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Sweet Column: Sudan slow walks Obama visa. Obama leaves for Africa.

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barack Obama leaves today for a 17-day, six-country African visit, returning to his deceased father's Kenyan home, scrambling to retool the trip at the last minute because of the reluctance of Sudan to grant him a visa.

Though members of Congress routinely visit nations on the troubled African continent with no media fanfare, Obama departs for Cape Town at the tip of South Africa followed by a local, national and international press corps that could swell to 25 by the time he hugs his Kenyan grandmother, Mama Sarah Obama, with his wife, Michelle, and two daughters.

In the works for months

The Sudan leg was always an iffy proposition because of the uncertainty that a visa would be granted to Obama, who has been trying to use his unique position as the son of a Kenyan and the only African American in the Senate to pressure the Sudan government to stop the genocidal killings in the Darfur region.

The Obama trip had been planned for months, with the final days originally to have been spent visiting a refugee camp in Darfur, to throw a spotlight on the 21st century killings the United States deemed a genocide in 2004.

Wednesday afternoon, with no confirmation of a Sudan visa -- and with growing concerns about security in the camps anyway -- Obama's office decided instead that he would visit Darfur refugees living in camps in neighboring Chad.

Obama's staff did not want to change again when word came late Wednesday from the State Department that Sudan was likely to approve visas for Obama and his staff.

The nod from Sudan did come on Thursday. I went to the Sudan Embassy in Washington on July 14 asking for a visa to cover Obama's African travels with a letter stating I would be leaving on or about Aug. 14, which at the time was my intention. Thursday afternoon, I got a call from the Sudan Embassy here to drop by and pick up my visa.

I talked with Robert Gibbs, Obama's spokesman, on my cell phone as I was waiting for my passport to be processed in the Sudan Embassy. I wanted the visa to keep my options open as I travel the next weeks with Obama. I'll be filing columns, unloading sidebars on my blog, shooting photos and -- something new for me -- video reports you will find at www.suntimes.com.

Intentional delay?

Gibbs said the "excessive delay'' of Sudan in granting trip visas -- and the security warnings -- forced their hand. I don't know if Sudan intended a delay tactic, but that was the practical impact.

Last week, I talked with Obama about his upcoming trip and the possibility that Sudan would run up the clock.

"I think that signifies that they feel they have something to hide. I don't think it's any secret [that] Sudan has been recalcitrant on dealing with an inhumane and inexcusable situation,'' he said.

Obama will visit the major regions of sub-Saharan Africa -- South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Congo, Djibouti and Chad. Much of the time will be spent in Kenya. This trip comes as Obama's enormous celebrity is growing as he is being mentioned as a 2008 White House contender -- and his second book is released this fall. Obama spent part of last week recording the book-on-tape version in a Chicago studio. Obama's campaign fund -- Obama 2010 -- sent out an e-mail Thursday promising pictures and audio reports from Obama in Africa.

I asked Obama to finish a sentence for me: You're going to Africa because?

Said Obama, "I'm going because Africa is important."

6 Comments

Will Senator Obama be addressing the Darfur crisis and the persecution of Christians and Catholics in Muslim African nations. This question addresses genocide and human rights violations?
Why has the Senator to date been silent on these issues?

It is no secret from my previous posts that I have no fondness for Obama's politics. This is little more than a staged publicity stunt. He should be meeting up with Angelina and Brad over there to make it even more delicious for the left-wing goobers that lap this stuff up. Folks, he is not the answer to the problems in Africa or here.
He is black when the occasion calls for it and then white, middle-class mom and pop American when that suits the purpose. I'll bet the airheads are salivating at the prospect of voting for him. Soccer moms please read his voting record in the Illinois Senate.

Go Lynn!

I await your reports with much anticipation. Please be careful out there.

Hey Lynn,

My husband and son are in Sudan right now. My son being a true "African-American" is experiencing Africa for the first time in his life. He's 15. I am proud to know that Sen. Obama considers Africa IMPORTANT! I pray that you have a safe trip and that you are able to share more than political information with us.

Saree
CA

Whether it be Clinton or Bush, both have missed the boat, as they say on Africa. And on Sudan. There is enough blame to go around. Especially the Clinton Administration which had a ZERO IN REALITY policy on Africa. I wonder if the folks in Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Chad, and Mauritania, consider him the 'first black president'. And why won't black leaders speak-out v. the arab muslims who are killing and enslaving black Africans?

Amen, John. The unspeakable horrors and atrocities committed by Muslims in Africa have been going on for decades. I often wondered why Pres. Clinton thought it so important to bomb Serbia for the Kosovar Muslims, but turned his back on Africa. Both Bushes and Pres. Reagan have no excuse, either, for their lack of African consideration. What good is the U.N., when all they do is go in and set up the black market and prostitution rings and then turn their backs on the people they are supposed to help? If Obama can free the Christian tribes in the Sudan and Rwanda from the tyranny of the Musklims, I might even vote for him someday. I won't be holding my breath.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on August 18, 2006 6:06 AM.

Sweet blog scoop: Bill Clinton to headline funder for Bean, Duckworth. Laura Bush in for Roskam. was the previous entry in this blog.

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