by Kevern Verney, Edge Hill University An illustrious predecessor of Barack Obama once wrote: “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” But Thomas Jefferson didn’t have to live with today’s 24-hour media cycle – and while there’s no evidence that the current US president’s capacity for work has in any way dissipated in recent months, his luck – and more importantly his knack for media management – appears to have.
Take Obama’s visit to Africa this weekend. The only news anyone really wants from Africa right now concerns Nelson Mandela. The symbolism of Obama’s visit to Senegal’s slave ports has been swallowed up in the bedside vigil the whole world is keeping for Africa’s greatest statesman.
The situation is fraught with risk for the US president. Any visit to Mandela’s bedside risks being seen as a cynical move by Obama to boost his flagging popularity, while his speeches will be analysed for signs that he is trying too hard to link his own civil rights credentials to those of South Africa’s first and most beloved black president. Meanwhile, away from Mandela’s hospital bed, Obama faces hostile criticism of US trade policies and a “NoBama” campaign organised by South Africa’s biggest trade union.