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President Barack Obama was in Prague on Thursday signing a nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Two weeks ago, the president made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, and in June he will visit Guam and Indonesia.

Africa should be the next stop on Obama’s foreign travel itinerary. And he could start with Kenya – despite this week’s ridiculous rhetoric from conservative commentator Glenn Beck.

Obama has an ancestral connection to Africa; his father was born in Kenya, and he often talks passionately about the daunting challenges facing the continent.

Now, the Obama administration is also wading deep into the politics of Africa by trying to pressure Kenya to legalize abortion. And Michelle Obama, in a recent speech about the mounting AIDS epidemic in Africa, referred to Kenya as Obama’s “home country.”

That’s when Beck went off.

“We’re back with Michelle Obama and new video that is going around now from Michelle Obama where she talks about Barack Obama and his home country of Kenya,” Beck said on his Fox television show this week. “Oh, my gosh, she’s just verified he’s not an American citizen! She is just saying something stupid as a spouse. His dad left him to go join the communist government of Kenya. Hello. He’s from Kenya. His aunt is about to be deported back to Kenya because she’s an illegal alien here.”

Beck is a reckless, right-wing blowhard who can’t wait to beat up on Obama, but taking cheap shots at Michelle Obama is low even by Beck’s standards.

Still, Beck aside, Obama should put his African “home country” on his short list of upcoming priorities for foreign travel. Kenya is one of Africa’s most developed and economically stable nations, but in 2007, more than 1,000 people were killed during a presidential election, and last year, a deadly drought claimed the lives of many children.

Obama visited Ghana last July – the earliest visit made by a U.S. president to the continent – but since Obama only stayed in Ghana for a one-night stopover as part of a larger trip, critics argued that Obama’s Africa visit was more symbolic than substantive.

They were right.

Africa has so many needs, and there’s so little time. Obama has three years left in his term in office, – and there’s no iron-clad guarantee that he’ll be re-elected.

Two recent reports from Africa policy think tanks say Obama is “missing a historic opportunity” to improve lives across Africa, and they are urging the president to create a new, “people-centered” strategy to tackle major ongoing challenges, including HIV/AIDS, poverty, human rights violations and climate change.

But here’s the one statistic that continues to jump off the page: In Africa, 87 percent of the population still lives on just $2 a day.

In a speech this week by Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration’s assistant secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs, he outlined a myriad of challenges facing Africa. He said a key element in Africa’s transformation is sustaining a commitment to democracy.

Carson said Africa has made significant progress with Botswana, Ghana, Tanzania, Mauritius and South Africa, but he said some scholars suggest that democracy in Africa may be unattainable with flawed presidential elections in Kenya, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

Hunger, poverty and under-nutrition remain an ongoing concern, and Carson said the $3.5 billion Food Security Initiative will also supply new methods and technologies to African farmers. Meanwhile, over two-thirds of all people living with HIV are in Africa, and in 2008, the region accounted for 72 percent of the world’s AIDS-related deaths.

While the White House says the administration is spending billions of dollars to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa, some government watchdog groups say the Obama administration …..

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