U.S. President Barack Obama is on a flight to Senegal, his first stop on an Africa trip that will focus on trade, investment and the promotion of democracy.
After a seven-hour flight to Dakar, Obama will meet Thursday with President Macky Sall and take part in a discussion on the rule of law with regional judicial leaders.
Previewing the president's trip, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said with the AIDS epidemic receding and less corruption, "the stars are aligned" in Africa for a substantial reduction in poverty.
But Froman said progress in Africa is still fragile. He said the United States wants to be on the side of those who have made recent gains irreversible.
From Senegal, Obama plans to head to South Africa and visit Robben Island, the prison where former president Nelson Mandela spent nearly two decades.
South African officials have said Obama's visit will go ahead despite the nationwide concern about the 94 year-old Mandela's poor health.
Obama also will stop in Tanzania before heading home.
Obama will not be visiting Kenya, the birthplace of his father. The president's plans have disappointed many Kenyans. But Kenya's president and deputy president are both facing trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Diplomats say this makes an Obama visit at this time impossible.
This is only the second time Obama has visited Africa since becoming president. He briefly stopped in Ghana in 2009.