Obama African Trip Generates Congressional Cost-Benefit Debate


The Obama administration plans to cut a big swath across the African continent over nine days in the name of economic development and global trade although the costs and agenda of the second trip of his presidency to Africa are drawing criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will leave for Senegal in West Africa June 23, then travel to Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa and conclude the string of state visits in Tanzania in East Africa before returning to Washington on the eve of the Fourth of July holiday.

Estimates of the cost of the trip range from $60 million to $100 million, most of it to cover security and the ferrying of roughly 60 vehicles, communications equipment, scores of Secret Service agents and military planes to accommodate infrastructure needs in a region ill-equipped for state visits by superpowers.

"The security requirements which make up the bulk of the costs are determined by Secret Service and they don't publicly release breakdowns of the costs of the trips but again, this is something that is determined not by White House planning," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said in a conference call with reporters previewing the trip.

“Very soon thousands of folks in my district in Georgia, and even more across the state, will be furloughed as a result of the budget sequester,” Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) said. “Studies have shown that the sequester will cost the Georgia economy approximately $107 million.”

He echoed GOP opposition. “For the cost of this trip to Africa, you could have 1,350 weeks of White House tours,” Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) said.

“It is no secret that we need to rein in government spending, and the Obama administration has regularly and repeatedly shown a lack of judgment for when and where to make cuts. … The American people have had enough of the frivolous and careless spending.”

Rhodes and other senior administration officials, however, said the trip marks an important step toward enhancing trade in African countries. "Frankly, there will be a great bang for our buck for being in Africa, because when you travel to regions like Africa that don't get a lot of presidential attention, you can have very long-standing and long-running impact from the visit," Rhodes said.

The trip will hit places where the U.S. is competing with China for a trade foothold, officials told reporters.

China overtook the U.S. to become Africa's single biggest trading partner in 2009, with 13.9 percent of the continent's trade, ahead of the U.S. with 13 percent, said the Mail & Gaurdian. China's trade with Africa reached $166.3 billion in 2011 and nearly $200 billion in 2012.

Unlike Western Europe and the United States whose economies are still recovering from the great recession of 2008, the emerging market nations of Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania have achieved economic health during and after the great recession. President Obama hopes the United States can build on the basic elements of sustaining a vibrant economy; elements such as infrastructure, health care, technology, and education.

Officials said Obama wants to enhance both the U.S. trade and African economies.

Rhodes stated, “In addition to economic growth, the president seeks building on the democratic process in Africa.”

Obama African Trip Generates Congressional Cost-Benefit Debate

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