The White House is defending President Obama's upcoming trip to three African countries despite the hefty price tag, saying that the U.S. would be "ceding its leadership position in the world" by not engaging in Africa.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that Obama has not traveled to Africa "in the same way that we've traveled to other regions in the world," noting that Obama has traveled "significantly" in Asia, has taken several trips to Latin America and to Europe and will have taken several trips to Russia by the end of the year.
"Africa's a critically important region of the world," Rhodes said, contending the U.S. has "huge interests there." He noted some of the world's fastest growing economies are in Africa, along with a fast growing youth population.
He said there are democratic institutions on the upswing in the three countries Obama is visiting: Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, and that some of the U.S.'s biggest development efforts on issues like global health and combating HIV and AIDS have focused on Africa.
"So for the United States to say, 'We're a world leader except in this continent' doesn't make any sense," Rhodes said. "Just as we put a premium on developing our ties in emerging regions like southeast Asia and Latin America, we need to be present in Africa."
He noted other economies are "quite present" in Africa, including China, Brazil and Turkey.
"The U.S. would be ceding its leadership position in the world if the president of the United States was not deeply engaged in Africa," Rhodes said, adding that the trip has been "highly anticipated on the continent" and that there's "grave disappointment" that Obama hasn't traveled to Africa other than a stop in Ghana.