Obama to Africa: No more presidents for life – By Edward-Isaac Dovere

July 28th, 2015 Print Print Email Email

Winding up his final visit to the continent as president, Obama says it’s time for African countries to develop truly democratic practices. By Edward-Isaac Dovere 7/28/15 8:35 AM EDT

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – On the final stop of what will almost certainly be his final visit to Africa while in office, President Barack Obama ripped into African leaders who refuse to give up power, saying: “let me be honest with you — I just don’t understand this.”

Obama drew huge applause, cheers, whistles and laughter on Tuesday here at African Union headquarters as he mocked the many African leaders who refuse to give up power, jabbing, “especially when they’ve got a lot of money.”
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Obama used the address at the African Union headquarters — a massive, ultra-modern building here in the Ethiopian capital with shantytowns a block away visible from its glass-enclosed lobby — about the need to bring more opportunity, health care and human rights to the entire continent.
The big problem, Obama said, is the people in power now.
“Nothing will unlock Africa’s economic potential more than ending the cancer of corruption,” Obama said.
“Democracy is not just formal elections,” Obama said pointedly, calling the crackdowns on civil society and journalists common in Ethiopia an example of “democracy in name, but not substance.”
President Barack Obama delivers a speech at Safaricom Indoor Arena, Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Nairobi. On the final day of his visit in Kenya, Obama laid out his vision for Kenya’s future, and broad themes of U.S.-Kenya relations. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Obama: Africa needs to evolve
Few African leaders attended the speech in person, but the speech was directed less at them than at people across the continent.
Obama repeatedly recalled his personal connection to the region, referring to himself as “the son of an African” and saying that “Africa and its people have helped shape who I am and how I see the world.”
And being an African-American has shaped his thinking as well as he looks out at injustice across Africa and recalled the United States’ own troubled racial history.
“We know what it means to be discriminated against. We know what it means to be jailed,” he said. “So how can we stand by when it happens to someone else?”
This speech was Obama’s attempt to help shape how Africa and its people see themselves and their place in the world.
The speech, the first of its kind by a sitting president, was greeted with great anticipation across Africa and to-capacity seating. At a bilateral meeting with African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zulu, Obama said he joked to her that the speech may be a little long, and she’d responded that it was fine, since they had been waiting 50 years for it.
“Although we welcome you as the president of the United States of America, we also claim you as our own,” she said, introducing him in the chamber a few minutes later.
US President Barack Obama (L) speaks during a joint press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the National Palace in Addis Ababa on July 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Obama differs from top aides over Ethiopia’s democracy
With Obama sitting a few feet away, she made her own pitch for Africa’s place in the international community, saying the time had long come for a country from the continent to have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Obama, though, focused on what Africa has to do itself, tying together the legacy of America’s first president, George Washington, and Nelson Mandela, the beloved South African leader in whose honor the chamber was named.
“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife, as we’ve seen in Burundi. And it’s often just a first step down a perilous path,” Obama said. “But if a leader thinks they’re the only person who can hold their nation together, then that leader has failed to truly build their country.”
The African Union has as much of a responsibility as the leaders themselves, he said. They need to be just as vigilant about pushing out people who’ve held onto power too long as they are about condemning people who’ve seized power illegally.
“The AU’s authority and strong voice can also help the people of Africa ensure that their leaders abide by term limits and their constitutions,” he said. “No one should be president for life.”
Obama’s wide-ranging speech covered poverty, HIV/AIDS treatment, the potential of African youth, education, international business investment, development, electrification, climate change, freedom of the press, women’s rights and gay rights — many of which he wrapped around the theme of dignity.
“So many Africans have told me, ‘We don’t just want aid, we want trade that fuels our progress,’” Obama said. “’We don’t want patrons, we want partners who help us build our own capacity to grow. We don’t want the indignity of dependence, we want to make our own choices and determine our own future.”
He said he knows there are some that believe America should mind its own business, not try to exert its values on the rest of the world—a message that was delivered to his face just on Saturday in Kenya, when President Uhuru Kenyatta pushed back about the need to focus on gay rights, dismissing it as an America concern.
Obama said he didn’t care. America will keep pushing.
“You’re kind of stuck with us,” he said. “This is how we are.”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/barack-obama-africa-trip-democracy-ethiopia-120711.html#ixzz3hCk57tpn

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