CENTURION, South Africa -- President Barack Obama is receiving the embrace you might expect for a long-lost son on his return to his father's home continent, even as he has yet to leave a lasting policy legacy for Africa on the scale of his two predecessors.
Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush passed innovative Africa initiatives while in the White House and passionately continue their development work in the region in their presidential afterlife.
Bush's AIDS relief program is credited with saving millions of lives. He also initiated grants to reward developing countries for good governance. Bush followed on momentum on African policy that began under Clinton, who allowed several dozen sub-Saharan countries to export to the United States duty-free.
Obama's efforts here have not been so ambitious, despite his personal ties to the continent. His signature Africa policy thus far has been food security, through less prominent programs designed to address hunger with policy reforms and private investment in agriculture.
His first major tour of Africa as president is coming just now, in his fifth year. The ex-presidents Bush and Clinton are frequent fliers to Africa.
Bush even will be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, next week at the same time as Obama, although they have no plans to meet. Instead, their wives plan to appear together at a summit on empowering African women.
For Obama, one potentially memorable aspect of this trip -- a meeting with critically ill former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela -- remained in doubt. Obama arrived in South Africa late Friday.
Mandela is battling a lung infection that U.S. doctors say is most likely pneumonia, a very common cause of illness and death in the elderly. His ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, said Friday that his condition had improved in recent days, but that he remained critical.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Obama said it was uncertain whether he would get an opportunity to see Mandela, a personal hero to the president.
"I don't need a photo-op, and the last thing I want to do is to be in any way obtrusive at a time when the family is concerned about Nelson Mandela's condition," he said.
Before leaving Senegal, Obama met with farmers and entrepreneurs who are using new methods and technologies to advance the cause of food security.
"This is a moral imperative," he said. "I believe that Africa is rising and it wants to partner with us, not to be dependent but to be self-sufficient."