28 July 2015

Africa: Obama: Africa's Progress Dependent on Development, Democracy

In his farewell speech capping a historic trip to Kenya and Ethiopia, U.S. President Barack Obama hailed Africa's extraordinary progress, while noting that such progress can only be sustained through continued development and democracy for all.

"I stand before you as a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of an African," Obama said Tuesday. With those words, the first sitting U.S. president to address the African Union encapsulated his personal interest in seeing Africa's continued economic and developmental growth as it sheds a history of colonialism.

"A half century into this independence era, it is long past time to put aside old stereotypes of an Africa forever mired in poverty and conflict. The world must recognize Africa's extraordinary progress," he said.

Obama hailed the continent's gains, from a plummeting HIV/AIDS infections rate to millions of Africans being lifted out of poverty, while championing the U.S. role in such gains.

US initiatives to support Africa

President Obama highlighted his renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act aimed at boosting trade and U.S. initiatives focused on food security, increasing access to electricity, and supporting African entrepreneurs.

While not naming China, Obama emphasized what sets the United States apart in its investment in Africa.

"Economic relationships cannot simply be about other countries building infrastructure with foreign labor or extracting Africa's natural resources. Real economic partnerships have to be a good deal for Africa—they have to create jobs and capacity for Africans. That's the kind of partnership America offers," he said.

But the American leader cautioned the continent's "impressive" progress "rest on a fragile foundation," with hundreds of millions of Africans still living in extreme poverty without access to basic infrastructure.

"Alongside high-tech hubs of innovation, many Africans are crowded into shantytowns without power or running water—a level of poverty that's an assault on human dignity," he said.

In a message he also honed during his visit to Kenya President Obama noted that nothing will unlock Africa's economic potential more than ending "the cancer of corruption."

"Here in Africa, corruption drains billions of dollars from economies—money that could be used to create jobs and to build hospitals and schools. And when someone has to pay a bribe just to start a business or go to school or to get an official to do their job—that's not "the African way"—it undermines the dignity of the people you represent." he said.

New US funds for 'Feed the Future'

Earlier Tuesday, President Obama the Faffa Foods plant in Addis Ababa, which is supported by the U.S. government initiative Feed the Future aimed at promoting food security to combat hunger, poverty and malnutrition.

According to the White House, Faffa produces 25,000 tons a year of supplemental foods including fortified milk powders and baby food. Some of Faffa's products are sold to the U.N. World Food Program for distribution to vulnerable populations and refugees along the Somali and South Sudanese border. Faffa is also the primary supplier of baby food for Ethiopian children.

The U.S. government announced Tuesday a $140 million in Feed the Future investments aimed at getting climate-resilient seeds – including maize, legumes, rice, and wheat – to smallholder farmers in 11 African countries. The government says the initiative is expected to benefit more than 11 million households across Africa over the next three years.

"The goal is to drastically increase the productivity of a small farmers all throughout Africa because what we know is that a huge percentage of Africans are still getting their incomes from agriculture and most of them are very small plots, and not a lot of technology," Obama said. "But with just a few smart interventions, a little bit of help, they can make huge improvements in their overall yield."

Obama met Monday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn for what he called "frank discussions" that included urging the government to allow journalists and opposition parties to operate more freely. He said creating space for those voices "will strengthen rather than inhibit" the ruling party's agenda.

Hailemariam said Ethiopia is committed to improving human rights and governance. "Our commitment to democracy is real, not skin deep," he said.

Obama met Monday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn for what he called "frank discussions" that included urging the government to allow journalists and opposition parties to operate more freely. He said creating space for those voices "will strengthen rather than inhibit" the ruling party's agenda.

Hailemariam said Ethiopia is committed to improving human rights and governance. "Our commitment to democracy is real, not skin deep," he said.

South Sudan

President Obama also focused Monday on the civil war in South Sudan, saying before a meeting with leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and the AU that conditions in the country are getting "much, much worse." He said South Sudan's president and opposition leaders have been stubborn and are looking out for their own self-interests rather than the interest of the country.

The leaders at Monday's meeting agreed that South Sudan's leaders need to reach a peace deal by an August 17 deadline, the White House said. A U.S. official told reporters that the leaders discussed options for penalties if there is no deal, including imposing sanctions and deploying a regional intervention force.

South Sudan was thrown into conflict more than a year and-a-half ago when clashes broke out between forces loyal to the president and vice president.

Kenya visit

Before Ethiopia, Obama spent two days in his father's homeland of Kenya, where he was hailed as a native son.

In a speech before his departure Sunday, the president said Kenya is at a crossroads "filled with peril, but also with enormous promise."

In Nairobi, the president praised Kenya's achievements winning independence in 1963, among them ending one-party rule and overcoming the deadly tribal and ethnic violence that broke out in 2007 and plagued the country for several months. "The people of Kenya chose not to be defined by the hatreds of the past," Obama said, "you chose a better history."

VOA's Chris Hannas, Gabe Joselow, Anita Powell, Arash Arabasadi and Vincent Makori contributed to this story.

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