The election of a US president with a Kenyan father was greeted by jubilant scenes in Kenya in 2008.
And Barack Obama talked about a new moment of promise for Africa when he visited Ghana in 2009.
Building on this theme, the White House has just launched a new strategy for Africa, promising to strengthen democracy and encourage economic growth through trade and investment.
Though the strategy did mention the importance of countering al-Qaeda across the continent, there was no reference to the role of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), which was established in 2007 under George W Bush.
Under the Obama administration, the US has expanded its military footprint and its secret intelligence operation across Africa, establishing a series of small bases from which to launch spy missions and drone strikes on groups like al-Shabab in Somalia.
As the US increases covert military operations across Africa, we ask if Washington can lecture Africans about democracy.
US troops have also been deployed, particularly in Uganda where they are searching for Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA).
This is in addition to increasing numbers of private military contractors operating in Africa.
“AFRICOM has hijacked the rest of President Obama’s Africa policy. [In Mali], they went in with both feet and they encouraged the Malians … they gave Mali a lot of military assistance to go after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb instead of dealing with internal issues … and therefore that caused a big problem. ”
- Nii Akuetteh, an African policy analyst
Meanwhile, China has been steadily building up its strategic and commercial ties with the resource-rich continent.
China has overtaken the US in recent years to become Africa’s biggest trade partner as the continent’s bilateral trade with Beijing grew from $10.6bn in 2000 to $160bn last year.
In comparison, US trade with Africa was worth $38.6bn in 2000 but had only grown to $125.9bn by 2011.
So what is motivating US policy towards Africa?
Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests: David Shinn, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso; Paul Mutter, a fellow at Truthout.org; and Nii Akuetteh, an African policy analyst who was formerly the executive director of Africa Action.
“America has a responsibility to advance this vision, not just with words, but with support that strengthens African capacity. When there is genocide in Darfur or terrorists in Somalia, these are not simply African problems – they are global security challenges, and they demand a global response. That is why we stand ready to partner through diplomacy, technical assistance, and logistical support, and will stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable. And let me be clear: our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent, but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world.”
Barack Obama, the US president addressing the Ghanaian parliament in 2009