US President Barack Obama said Tuesday that it was time for the world to change its approach to Africa, as he made the first address to the African Union by a US leader.
“As Africa changes, I’ve called for the world to change its approach to Africa,” Obama said in a speech at the AU’s headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital.
“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 recognise Africa’s extraordinary progress.”
Mr Obama said Africa needed more trade, and that the United States was stepping up its business ties with the continent.
“So many Africans have told me: we don’t just want aid, we want trade that fuels our progress. 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.
President Obama said the United States was a trusted partner of the continent, and took a veiled swipe at resource-hungry China — which has massively stepped up its presence on the continent.
“Economic relationships cannot simply be about other countries building infrastructure with foreign labour or extracting Africa’s natural resources,” Obama said.
“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.”
Mr Obama said the United States stood with Africa to defeat terrorism and end conflict, warning that the continent’s progress will “depend on security and peace”.
“As Africa stands against terror and conflict, I want you to know the United States stands with you,” Obama said in a speech to the African Union, highlighting threats ranging from Somalia’s Shebab, Boko Haram in Nigeria, insurgents in Mali and Tunisia, and the Uganda-led Lord’s Resistance Army rebels in central Africa.
He said the United States was backing AU military efforts and saluting the “brave African peacekeepers” battling militants.
“From Somalia and Nigeria, to Mali and Tunisia, terrorists continue to target innocent civilians,” he said at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa.
“Many of these groups claim the banner of religion, but hundreds of millions of African Muslims know that Islam means peace. We must call groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIL (Islamic State), Al-Shebab and Boko Haram, we must call them what they are — murderers.”
But he also said that progress was being made.
“Because of the AU force in Somalia, Al-Shebab controls less territory, and the Somali government is growing stronger. In central Africa, the AU-led mission continues to degrade the Lord’s Resistance Army,” he said.
“In the Lake Chad basin, forces from several nations — with the backing of the AU –are fighting to end Boko Haram’s senseless brutality.”
The US leader also condemned African leaders who refuse to give up power, as he made the first address to the African Union by a US leader.
“Africa’s democratic progress is also at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end,” Obama said in a speech at the AU’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.
“No one should be president for life,” Obama said, adding that he himself was looking forward to handing over to his successor.
NKURUNZIZA ON THE SPOT
“I have to be honest with you: I just don’t understand this. Under our constitution, I cannot run again. There’s still so much I want to get done to keep America moving forward. But the law is the law and no one is above it, not even presidents,” he said.
“And, frankly, I’m looking forward to life after being president. It will mean more time with my family, new ways to serve, and more visits to Africa.”
President Obama singled out Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza — whose re-election to a third term provoked weeks of unrest in the small central African nation — as an example of the dangers of trying to stay put.
“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.”
He said clinging to power was “often just a first step down a perilous path.”
CANCER OF GRAFT
“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,” Obama said, hailing Nelson Mandela as an example for the continent.
He at the same time called on Africa to end “the cancer of corruption” and embrace democracy to ensure continued progress, in a speech to the African Union.
“Nothing will unlock Africa’s economic potential more than ending the cancer of corruption,” Mr Obama said, warning that it drained “billions of dollars” from economies that could be used for health systems or creating employment.
“Only Africans can end corruption in their countries,” he said.
But he also said that ensuring democratic rights were protected was key.
“Africa’s progress will also depend on democracy, because Africans, like people everywhere, deserve the dignity of being in control of their own lives,” he said, in a speech that closes his two-nation tour of Kenya and Ethiopia.
“Yet at this very moment, these same freedoms are denied to many Africans. I have to proclaim, democracy is not just formal elections,” he added, to cheers from the packed hall, with all its 2,500 seats taken by AU officials as well as civil society representatives.
“When journalists are put behind bars for doing their jobs, or activists are threatened as governments crack down on civil society, then you may have democracy in name, but not in substance.
“I am convinced that nations cannot realise the full promise of independence until they fully protect the rights of their people.”