In countries across this continent, one presidential project has struck me more than any other. It is an American gift to Africa with an extraordinary humanitarian legacy. The ‘PEPFAR’ initiative, a multi-billion dollar scheme to combat AIDS, has secured relatively few column inches, but it has saved many lives – perhaps millions – by helping to fund antiretroviral drugs which have poured life back into AIDS sufferers.
And the president behind this scheme? Not Barack Obama, but his predecessor, George W. Bush. In fact, Obama might struggle to name an initiative of his own which has had anything like the same impact in Africa.
That’s right; George W. Bush, the man who apparently told a friend that he found "this foreign policy stuff a little frustrating", might have been a better president for Africa than the man who speaks so proudly of his African heritage.
“I have the blood of Africa within me”, Obama told members of the Ghanaian parliament in 2009. The new president oozed with pride. His audience cheered loudly. But would their whoops have been quite so enthusiastic had they known that Obama's brief stop-over would be his only trip to sub-Saharan Africa during this presidential term?
For Obama, other things seemed to get in Africa’s way - a global economic down-turn, for one. It’s helped to create a sense that the first African American president hasn’t delivered for Africa. If he wins a second term, an improved economy at home might encourage him to take a greater interest in its issues: Al-Qaeda’s carving out of a de factor state in the north of Mali might force him to.
But in the perceived absence of American interest, China’s influence over and investment in Africa has grown rapidly: two-way trade stands at £100 billion a year. African leaders now have an alternative super-power to do business and politics with now. And Africa’s apparent cooling on Obama might be reflected in a survey conducted for BBC World Service. It found that Kenya, though overwhelmingly in favour of Obama, had the strongest support for Mitt Romney of all of the 21 countries where research was carried out.
But in Kogelo, western Kenya, there is no question over which candidate is most popular. The village, on the edge of the mighty Lake Victoria, is Obama’s ancestral home; it is his father’s hometown; it is where his step-grandmother, known locally as ‘Mama Sarah’, still lives. When Obama became president in 2008, the community erupted in celebration. It seemed to represent jubilation that ran through the country, and the continent.
This time, there are plans for another election night party – a bull will be slaughtered and the results will be shown on big screens. The president’s half-brother, Malik Obama, wants to be there as villagers gather in the dusty streets. “We are even more excited this year than we were at the last election” local entrepreneur Peter Okath tells me.
“This is not about what Obama has done or what he hasn’t done. This is about the fact that one of us is succeeding. All people care about is that he is a son of this area. All we understand is that he is President of the United States – president of the world.”