President Barack Obama opened a weeklong trip to Africa on Wednesday, a three-country visit aimed at overcoming disappointment on the continent over the first black U.S. president’s lack of personal engagement during his first term.
However, the highly anticipated trip threatens to be overshadowed by the deteriorating health of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Air Force One touched down in the Senegalese capital of Dakar on Wednesday evening. The president, who is traveling with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha, is also scheduled to visit South Africa and Tanzania.
The president is expected to be greeted warmly during his trip, despite the underlying sense of disappointment. American flags dotted the roadways as Obama’s motorcade sped through this coastal city, and signs welcoming Obama and bearing his picture hung on homes and businesses.
Obama’s father was born in Kenya and several of his relatives still live there. But despite his family ties to the continent, Obama spent just one day in Africa during his first four years in office and has focused instead on strengthening U.S. ties with Asia and Latin America.
Few major policy announcements are expected during Obama’s trip. Instead, the president will focus on promoting democratic institutions, boosting opportunities for Africa’s vast youth population and promoting the continent as a growing market for U.S. businesses.