Obama was due to leave yesterday for Kenya, marking his first Presidential visit to the homeland of his father. From there, Obama will trace the Great Rift Valley northward to Addis Ababa, becoming the first US president to visit Ethiopia.

"Despite its many challenges -- and we have to be clear-eyed about all the challenges that the continent still faces -- Africa is a place of incredible dynamism, some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, extraordinary people,extraordinary resilience," Obama said at a reception late
yesterday.

The continent "has the potential to be the next centre of global economic growth," he said at the event, which celebrated the African Growth Opportunity Act, US trade legislation which aims to help bolster Africa's prosperity.

US leader hailed a catalogue of accomplishments notched during his presidential tenure that have helped strengthen Washington's ties to the continent.

"As president, I've worked so hard to take our relationship with Africa to a new level," Obama said.

"We've boosted US exports. We've launched historic initiatives to promote trade and investment, health, agricultural development and food security, Power Africa to promote and expand electrification," he said.

The president also praised the enduring nature of the connection between Africans and Americans.

"The ties to Africa here in the United States obviously are deep; they are long; they're complicated," Obama said.

"There have been times where there have been misunderstandings, and there have been times where there have been suspicions. But when you look at every survey, it turns out that the people of Africa love the United States and what it stands for," he said.