All In   |  June 28, 2013

Obama's in South Africa

The president's trip to South Africa could be overshadowed by Nelson Mandela's health. Chris Hayes talks to Esther Armah, who reported from South Africa, John Nichols, who traveled with Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994, and Dayo Olopade, a Nigerian-American journalist and a Knight Media Scholar at Yale Law School.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> right now it is just before 3:00 a.m . in johannesburg south africa , where one of the most important heroes of our time , nelson mandela , conquered the evil of apartheid, remains in, quote, clinically unwell condition. president obama is in johannesburg this evening. all the talk is about whether he'll get a chance to make a bedside pilgrimage to visit the great man before he passes away.

>> i don't need a photo po, and the last thing i want to do is be in any way obtrusive when the family is concerned about nelson mandela 's condition.

>> he is not in south africa because nelson mandela may be in the final moments of his life. he's visiting a major trade partner for america . he's in senegal wednesday, and heading to tanzania on monday for similar reason. these three countries appear to give the president the best shot of taking advantage of economic opportunities in america , something america arguably hasn't done a good job of at late. china 's was 200 billion last year. compare that to the u.s. if the united states is not leading in africa , we're going to fall behind in a very important region in the world. over the last decade, an incredible story unfolded in sub sub - saharan africa , where six of the ten fastest growing economies are located. over the next decade, africa 's gdp is expected to raise by an average of 6% a year. africa matters, not for a site of aid or development or pity. the president is there to try to stake a claim in this emerging market . also africa matters to the president in a personal way. for a black man, the country's first black president , standing in the door of no return. the entrance to the slaveships heading to the americas obviously holds the kind of symbolism absent from george w. bush 's bill clinton 's visit to africa . this is barack hussein obama , son of barack hussein obama sr ., born and raised in kenya. in fact, nelson mandela right now in johannesburg are the two most famous men in the world through which african blood runs. joining me, she has lived in ghana, reported from south africa . john nichols at "the nation." john traveled with nelson mandela in south africa . and a nigerian american journalist and night media scholar at yale law school . great to have you all here. you've been spending a lot of time reporting, you've been living in africa writing about sub- saharan africa specifically. there is a pretty amazing story of what's happened there since the great recession and even longer. what is the story, if you had to say, in broad strokes that americans don't know?

>> sure. you know, it's hard to imagine that it's been 20 years since nelson mandela , you know, became the first president of, the black president of south africa , and even in the last ten years you've seen this incredible story of democratic governance taking root. just last year there were 3 elections across the continent. beyond the rule of law narrative, there have been all sorts of interesting innovations and activity happening outside of the public sector you could call it. that means off-grid energy, that means incredible amounts of investment. that means innovations for education. and this huge connectivity boom. i think that's been one of the more transformative aspects of african development the last five years is the emergence of connectivity for a vast population.

>> i'm fascinated by this china /sub- saharan africa access that's emerged and a real, real intense thing. listen to this thing. "former chinese president hu jintao visited 17 african nations in a single ten-month stretch between july 2006 and february 2007 . chi china 's current president xi jinping already visited three since taking office on march 14th , 2013 ." countries across the content, you are seeing in very tangible terms the products of chinese investle.

>> you absolutely are. remember when former secretary of state hillary clinton talked about china being the new colonial power for africa and if america doesn't get its act together, china is going to take over in a way that arguably america should be. so the evidence of china 's presence and the willingness to invest in both the public and the private sector , it is an explosion.

>> is it greeted as colonialism, or is it -- how is it greeted?

>> so this is the thing. what china has done is to make this argument that it offers an understanding of africa 's cultural capital . and so while it's making economic investments, it's not doing so absent the understanding of what this country is, which is different in the colonial years not thinking of who the people were. now, in practical terms, it is not that. it's a great strategy.

>> so john, what i feel like is america has a very simplistic notion of africa . africa is just this thing. one word. it's a country. and there's been a lot of critique of the president for not doing a better job in terms of -- like, how do you make this relationship matter to americans?

>> well, you got to go there, physically go there. unfortunately, you drag the press corps along. even if they ask you about edward snowden every stop --

>> which they did.

>> -- you still go there. it matters. there's something else the president is doing which has been dramatically undercovered. before he went he appointed russ feingold to the special envoy , in africa is known as the great lakes region , a central african region which has immense innovation going on. great things. they also have really tough countries. putting feingold in there was a very big deal . he was on the africa subcommittee for 18 years. he's known in africa . it was a clear signal that this administration wants to engage at a higher level and wants actually to be prodded a little bit.