US President Barack Obama has arrived in Senegal to begin a long awaited first major tour of Africa.
Obama’s arrival in Dakar marks the first leg of a three country tour, that also includes South Africa and Tanzania, on a trip where he is expected to focus on deepening economic cooperation with the continent.
Obama’s itinerary is subject to change as concerns rise over the ailing health of South Africa’s former president and icon Nelson Mandela.
On Thursday, Obama is expected to tour Goree Island, a former slave trading hub off the coast of the capital Dakar, as well as meet the Senegalese President Macky Sall.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Malcolm Webb said Senegal’s culture of democratic values in a region fraught with instability meant that it was “a safe option for Obama’s administration”.
Senegalese political analyst Fernand Tona told the German press agency DPA that Obama’s visit represented a “gold medal” for Senegal as a functioning democracy.
“But we shouldn’t just presume that Senegal’s economy will be boosted as a result of closer ties between Senegal and the United States,” he said.
“Senegal would need to pass a lot of reforms in order to attract more American investors. There are still some serious problems in this country.”
Security was heightened in Dakar, with the closure of key arteries and many people confined to their neighbourhoods.
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“Ever since it was announced that Obama would visit Senegal, the country has been under maximum surveillance,” said Lamine Bayo, a 43-year-old taxi driver.
“Our freedom is somewhat limited, especially regarding the excessive road closures. If someone needs to urgently get to hospital, they might have problems.”
Senegal is only the second African country that the US president of Kenyan ancestry has visited during his time in the White House. Ghana was the sole focus of his first visit to Africa in 2009.
This has been a major source of disappointment for people on the continent, after Obama’s 2008 election caused euphoria and an expectation that the son of a Kenyan would put Africa policy at the top of his agenda.
US officials are aware that emerging economic opportunities and energy resources in Africa have attracted a clutch of interest from rising rivals.
Obama is due to move on to South Africa on Friday for a weekend of talks and events, including a news conference with President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria.
The US president will then head to Cape Town where his events include a visit to Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island and a roundtable with business leaders that will include senior members of the president’s economic team.
The final leg of Obama’s journey will take him to Tanzania, where his programme includes talks and a news conference with President Jakaya Kikwete and a visit to the Ubungo power plant.