but whose dedication to eradicating disease and poverty in Africa the president hailed at several points during his trip. He and Mr. Bush stood side by side, heads bowed, in a moment of silence to remember the victims of an al-Qaida terrorist attack.
The two laid a wreath at a memorial for the victims of the August 1998 U.S. Embassy truck bombing in Dar es Salaam, which killed 10 Tanzanians and wounded more than 85 Americans and Tanzanians. They talked quietly with embassy staff who had survived the attack and with victims' family members, but they didn't speak publicly.
First lady Michelle Obama shared the stage with her predecessor, Laura Bush, at a summit for African first ladies. The two talked about serving as modern first ladies and poked a little fun at their husbands as they championed efforts to empower women. "I want to encourage every first lady to speak out and speak up and let people know, because people are watching and they are listening," Mrs. Bush said. "And you can be so constructive for your country if you speak up about issues that you think are important." The appearance for the two presidents was coincidental, but Mr. Obama found himself faced with Mr. Bush's legacy numerous times during the trip, praising the former president's commitment to Africa. Mr. Bush's AIDS program cost billions and would be unlikely in the current political climate, said John Campbell, the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a research center.
Mr. Obama's power initiative also might have a far-reaching effect on the continent, Mr. Campbell said. The faltering health of former South African President Nelson Mandela cast a shadow over the trip, transforming Mr. Obama's visit to the country into a tribute to the anti-apartheid leader who inspired his political career.
The administration acknowledged ahead of the trip that there had been "great disappointment" on the continent that the first African-American U.S. president hadn't made Africa a priority in his first term, and Mr. Obama told a group of business leaders in Tanzania that he was making the trip early in his second term "because I intend for this to be the beginning of a new level of economic engagement with Africa."
Mr. Obama said his administration planned a "major conference" for U.S. investors on doing business in Africa. Though the president said he considered Africa the "world's next major economic success story," the United States is playing catch-up with emerging economic powers such as India and China, which overtook the United States as Africa's largest trading partner in 2009.