Will Obama Give Africa More Than Just Pride?

Despite his Kenyan roots, Obama could be diverted by more pressing problems.

ByABC News
January 22, 2009, 7:47 PM

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan. 23, 2009 — -- Africans across the continent are beaming with pride because a man they consider "one of their own" is now the president of the United States.

Like many people around the world, they have high expectations for an Obama presidency, but a look beyond Obama's Kenyan roots prompts the question: What will an Obama presidency mean for Africa?

African experts say the answer is complicated. While Obama has pledged to pay attention to Africa and its problems, his first priority will be the myriad problems he's facing at home.

"The real question is: What will be the foreign aid budget under President Obama?" said Sebastian Spio-Gabrah, an analyst focusing on sub-Saharan Africa for the Eurasia policy group.

"Clearly, when your own country is falling apart economically ... this is not the time when Congress is going to say, 'Let's send more money to African countries.'"

Aid remains one of the largest elements of most sub-Saharan African economies. Even a country like Ghana, politically stable with strong economic growth, is dependent on foreign aid, which makes up nearly 30 percent of its budget.

Africa was a priority under former President Bush. His administration directed more money to the continent than any before it, with the United States allocating more than $5 billion a year in aid by the end of Bush's second term.

AIDS and HIV, in particular, were given special prominence with the establishment of PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

"The Bush administration deserves a lot of credit for keeping Africa front and center," said Philip de Pontet of the Eurasia group.

Obama has pledged to continue with PEPFAR and put his own stamp on the program by increasing the budget and reviewing Bush's emphasis on giving money to local programs that stress abstinence-only prevention.

Most African experts believe that Obama's approach toward Africa will be similar to that taken with PEPFAR, with no drastic changes in policy -- but rather, tweaks that will make the U.S. policy toward Africa the Obama administration's own.

Africans themselves are ecstatic about Obama's election. Because his father was from Kenya, they see him as an African and believe that, like any good African son, he won't forget his roots.

One Kenyan told ABC News he is sure Obama will expand on the attention Bush paid to Africa.

"My expectation for Obama as president is that he'll proceed to provide this nation with ARV [anti-retroviral] drugs to Africans and war-torn countries."