America’s first black President, Barack Obama, promised to visit his father’s ancestral home of Kenya before the end of his presidency. During his first four years as president, Obama visited some 51 countries, but during that time, he spent less than one day in all of Africa, south of the Sahara. Most second term presidents travel more often so it is highly likely Obama will increase his profile in the region. As a U.S. Senator, Obama visited both Ethiopia and Kenya where he has relatives.
According to Brendon Doherty, an associate professor of political science,who studies presidential travel patterns, “Presidents do take special pleasure in traveling to places where they have ancestral ties.” President Bill Clinton and President Ronald Reagan, as did President Obama, traveled to Ireland where they had family roots. Both Clinton and George W. Bush took trips to African countries in the their second terms, but neither traveled to the region during their first terms.
Jimmy Carter was the first president to travel to Africa while in office. He went to Nigeria. Presidential travel records reveal Europe and North America got the most visits during the Carter-to-Obama period. France led with 24 visits; the U.K. had 23; Canada and Germany had 20; Mexico and Italy had 19.
Africa has been a low priority for most U.S. presidents, said Laura Seay, assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College, because of geopolitical conflicts and historical ties, and that was the case in the Obama administration. Africa is becoming an area of increasing importance to U.S. foreign policy so it’s expected that we will see an increase in travel by our nation’s leader to more countries in Africa.