Sunday, June 30, 2013
By Faith Karimi and Laura Bernardini
Sun June 30, 2013
(CNN) — U.S. President Barack Obama pledged $7 billion Sunday to help combat frequent power blackouts in sub-Saharan Africa. Funds from the initiative, dubbed Power Africa, will be distributed over the next five years.
“More than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity, and more than 85% of those living in rural areas lack access,” the White House said in a statement. Sub-Saharan Africa will need more than $300 billion to achieve universal electricity access by 2030, the statement said. The preliminary setup will include Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria , Tanzania, Uganda and Mozambique.
“These countries have set ambitious goals in electric power generation, and are making the utility and energy sector reforms to pave the way for investment and growth,” the statement said. Obama’s announcement came during his trip to South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy. The visit is part of his three-nation trip that started in Senegal and will end in Tanzania this week. The trip aims to bolster U.S. investment opportunities, address development issues such as food security and health, and promote democracy.
It comes as China aggressively engages the continent, pouring billions of dollars into it and replacing the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner. Obama applauded China’s investment in Africa, saying he is “not threatened by it.”
Africa’s greater integration into the global economy will benefit everyone with the potential creation of new jobs and opportunities, he said. “I’m here because I think the United States needs to engage with a continent full of promise and possibility,” Obama said. “It’s good for the United States. I welcome the attention that Africa is receiving from China, Brazil, India and Turkey.”
However, he urged African officials to ensure that those who invest in the continent and its natural resources benefit Africans in terms of jobs and others. Before he leaves South Africa on Sunday, Obama will also visit Robben Island, where anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela spent a majority of his 27 years behind bars. He will also address citizens at Cape Town University, the same site of a popular speech by Robert F. Kennedy at the height of apartheid in 1966. He then heads to Tanzania, where he is scheduled to attend events until Tuesday.
CNN’s Laura Bernardini contributed to this report.
Sci-Bono Discovery Center
Johannesburg, South Africa
3:50 P.M. SAST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. It is such a pleasure to be here today for this conversation with young people here in South Africa and across America. Let me tell you, I am so excited to listen to you and learn from you. And I’m especially excited for all of you to learn from each other.
But before we begin, I have to just take a moment to say that our thoughts and prayers are very much with President Mandela, and we will continue to hold him and his family in our hearts.
Now, I want to start by thanking Sizwe for that very kind introduction and for moderating today’s discussion. I’m thrilled that he could be part of this event, and it’s wonderful to meet you.
But most of all, I want to thank all of you for joining us here in South Africa and from across the United States of America. As you know, my husband has come here to Africa this week to meet with leaders across this continent about some of the most important issues we face — from ending poverty and hunger, to curing disease, to creating jobs in our global economy.
And that’s really why I wanted to meet with young people like all of you today. Because all of you are such a vital part of that very conversation, because in the coming years, all of you will be building the businesses, you’ll be making the discoveries and drafting the laws and policies that will move our countries and our world forward for decades to come.
So now, more than ever before, we need you guys to step up as leaders. We need you to be engaged in the pressing challenges of our time — truly. Because the fact is that both here in South Africa and in the United States, our journeys have always been led by young people just like you.
Think back to the histories of our two countries — the anti-Apartheid movement here in South Africa is a perfect example. Decades ago, under a set of laws called Apartheid, people of different races were separated in just about every aspect of their lives — from the neighborhoods where they lived to the beaches where they swam, black students and white students even had to attend separate schools, and the schools for black students were generally much worse.
Now, over time, understandably, young people grew more and more frustrated with this kind of segregation and inequality. And 37 years ago this month, a group of students right here in Johannesburg in a township called Soweto –
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Woo hoo!
MRS. OBAMA: — yes, indeed — (laughter) — planned a peaceful march. They were protesting a new law requiring their classes to be taught in Afrikaans, a language which neither they nor many of their teachers spoke. Thousands of young people took to the streets, and before long the police arrived, firing tear gas and bullets.
Many people were killed, including children as young as 13 years old. Folks all across South Africa were inspired by those students, and more and more people started speaking out against Apartheid, insisting that everyone in South Africa be treated equally no matter what the color of their skin.
Now, young people played a similar role in the history of my country, the United States. Back in the 1950s and 60s, thousands of students led marches and protests against unfair laws that said that black people and white people had to attend separate schools, drink from separate water fountains, and that black people had to sit at the back of public buses. And when those laws were finally struck down, a small number of black children began attending the all-white schools, including nine young men and women who became the very first black students at an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas.
These teenagers became known as the Little Rock Nine. And when these nine young people showed up for their first day of class in September of 1957, they were met by an angry mob of people who didn’t think that black children and white children should go to school together. The President at the time actually had to call in the military to protect these students. And for months, the Little Rock Nine endured relentless abuse and discrimination from their classmates and their teachers.
But here’s the thing — they kept on showing up every day, paving the way for generations of young people to get the education they deserve. See, those students in Little Rock and in Soweto were the exact same ages as many of you. They came from families just like many of yours. Their parents were maids and janitors and factory workers.
So they weren’t rich, and they certainly weren’t powerful. But these young people decided to face down bullets and beatings and abuse because they desperately wanted an education worthy of their potential. They wanted the same things that so many of you want today –- they wanted a good education, they wanted to go to college, they wanted to get good jobs, they wanted to provide for families of their own. And by taking a stand to change the course of their own lives, they changed the course of history.
And today, all these years later, so many of us are still benefitting from the sacrifices they made. I know that I stand here today as First Lady of the United States of America — and my husband is President — because of those nine young men and women in Little Rock, Arkansas.
So many of you here in South Africa have opportunities that your parents and grandparents never ever imagined for themselves. But as we go about our lives today, it’s so easy to take all of that progress for granted, so easy to get caught up in all the distractions that surround us –- what’s happening on those reality TV shows, who’s throwing the best party, who’s invited, who isn’t.
I also know that many of you face real challenges in your lives. Maybe your mom has lost her job, maybe your dad’s not around. Maybe your school isn’t as good as it should be. Maybe you have folks in your life who doubt that you have what it takes to succeed, who tell you that you’re not good enough or smart enough to achieve your dreams. And let me tell you, I know a little bit about that, because that’s what happened to me.
See, when I was growing up, my family didn’t have much money. Neither of my parents had the chance to go to college. And let me tell you, there were plenty of people who doubted whether a girl with my background had what it took to succeed. Plenty of folks urged me not to hope for too much, not to set my sights too high.
See, but here’s the thing — I made a choice. I decided not to listen to the doubters and the haters. Instead, I decided to prove them wrong.
So here’s what I did — I poured myself into my education. I woke up early to study. I stayed up late doing my homework. And I made sure I had the grades I needed to get in the universities that I dreamed of attending. And I kept on working until I got my law degree from one of the best universities in my country. And let me tell you, those degrees were my ticket to all kinds of exciting opportunities — jobs that let me pursue my passions and provide for my family, and give back to my community and my country.
So here’s what I learned from my own life experiences: You might not control what family you come from. You might not control what school you go to or how other people treat you. But you can control whether you do your homework each night. You can control whether you go to school every morning. You can control whether you spend your free time hanging out on the streets, partying, playing video games, or instead, invest that energy in achieving academic excellence by studying for those exams and spending time in the library filling your minds with knowledge.
Now, your friends might not always support those choices. You might get teased or bullied or ridiculed for choosing to focus on your education. But like my mother, who is here, always told me, she said, it isn’t what people call you that matters, it’s what you answer to.
So you can choose to answer to the peer pressure and just go along with what everyone else is doing, or you can answer to your own hopes and dreams, and start working to become whatever you want to be in this life.
That’s what Siya Xuza did. He grew up in the township of Mthatha, and his family certainly wasn’t wealthy. But he studied hard in school, and as a teenager, he invented his own rocket fuel and won all kinds of awards. And I got to meet Siya in South Africa two years ago, and I got to see him again today, and he just graduated from Harvard University in the United States where he’s been developing new energy technologies to power Africa and save our planet.
And then there’s this other guy I know from the U.S. He was the son of a single mother whose father left his family when he was just two years old. And as a teenager, he didn’t always make the best decisions. But then he got serious about his schoolwork. He went to college and law school, became a civil rights lawyer, and a professor and a politician. And today, you might know that guy as my husband, Barack Obama, the President of the United States.
You see, Siya and President Obama and so many others in South Africa and the United States, they are living proof of what the legendary South African President, Nelson Mandela, once said. Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Now, getting a good education won’t always be easy. I know no matter how hard you try, let me tell you, you are going to make some mistakes — you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. You’ll still have times when you feel lost and like no one understands what you’re going through.
But I want you to remember this: No one is born a rocket scientist. No one is born as President of the United States or of South Africa. No one is born being smart or successful. You become smart and successful through hard work –- by doing those math problems, writing those papers; by getting things wrong, and then trying and trying again until you finally get them right.
And if you get discouraged, if you ever think about giving up, I want you to think about those students in Little Rock and Soweto. I want you to think about all the people throughout history who sacrificed so much for all of us.
I want you to think of Carlotta Walls. She was one of the Little Rock Nine, who said — she said that no matter how bad things got — and this was a quote — she said, “I was not going to give up, because that way, they would’ve won, and I wasn’t about to let that happen.”
I want you to think about President Mandela, and how even though he spent 27 years of his life in prison, he never gave up on his dream of a more fair and equal and free South Africa.
So here’s what I tell myself — if President Mandela can endure being confined to a tiny cell, being forced to perform back-breaking labor, being separated from the people he loved most in the world, then surely, I and all of you can show up for school every day and do your homework every night. If President Mandela can hold tight to his vision for this country’s future during all those years he faced in jail, then surely, you can hold on to your hopes for your own future; surely you can do everything in your power to seize the opportunities that he fought for.
That’s how I try to live my own life –- by honoring all those who sacrificed so much for me, from my dad all the way up to heroes like Madiba. Every day, I do my best to make my life worthy of their sacrifice.
And you all have everything you need, right now, to do the same in your own lives. You have everything. You have a brain in your head. You have passion in your heart. And I know that if you’re willing to work for it and fight for it, you can be anything that you dream of.
So today, I want to ask you all just to think about what barriers will you break down? What legacy will you leave for the next generation? Will you study the science so that you can cure cancer and AIDS and save our environment? Are you going to study politics so that you can end poverty and violence and build good schools for every child in your country? Will you study law so you can endure and ensure that decades from now, no one ever has to face discrimination because of what they look like or where they come from or who they love?
The answers to these questions are up to you. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to talk about how you all can use your education to make history and build a better future in the years ahead.
Know this: I’m already proud of you. Know this: The President is already proud of you. The next step is yours.
So I’m going to turn it back over to Sizwe so that we can get this conversation started. How about it? You all ready? (Applause.) All right.
END 4:06 P.M. SAST
# # #
Pretoria, South Africa
June 29, 2013
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, good evening, everyone. President Zuma, Madam Zuma, distinguished guests, thank you for your incredible hospitality. When I was last here, as a Senator, my entourage was a little smaller. (Laughter.) By that I mean no entourage. (Laughter.) The Speaker just helpfully showed me a photograph of me and him from that first visit and pointed out that I had no gray hair in the photo — (laughter) — and that the years had taken their toll.
I also want to thank President Zuma’s staff for making my staff feel much better, because this is not the first time that a President has come to the podium without notes — (laughter) — that were supposed to be there. And they are greatly relieved that that does not only happen to them. (Laughter.)
Traveling to South Africa the first time was different because part of the thing about not having an entourage is it meant I could go take walks on the streets of Johannesburg and Soweto and Cape Town. And that’s how you truly get to appreciate a country — the small interactions with shopkeepers or people who were willing to give you some directions. And I’ve never forgotten the beauty of this country, the warmth of its people. And tonight, I am reminded of that again, and Michelle and I can’t thank you enough.
I will not speak long. I have spoken enough today; I know Michelle heartily agrees. (Laughter.) I will be giving another speech tomorrow about what this nation represents to me and about the future that I believe that we can build together.
I’m told that there’s a word, a concept, that has come to define the way many South Africans see themselves and each other. And I’m not sure it translates easily into English. But it’s the recognition that, here on Earth, we’re bound together in ways that are sometimes invisible to the eye; that there is a basic oneness to our humanity. It’s the belief that we can only achieve true excellence and our full potential by sharing ourselves with other, by caring for those around us. I believe you call it Ubuntu. (Applause.)
And we feel that spirit tonight. We feel it in the lives of all those — including President Zuma — who endured the prisons and the beatings to end an unjust system so that we might stand here today in a free South Africa. And to President Zuma, and to all of you who participated in that struggle, the world will always remember your sacrifice. It’s a sacrifice that resonated in the United States in the same way that the U.S. civil rights movement helped to create bonds of solidarity with those in South Africa who were seeking their freedom.
We feel that spirit in the bonds between our two peoples that I think are unique in human history. I would not be here were it not for those Freedom Fighters, and I certainly would not be here if people weren’t willing to fight for the principles that both our countries hold dear.
America’s founding principles — our belief that “all men are created equal” — which would find expression in your Freedom Charter, which declared that this nation “belongs to all who live in it, black and white” with all people “enjoying equal rights and opportunities.” In time, the tables turned. Just as I believe that many South Africans were inspired by people like Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, we drew inspiration from your struggle. And your success reminded us that all things were possible, including the improbable idea that a son of an African man might even become an American President. (Applause.)
And we feel that spirit — Ubuntu — tonight because, we must admit, our minds and our hearts are not fully here because a piece of us, a piece of our heart is with a man and a family who is not far away from here. Much has been said about Madiba today. More will be said in the years to come. This evening, I’d simply like to close with the words that he turned to so often himself, in that cell; the poem he read to the others, in their darkest moments, to give them strength.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
And so I propose a toast: To a man who has always been a master of his fate who taught us that we could be the master of ours, to a proud nation, and South Africa’s unconquerable soul, and to President Zuma and Madam Zuma for their outstanding leadership in carrying on the great traditions of the South African struggle. Pula!
Office of the Press Secretary
The White House
June 29, 2013
President Obama met with African Union Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in Pretoria, South Africa on Saturday, June 29th. The President congratulated Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma on the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) /African Union, and expressed U.S. commitment to broaden and deepen the U.S. – African Union partnership. President Obama commended the African Union’s leadership on regional peace and security, including its vital work to resolve the conflicts in Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Mali. The President also underscored the importance of the African Union’s leadership in advancing development and democratic norms across the continent. The leaders also discussed shared interest in empowering women and youth, expanding trade and investment, and creating broad-based prosperity for people across the African continent.
# # #
University of Johannesburg-Soweto
Johannesburg, South Africa
June 29, 2013
3:48 P.M. SAST
MS. MABUSE: You guys are an amazing crowd. Good afternoon, and welcome to the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus. My name is Nkepile Mabuse and I will be the moderator this afternoon.
I really do hope that the strong significance and symbolism of what is happening here in Soweto today does not escape you. There really are no two occasions in recent time that have had a more profound impact on the African people than when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison a free man in 1990, and of course, the election of Barack Obama in 2008.
Now, these two men are politicians and their legacies will be judged by history. But there’s absolutely no doubt that these two developments in history have had a profound impact on the African continent. They have brought hope in Africa, and also began the process of restoring pride and dignity in the African people.
Now, as I speak to you and as you all know, President Nelson Mandela is lying in hospital, critically ill. The euphoria that engulfed this continent when President Obama was elected is fading, but in this room — look around you — is Africa’s brand new hope. These young people are doing amazing things in their communities. They have already been identified as leaders, and leaders who are committed to serving others and not themselves.
Exactly 37 years ago this month, young school children here in Soweto braved Apartheid bullets, fighting for freedom. It’s no coincidence that a new generation of young people is here today. And like the ’76 generation, they refuse to conform, but are inspired to transform their world.
When President Obama launched the Young African Leaders Initiative in 2010, he described them as the Africa that is overlooked. Well, at this moment the world can see and hear you. President Obama will come here, address you and then engage you. We will take a question here in South Africa before we cross to Kenya, Uganda and then Lagos, Nigeria. When the President selects you, please, be proud. Introduce yourselves and ask a short, sharp, smart question. (Laughter.)
As a fellow African, I really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping hope alive in Africa. Please join me in welcoming onstage the 44th President of the United States of America Barack Obama. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, everybody! (Applause.) Yebo Mzansi! (Applause.) Oh, it is wonderful to be back in South Africa. Everybody have a seat, everybody have a seat. Relax. Yes, I’m excited, too. (Applause.)
It is wonderful to be here with all these extraordinary young people — young people from across this magnificent country, but also from all across the continent. And I want to give special thanks and special welcome to those who are watching from Nigeria and Uganda and Kenya, a country obviously very close to my heart.
When I travel around the world, this is one of my favorite things to do — meeting and talking with young men and women like you. And our format today, this town hall is a longstanding tradition in America, and I get asked all sorts of things. I remember one event, a person asked a question that’s often on a lot of people’s minds when I show up: Where’s Michelle? (Laughter.) Sometimes people ask me, you seem to have gotten so old since you were elected — (laughter) — what happened?
So this format can be a little humbling, but it energizes me because it gives me a chance to hear from you directly what you’re thinking,
what you care about, what your vision is. And I’m making this trip to Africa because I believe this is a region on the move. Even as this continent faces great challenges — and they are great, and we can’t paper over them or pretend that those challenges don’t exist — even as too many Africans still endure tremendous hardship and great injustice, there is, as the song says — a “new Africa” — more prosperous, more confident, taking its place on the world stage.
And one of the reasons is because of your generation. And it’s fitting that we’ve gathered here, in Jo’burg, in Soweto, because here we learned that history is in our hands. Not far from here, in Orlando West, two young men came of age who would transform this nation and inspire the world — Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. And President Mandela once said that during all those years in that cell, it was his home here in Soweto — that small red-brick house — that was what he called the “center point of my world.”
And obviously he’s on our minds today, and we join the people of the world in sending our prayers to Madiba and his family because he still inspires us all.
Now, not far from here, on a June morning, young students gathered in peaceful protest for the right to be taught in their own language, for the right to be treated like human beings. And after all the police bullets, after the smoke cleared, the world was shocked by that image — protesters holding the body of a young boy, Hector Pieterson. And what a powerful tribute it is to Hector’s sacrifice, and to all who struggled, that we can gather here today in a free South Africa at a university that serves all South Africans.
And I know the story of Soweto inspires you in your lives, but keep in mind it inspired me, too. The uprising here helped open my mind to a broader world and to our responsibilities to choose between fairness and injustice, between right and wrong. And as a Senator, during my first visit to South Africa, I was able to go to Hector Pieterson’s memorial and pay tribute to an African boy who moved the world. And humbled by the sacrifices of all who have gone before us so that we can stand here as free men and women, I am honored to return to Soweto now as President of the United States of America. (Applause.)
Now, tomorrow I’ll be down in Cape Town at the University of Cape Town, and I’ll speak about the future that we can build together — Africans and Americans. And that’s where Robert Kennedy delivered his eloquent address to another generation of young people. The challenges of our world, he said, demand “the qualities of youth; not a time in life, but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” That’s what young people are. That’s the spirit of youth, and it’s still true.
That’s why three years ago, I launched a new effort to make sure we’re tapping those qualities of youth — the imagination, the courage, the “yes, we can” attitude of young Africans like you. It’s our Young African Leaders Initiative, and I kicked it off by welcoming young men and women from across Africa to the White House, and we had a town hall similar to this one. I think some of you were there, in fact.
And since then, we’ve helped empower young people across this continent with new skills and entrepreneurship and leadership, and new partnerships in education and health and technology. Michelle came here to Soweto for a forum with some inspiring young women, and she’s here today in Jozi meeting with students who — (laughter) — did I say that wrong? — (applause) — meeting with students who, like you, are going to determine the future of your countries.
So today, I’m proud to announce a significant expansion of this initiative. We’re launching a new program that’s going to give thousands of promising young Africans like you the opportunity to come to the United States and develop your skills at some of our best colleges and universities. (Applause.)
It’s called the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, and I hope all of you apply because we’re joining with our top schools — public and private. We’ll focus on civic leadership and public administration and business and entrepreneurship, the skills you need to serve your communities and start and grow businesses and run effective ministries. And you’ll interact with Americans from all walks of life, because our citizens — especially our young people — can learn from you, too. You’ll meet with leaders in business and nonprofits and government, including me. And I look forward to welcoming you at a summit that I’ll host in Washington, because I want to hear directly from you — your hopes, your dreams, what we can achieve together.
And your time in America will be just the beginning. When you come back home, new grants will help you turn your ideas into new businesses and new non-profits. And we’re going to partner with American companies here in Africa to provide internships and mentoring and job opportunities to help you grow into the next generation of business leaders. We’re going to partner with your governments and regional organizations here in Africa and foundations and civil society to amplify your voices as you stand up for democracy and equality. And with the connections you make as a Washington Fellow, you’ll have something else for the rest of your life, and that is a network of Africans and Americans ready to collaborate on the future that you want to build.
So this won’t be the most expensive program that we have, but I actually believe this is going to end up being one of the most important. And it’s important to me personally, because it’s a great way for me to show my faith and confidence in all of you. I believe in you, and I intend to make this a lasting part of our engagement with Africa beyond my presidency, for years to come.
We want to empower entrepreneurs like Fred Swaniker. Where’s Fred? He’s from Ghana. (Applause.) Where is he? There he is. So Fred has got a fan club over here. (Laughter and applause.) Fred helped to start a biotech company, and now uses his expertise to help other young Africans develop their leadership skills so that they can come back and put those skills to use serving their communities, starting businesses, creating jobs. So thank you, Fred, for the great work that you’re doing. (Applause.)
We want to empower citizens like Khadija Patel. Where’s Khadija? Khadija? (Applause.) So Khadija is a fearless journalist here in South Africa. She’s reported on Sudan, and Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Applause.) She’s exposed the roots of conflict, she’s challenged leaders as a voice for peace and justice. So we’re very proud of the work that you do, Khadija. Thank you. (Applause.)
We want to empower advocates like Jacob Jabari. Where’s Jacob? Right here. (Applause.) So here in South Africa, Jacob decided he was not going to hide the fact that he was HIV positive; he embraced it, he became a counselor. He helps guide others, because he says the key to saving lives and slowing the spread of AIDS is an honest approach, and that takes great courage. Thank you, Jacob. (Applause.)
And we want to empower women like Lebo Bogapane. Lebo? (Applause.) Growing up, Lebo endured domestic abuse and violence, which led to homelessness and hunger. Over many years, she didn’t simply rebuild her own life, she built a crisis center here in South Africa that’s helped thousands of women and children escape abuse as well. What a great legacy. Thank you, Lebo. (Applause.)
So building the future that you seek, realizing the vision that you have, not just for your own countries but for the world — it will not be easy. It will not be easy. But as you go forward, I want you to think of the man who’s in our prayers today. Think about 27 years in prison. Think about the hardships and the struggles and being away from family and friends.
Reflecting on his years in prison, Nelson Mandela wrote that there were dark moments that tested his faith in humanity, but he refused to give up. And he said, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”
So in your lives, there will be time to test your faith. But no matter how old you grow, I say to all of you today, don’t lose those qualities of youth — your imagination, your optimism, your idealism. Because the future of this continent is in your hands, and if you keep your head pointed towards the sun and you keep your feet moving forward, I promise you will have no better friend and partner than the United States of America. (Applause.)
Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.
So now I get to do what I really want to do, which is to hear from you. So why don’t we open it up for questions. And I understand that we’ve got somebody from South Africa here perhaps.
MS. MABUSE: Yes, the plan is to get somebody here in Soweto before we move across to other parts of the continent.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay.
MS. MABUSE: The choice is yours, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: well, this is a good-looking group. Let me — (laughter) — I’m going to call on this young lady right here. Introduce yourself.
Q Good afternoon, President Obama. My name is Melissa (ph). I’m an attorney, and I’m passionate about telecoms in Africa. My question is: The African Growth and Opportunities Act, the term expires in 2015, and I understand there’s a bill which provides for an extension to 2019. Do you think this bill will be passed? And if it isn’t passed, what do you think the impact will be on small states in Africa that are benefiting, such as Lesotho and Togo?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it’s a great question. (Applause.) By the way, what kind of law are you practicing?
Q Oh, right now I actually do cross-border African work.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Excellent.
Q Yes, (inaudible) work.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Fantastic. Well, for those of you who are not as familiar with it, the program we call AGOA is basically a trade arrangement that allows probably 95 percent of goods from Africa to come into the United States without tariffs, duty-free. And, as a consequence, it obviously gives African exports a greater advantage.
And the whole idea is that historically, if you look at the relationship between Africa and the rest of the global market, dating back to colonial days, the idea was somehow that raw materials get sent somewhere else, they got produced somewhere or refined somewhere else; sometimes they’re sold back to Africa, but the jobs, the value, the profits are all someplace else.
And we graduated from those colonial times to the idea of aid, which continues to be critically important. There are parts of Africa that — where, right now, people just need food, or right now people just need medicine, and it is the obligation of wealthier nations to help deliver that food or that medicine.
But everywhere I go in Africa, what’s very clear is people want to break out of a dependency trap. The idea is not that Africa somehow should be the ward of some other country. What we need is an Africa that is building, manufacturing, creating value, inventing, and then sending those products around the world and receiving products in return in fair terms of trade. And if we do that, then there’s no reason why Africa cannot succeed.
So part of what I’m trying to highlight during this trip is the enormous opportunities for an Africa that is intimately integrated into the world market. I want small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs and startups here in Africa to see their potential not just in the local market, but to be able to sell goods and service all around the world and to bring those profits back to Africa and reinvest in Africa and hire Africans.
And so as part of that, we want to make sure that the United States is a critical trading partner. And, by the way, we’re not doing it out of charity. We’re doing it because if Africa is doing well, then now we’ve got a market of people who want to buy more iPads and — (laughter) — Boeing airplanes and all the good stuff that we sell, right? And Africa, by the way, is the youngest continent, which means that demographically this is going to be a larger and larger share of the world market.
So specifically, in terms of AGOA, you’re right — the current AGOA structure expires in 2015. It is my hope that we get it renewed. Now, what I mentioned to President Zuma today, and I said this at a press conference, is that we will have to engage in some negotiations to find ways to both improve what we’re currently doing, but also to reflect on the fact that South Africa is becoming more and more successful, and that U.S. businesses — in order for me to get it through Congress in the United States, U.S. businesses have to feel as if they’re getting a level playing field relative to, for example, some of the European companies who are able to operate here — because there’s a free trade agreement between Europe and the United States.
But I’m confident that with good negotiations, that we should be able to get it done. The broader point I want to make, though, is that the future is going to be in creating value here in Africa and making sure then that Southeast Asia and China and Turkey, and all these other places around the world that everybody is starting to see the benefits of global trade patterns. And Africa cannot just be a source of raw materials for somebody else. It has to be a source of the kinds of products and services and imagination that is going to be the future of the 21st century. Thank you. (Applause.)
MS. MABUSE: We have a young person in Kenya who has a question for you. Kenya, you ready? There we go.
KENYA MODERATOR: Thank you, South Africa. You are watching us, broadcasted to you live from Nairobi here in Kenya’s capital. And indeed I’m joined by eight young Kenyans who have come in from five different counties within the country, quite excited. I think I speak for all of them when I say that indeed it’s an honor to be able to engage with you, Mr. President, while directly during this program.
And I’ll just get right to it and give an opportunity for one of the Kenyans who is with me here to be able to ask a question to you, Mr. President. Margaret (ph), you have the floor now.
Q Thank you, Katherine (ph). Jambo, Barack Obama, President. We are honored to be with you live today this afternoon from Nairobi, Kenya. Our question to you really is, given the recent shift of trade ties of Kenya to the East, how does this impact on American foreign policy towards Kenya? And does the ICC indictment of our President and his deputy prevent the U.S. from engaging with Kenya both politically and economically? In addition, Mr. President, many Kenyan youth would like to know what are your thoughts and plans on youth empowerment that involve structure of governance to Kenya? Thank you.
KENYA MODERATOR: Now, Mr. President, as you prepare to respond to that question, I’m sure you’re alive to the fact that there has been a lot of speculation in the Kenyan media and also in the social media for your reasons for not visiting Kenya on your second tour of Africa. Maybe if you recall in an interview that you did have with this channel that is way back on the 1st of June 2010, you did a promise that during your tenure as President of the United States of America, you will be touring Kenya. Well, will you still keep your word on that? (Laughter and applause.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Asante Sana. It’s wonderful to see all of you. (Laughter.) First of all, let me just say that I’m going to be President for another three and a half years. (Laughter and applause.) One of the things that you learn as President is not only do people want you to fulfill your promises, but they want you to fulfill your promises yesterday. (Laughter.)
And part of the reason that I wasn’t able to visit Kenya this time is I’ve been to Kenya multiple times and there hadn’t been a sustained visit by me in West Africa; and then South Africa, given the importance of the work that we’re doing together; Tanzania is a country I hadn’t visited before. So I was trying to spread the wealth a little bit in terms of my visit.
But what’s also true, I won’t deny, is that Kenya just had an election. I was very proud to see the restraint in which the election was held. We did not see a repeat of the violence that we saw in the last election. But with a new administration that’s also having to manage some of the international issues around the ICC, I did not think it was the optimal time for me to visit. But as I said, I’m going to — I’ve got three and a half years. So if in three years and seven months I’m not in Kenya, then you can fault me for not following through on my promise. (Laughter.)
You raise the issue of whether our attitudes towards Kenya changed because of Kenya’s orientation towards trade and commerce with the East. And this was asked of me before — it’s a general question that I get during this visit; people saying, well, China is here a lot, and is this what’s motivating America to want to be more involved. And I want to make two points.
First of all, our commitment to Africa is based on our belief in Africa’s promise and Africa’s future, and we want to be part of that future. Second of all, I think everybody should be involved in Africa. (Applause.) I want China and I want India and I want Brazil, and I want Singapore — everybody, come on down — (laughter) — to Africa because 6 of the 10-fastest growing economies in the world are right here in Africa. (Applause.)
You are seeing a shift inside of Africa in which a commitment to democracy and transparency is beginning to take hold. I just visited Senegal, where President Sall has embarked on a reform agenda, including, by the way, shortening his term from seven years to five years, and a belief that, for example, members who join the government need to disclose their assets — just basic measures that can help to root out corruption.
And so when you start seeing these changes, everybody should be excited about wanting to do business here in Africa and doing business with Kenya. Now, what I said during a press conference today I want to repeat, which is I want to make sure that as countries come to Africa, that it’s benefiting Africans. So if somebody is building a road here in Africa, make sure they’re hiring some Africans. (Applause.) If there’s going to be manufacturing taking place of raw materials, locate some of those plants here in Africa.
And so I do want to make sure that whoever you’re dealing with — and as you enter into government and business — whoever you’re dealing with, making sure you’re getting a good deal that’s benefiting the people here and can help to spur on broad-based development. And, hopefully, that’s the kind of relationship that you’ll be able to develop with the United States of America. And that’s the kind of relationship I want Kenya to have with every country on Earth.
We’re in a global economy with a global supply chain, and I don’t want Africa to continually just be at the bottom of the supply chain. You produce the raw materials, sold cheap, and then all the way up the chain somebody else is making the money and creating the jobs and the value.
So part of what your generation’s challenge will be is making sure that, first of all, you have a transparent, accountable, non-corrupt, open government — because economic development is not going to happen in the absence of that kind of certainty. That’s what businesses want. They don’t want to have to pay a bribe just to get phone lines installed in their business. They don’t want to have to hire somebody’s cousin just to open a business. And we have to be honest about it. In a lot of countries, that’s still the case, and that discourages investment.
And then as you move into positions of power, I want to make sure that you’re negotiating a good deal with these other countries. Now, it’s got to be realistic. It’s got to be based on what assets do you bring to bear. And initially, at least in some countries and in some regions in parts of Africa, you’re looking at a certain type of manufacturing or a certain type of industry that may not be very capital-intensive, for example, because there may not be as much capital initially to invest. So it may start at a smaller scale but continually upgrading and improving the prospects for Africa I think will require that kind of tough, hardheaded negotiations. But I want every country to be here.
Last point on Kenya — I already made this for all countries — yes, I want young people to be involved in holding their governments accountable. Now, there is a lot of variety here in Africa in terms of quality of governance. And I don’t want to reinforce for the American press that are here this attitude that Africa is just one big piece of land on the map. (Applause.)
There’s a lot of variation. Some countries are doing great work when it comes to accountability and democracy, and an act of civil society, and a free press, and freedom of assembly. And some countries are not doing as well. But what’s exciting right now is you’re starting to see more and more a norm, a standard, take hold in Africa. And young people, I think especially, have high expectations about how government should function, and it should function for the public good, not for the benefit of just a few. And people should be able to speak their mind, and they should be able to organize without fear of retribution. And they should be able to cast a ballot without problem.
And South Africa, I think, has been a great model. This is one of the greatest legacies of Nelson Mandela — is to show that through a commitment to the constitution and rule of law, and equal treatment for all people, that a country can prosper despite a tragic history.
And the same should be true in Kenya, which is why I was heartened that the process of the last election at least did not result in chaos.
And that should be true for every country. And President Zuma said something important today at the press conference, and I’m going to see what we can do to work with them. The African Union I think is trying to create sort of a peer review system so that it’s not just the United States coming in and lecturing some African country that’s not observing democracy; it’s fellow Africans who are saying, what are you doing? Why are you suppressing your people? Why are you throwing political dissidents in jail? Why are you blocking people’s ability to organize new political parties?
And when peers are organizing in that fashion, then slowly standards get raised and new norms are established, and all of you can be at the forefront of that. Thank you, Kenya. (Applause.)
MS. MABUSE: We are going to stay in East Africa and take a question from Kampala, Uganda.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Fantastic.
UGANDA MODERATOR: Hello from Kampala in Uganda, “the pearl of Africa,” as we are known. I am Nancy Kacungira, a news presenter with NTV Uganda. And Uganda is a very youthful nation — more than half of our population is actually under the age of 15. I’m here today with a group of vibrant and dynamic young people. And as you can see, they are very excited to be addressing President Obama today and asking him a question.
Now, I’ve had the chance to interact with the young people here today, and they’re all great young leaders in their own right. And they all have different backgrounds and different experiences, but I’ve found that one of the things they do have in common is their passion — their passion for a better Uganda and for a better Africa. Mr. President, one of them is now going to ask you a question on behalf of the rest of the group.
Q Hello, Mr. President. It’s an honor. My name is Eirene Ikomon (ph). My question comes on behalf of everyone seated here with me. Unfortunately, it’s also regarding trade. Mr. President, as young Ugandan leaders, we are looking to the world for equal business partners and commitments, and not necessarily aid. We are not looking for donors. And yet, Mr. President, the policy you have just described right now seems to emphasize help coming in from the U.S. but emphasizing offering jobs and employment within the countries that they come into. As young leaders, Mr. President, we want to do the businesses at home and be the ones to own our own markets. So how do you, Mr. President, plan on assisting us in reaffirming the U.S. policy to achieve this vision? (Applause.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, with respect to U.S. policy, I think you mischaracterize it, because our policy is to see success here in Africa. Now, there’s no doubt that U.S. businesses also want to sell into Africa, because as President of the United States, I want to create some jobs in Africa as well.
But my attitude is that the more successful African entrepreneurs are, then the more they’re going to be purchasing and interested in purchasing U.S. goods. And, conversely, when the economy in the United States is doing strong, then we’re going to buy more from Africa, and everybody’s standards of living can rise. But as you heard me say earlier, I completely agree with you that we want more investment and value creation here in Africa.
Now, one thing we haven’t spoken about, which I think is critical, is intra-African trade. All too often, it’s easier to export, say, tea and coffee, from East Africa or flowers from East Africa to Europe than it is to export it someplace else in Africa.
And part of that is the legacy of colonialism, an orientation out of Africa rather than internal to Africa. Part of it is a lack of basic infrastructure — so port facilities, trains, rail, roads. So one of the things that we’re going to be very interested in is working with the African Union as well as various regional organizations to find ways that we can start linking up markets inside of Africa, because particularly for new businesses — if you’re starting a business here in South Africa, then the best chance you have initially for export might be closer to home, one of the surrounding countries.
If Uganda — if you have a business that you want to get started, and initially you’ve gotten your product popular inside of Uganda, the next step before you think about selling to the United States, you might say to yourself, let me start selling some in Kenya, or let me start selling in Tanzania, or Rwanda. And so part of what we have to do is to find additional ways in which Africans can also trade with each other.
The last point I will make — because it’s related to trade and capacity-building — I just came, as I said, from Senegal. And one of the things that we were featuring was our Feed the Future program and a Food Security Alliance that we’re creating here in Africa. And we’ve already gotten nine countries to join, and Senegal just determined that it was going to join as well. But we’ve already helped 7 million small farmers in Africa to pool their resources, access lower credit, link themselves together as one producer group so that they can market and sell more effectively. And we’ve seen those farmers increase their yields and their sales by 10, 20, 30, in some cases, 50 or 100 percent.
I met with a young woman farmer who had started off with one hectare, now has 16. She has been able to achieve enough growth that she has now bought a tractor. She’s hired eight people. Now, that’s not what we ordinarily think of as business or entrepreneurship, but if you think about the number of Africans who are involved in agriculture and giving them the tools where suddenly they’re getting better prices for their crops, they’ve got access to a marketplace, they now are getting enough credit to be able to mechanize their operations, and now suddenly they’re able to hire some people in their surrounding villages, you’ve just suddenly seen a small business grow. And the next step may be then they start doing some small food processing. And next thing you know, now they’re suddenly supplying these processed foods to a school. And next thing you know, they’re supplying those processed foods to the whole country.
And so not every business is going to be an Internet business, an app — (laughter) — I mean, I know that’s what young people are all about — I’m just going to create an app, I’m the next Facebook. That’s great, and I hope some of you do that, but when we think of development of Africa as a whole, especially if we’re thinking about broad-based development, then part of what we have to recognize is that a huge number of people inside of Africa are still in the agricultural sector, and the work that we’re doing is trying to create capacity for those small farmers who are essentially small entrepreneurs to be successful — because if they’ve got more money in their pockets, now they can afford to buy your app.
So thank you very much for the question, Uganda. Appreciate it. (Applause.)
MS. MABUSE: Mr. President, we’re moving over to West Africa now, and we’re going to take a question from Lagos, Nigeria.
NIGERIA MODERATOR: Well, welcome, Mr. President, to Lagos, Nigeria, home to perhaps Africa’s biggest youth population. I’m Maupe Ogun for Channels Television here. And here with me in the studio are a selection of some of Nigeria’s brightest and best, and I must tell you, Mr. President, they’re mostly women, so you better be careful around them. (Laughter.) And they say they’re on the march and they have their question ready. Over now to Aisha (ph).
Q Good afternoon, Mr. President. My name is Aisha Myna (ph), and I represent seven other people here. In acknowledging our challenges and our responsibility as the young leaders of Nigeria to accept our challenges and make the difference, we would like to thank you for your support to Nigeria and Africa as a whole. The largest resource in Nigeria is our human capital, and we would like to ask a two-pronged question.
The first is, how can the United States deepen its investment in deploying technology that will develop our vast human capital as well as the education of her youth? My second question — it’s two-pronged, sorry, Mr. President — considering how long the war on terror has been on for, would you say that we’re winning the war on terror, seeing that there are new terrorist groups developing in Africa, one of which is in Nigeria? Thank you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, those are both great questions. Thank you. (Applause.)
And before I answer the question, I just want to be clear: I am surrounded by opinionated women in my house all day long — (laughter) — so I’ve got good practice dealing with strong women. You guys haven’t met Michelle, but you’ve probably seen her on TV. She’s not shy. (Laughter.) And Malia and Sasha, they’re just taking right up after her. So every night at dinner I’m surrounded.
In terms of human capital and young people, I think there is no doubt that the most important investment any country can make — not just an African country — any country can make is educating its youth and providing them the skills they need to compete in a highly technological advanced world economy — countries that do not do that well will not succeed. Countries that excel at training their young people are going to succeed, because these days businesses can go anywhere. And one of the key criteria for any business is, where can I find outstanding workers? Where can I find outstanding people to manage a plant or manage my sales force? And if you have countries with high illiteracy rates or limited skills, you’re going to have problems.
And I want to be clear that this is a problem in the United States, not just a problem in Africa. One of the main things that I’m spending a lot of time on is trying to push Congress to improve our early childhood education, because it turns out that children are most susceptible to learning between the ages of zero and three. And so working with parents, particularly mothers, around reading to their children, proper nutrition, stimulating activities. Then, when they get to school, making sure that our schools are prepared and redesigned for today — because a lot of the schools in the United States were first created during the agricultural era and aren’t always appropriate for what’s required today. And then on into what we call community colleges, which are two-year colleges or four-year colleges and universities.
Somebody should have told my helicopter to quiet down while I’m talking. (Laughter.)
So across the board, we’re having to rethink education and workforce training. And one of the things that we want to do is to partner with a country like Nigeria and identify ways that we can provide direct value added — whether it’s in helping to train teachers, helping to incorporate technologies into the education process.
So, for example, one of the things that you hear across the continent is, because a lot of Africans still live in rural areas, it may be difficult for them to access education and schooling once they get beyond a certain level. Well, are there ways in which we can pipe in, essentially, a university into a rural community? And suddenly, you’ve got the lecturer right there, without the same costs or obligation for a young person to take on when they go to travel far away from home in order to study.
And so I think that there are some excellent ideas that sometimes we’re doing country by country, depending on the country. But this is an area where I would love to get more input from young people in terms of what they think would work. And so part of the Young African Leaders Initiative may be to elicit additional ideas from those — particularly those who may be working in education and have a sense of what are the barriers right now for young people in order to succeed.
Now, with respect to the so-called war on terror, there’s no doubt that we’ve made some progress in dealing with some extremist groups — for example, core al Qaeda and bin Laden, that was based in the FATA area between Pakistan and Afghanistan — that they have been greatly diminished. But what is also true is that in some ways, the problem has metastasized. You have more regional terrorist organizations, like a Boko Haram in Nigeria, espousing an extremist ideology, showing no regard for human life. And although they may not have the same transnational capacity that some of the earlier organizations did, they’re doing great harm in Africa and in the Middle East and in South Asia.
People always talk about the terrorist threat to the United States or the West, but the truth of the matter is, is that the number of people who are killed by terrorist attacks in African countries, or in Muslim countries, or in South Asia, far outstrips any deaths that are experienced by westerners. It’s typically people right there where these organizations are based that are most likely to be killed. When the Kenya Embassy bombing happened, the overwhelming majority of people who were killed were Kenyans, not Americans. And so this is not just a problem for us. This is a problem for everybody.
Now, the question is, how do we address this problem? It is my strong belief that terrorism is more likely to emerge and take root where countries are not delivering for their people and where there are sources of conflict and underlying frustrations that have not been adequately dealt with. The danger we have right now, for example, in a place like Somalia is that it’s been two generations, maybe three since there was a functioning government inside of Somalia. Now, we’ve started to see actually some progress, in part because of intervention by African nations in Somalia to clear the space, to create the space for governance.
But you look at what’s happening in Mali, for example, right now. Part of the problem is, is that you had a weak central government and democratic institutions that weren’t reaching out as far into the country as were necessary, and we’ve got to build those institutions. A lot of what we talked about in terms of responsiveness and governance and democracy, those things become defense mechanisms against terrorism. They’re the most important defense against terrorism.
So I don’t start with the attitude of a military solution to these problems. I think the more that we’re giving people opportunity, the more that we’re giving people education, the more that we’re helping resolve conflicts through regular democratic processes, the less likely they are to take root. Now, having said that, there are some extremist groups that will not compromise or work through a democratic process, and we have to also be realistic about that. And what we want to do is partner with African countries to figure out how we can help.
But I promise, this notion somehow that we want to somehow expand our military reach — I was elected to end a war. I’ve ended one. I’m now in the process of ending another one. Every few weeks, I go and visit soldiers who are your age, who have had their legs blown off in Afghanistan, or worse. Every week, I’m writing letters to the families of fallen soldiers. Sometimes I go to Arlington National Cemetery, where our heroes are buried, and I hug those families and I feel their sobs on my shoulder.
This idea somehow that we want to get more involved militarily around the world is simply not true. First of all, it costs a lot of money, and the United States, just like every country around the world, has to think about its budget. And where we intervene oftentimes it’s not very effective because unless you’ve got a local population that is standing up against terrorism, we end up being viewed as interlopers and intruders.
So with — in the Africa context, what we want to do is to build African capacity. We want the African Union and other regional organizations to build up the capacity to send in peacekeepers, to be able to nip terrorist cells that may be forming before they start and gain strength. And we can provide advice and training and in some cases equipment, but we would love nothing more than for Africa, collectively, to say no to extremism, say no to terrorism, to say no to sectarianism — which in the case of Boko Haram, for example, is an example of essentially a religious rationale for this kind of violence — and the United States to be able to step back and worry about selling iPads and planes. That’s what we would like to do.
But what we won’t do is just stand by if our embassy is being attacked or our people are in vulnerable situations. And we expect countries to work with us to try to deal with some of these threats. And this is a global issue; it’s not just one related to the United States. Okay. All right. (Applause.)
MS. MABUSE: We have time to take one last question from Soweto.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: If it’s a really short question, I’ll give a short answer and we’ll get two in. (Laughter.) Gentleman right here, yes, go ahead. Everybody has got — you’ve got to describe why you’re all wearing orange. (Laughter.)
Q Okay. Firstly, my name is Han Dinkelman (ph). I’m nervous. (Laughter and applause.) I’m a student at UJ. I’m an honor student; also studied education. You said education people should stand up. (Laughter.) My education is — oh, my question is we’ve got a lot of barriers in this country, and one of those barriers is the amount of students in our classes versus a single person. And what I find difficult is, how does that one person stand up and control, in some cases — we’ve just come back from training — some cases 90 to 100 kids in one class? It’s difficult enough to carry 40 in my class. How do you carry those 90 — I find it very difficult — and try to make an impact in their lives?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good. I think that’s a great question. First of all, I think it’s wonderful that you’re going into education. Very proud of you. (Applause.) No job more important than educating our young people. This is a challenge that we have in the United States as well, and that is the issue of class size.
Now, our problem typically is that our class sizes are around 35 or 33, and we’d like to see if we can get it down in the twenties. If you’re talking about 90 — (laughter) — that’s a whole other level. Now, we’re — I’m assuming we’re talking about primary and secondary education, we’re not talking about universities, because by the time you get to university it’s — you better be focused on your studies. It’s not the job of the teacher to make you do your work and pay attention, because you’re now an adult. But when it comes to young people, studies do show that particularly for poorer children, the more one-on-one attention that they can get from their teachers, the more personalized instruction they can get, the better they’re going to do.
So the first response is, if you can budget — if a government can budget smaller class sizes, that’s better. But not every country is going to have the resources to do that. And one of the things that we’re starting to see in the United States is, how can you effectively use, for example, teacher’s assistants in a class, who may not be fully certified teachers but can break up, let’s say, a class of 90 into smaller groups. This is also where technology can also potentially make a difference, because it’s conceivable that if you’ve got some sort of technology — a couple of laptops — that you can leverage one teacher into multiple instruction.
The question you raise, though, makes me want to suggest to my team when we leave here that we start taking some of the best practices and some of the things that we’re learning in the United States and seeing if there may be some application we can — might be able to start some pilot programs here in South Africa to see if we can make an impact there. (Applause.)
Good. All right. Last question? One more. All right. All these folks have been so patient in the back, I don’t want them to feel neglected. So the — this gentleman right here, because he seems very eager. Right here. Yes, yes, you right there. (Laughter.) Go ahead. The — but you guys can — feel free to stand together if you want, but — (laughter) — I’m only going to take a question from one of you. (Laughter.) What’s your name?
Q My name is Sydney Mukumu (ph). I’m from Limpopo. (Applause.) Thank you. President Obama, I met you in 2006. I was working for the embassy.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Excellent.
Q Yes. I’m very much worried about some of United States international — I mean foreign policy, especially on the environment. President Obama, today I want you to tell these young leaders about the foreign policy of the United States on the environment.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: On the environment?
Q Yes, because South Africa is facing the same problem. Whatever is happening in America, it’s affecting us. Please tell these — this is your children — tell us today — (laughter) –
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes.
Q — just like people who are protesting outside, there are people who are crying, and now you must address them here –
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, let’s go.
Q — and tell them outside what is happening. Make it clear, and then when you go back you will have a safe trip. Thank you very much, President. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. (Laughter.) I’ll see if I can make it clear. U.S. environmental policy is something that I care deeply about. As some of you know, I grew up in Hawaii, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. And as a child, I was just taught to treasure what the Earth gives us and to make sure that we leave it for the next generation. And obviously in a country like South Africa, with incredible beauty and natural resources, that same mentality about conserving the Earth and nurturing it to pass on to future generations, I think, applies here just as much as it does in the United States.
The biggest challenge we have environmentally — and it is an international challenge that we cannot solve alone — is the issue of climate change. There are other issues: dirty water, dirty air. But the truth is, is that we’ve made enormous progress over the last several years, over the last several decades in the United States. And if you come to the United States, environmental quality is pretty good. And internationally, we’ve promoted policies around how mercury is released into the environment, and how other poisons are released in the environment, and how businesses have to be held to international standards in terms of worker safety. Those are areas where the United States have been at the forefront. We’ve been at the front of the line, not the back of the line when it comes to those issues.
But the existential challenge that we face has to do with a warming planet. And your generation is the one that’s going to be the most severely affected. Now, the United States and other highly industrialized, developed countries over the last 50, 100 years have been pumping up carbon emissions into the atmosphere. And slowly, this has been building up and it is warming the planet, and we may be reaching a tipping point in which if we do not solve this problem soon, it will spin out of control and change weather patterns in ways that we can’t anticipate, with drought, floods, much more severe natural disasters. And unfortunately, in those situations it’s often poorer countries that are affected the most by these changing climate patterns.
So I just gave a speech this past week on what the United States is going to do on our next phase of reducing our carbon emissions. The United States actually reduced our carbon emissions more than any other country since I came into office. I just want to make that point. (Applause.) We doubled fuel-efficiency standards on cars. We’re investing in clean energy like solar and wind. And we actually want to share that technology, because we think that all countries need to benefit. And part of the opportunity for Africa is to see if we can leapfrog some of the polluting practices of America or Europe, and go straight to the clean energy strategies that will allow you to advance economic growth, but not corrupt the planet.
So we’ve made progress, but we haven’t done enough. And what I did was to say I challenge the United States. I said we’ve got to do more. We’re going to start regulating our power plants more efficiently. We’re going to make sure that we redouble our efforts to reduce our carbon emissions, and we’re setting a goal to meet the agreements that we had both in Copenhagen and in Durban for advanced countries that have a big carbon footprint.
But let me make one last point: The United States cannot do it by itself. And the biggest emitter of carbon right now is China. They still have a much lower carbon footprint per person than the United States, but because they have so many people, it’s going up rapidly. And Chinese leaders understand this. The same thing that’s sending all the carbon into the atmosphere is also making it difficult to breathe in Beijing. So they recognize they’ve got to come up with a new development model. India is going to have to come up with new development models — Africa.
We’re going to all have to work together to find ways in which collectively, we reduce carbon but we make sure that there’s some differentiation so that countries that are very wealthy are expected to do more, and countries that are still developing, obviously they shouldn’t be resigned to poverty simply because the West and Europe and America got there first. That wouldn’t be fair. But everybody is going to have to do something. Everybody is going to have to make some important choices here. And I expect that it’s going to be your generation that helps lead this, because if we don’t, it’s going to be your generation that suffers the most.
Ultimately, if you think about all the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa, if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning, and everybody has got a big house, well, the planet will boil over — unless we find new ways of producing energy. And tomorrow, or the next day, when I visit Tanzania, I’m actually going to be going to a power plant to focus on the need for electrification, but the need to do it in an environmentally sound way.
So let me just close by saying this has been an unbelievable conversation. I had a lot of faith in all of you before I came here; now I have even more faith in you. You guys are all going to do great things. I’ll be retired by the time you do them, and so I’ll just sit back and watch — (laughter) — and I’ll be proud of you. But what I promise you is that the United States government and the American people are going to want to be your partner for the duration of your careers. And I hope all of you, again, apply for the Young African Leaders Initiative. We want to hear from you about how we can work even more effectively with this great continent, because we see a bright future ahead.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Thank you, everybody. God bless you. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 5:00 P.M. SAST
Friday, June 28, 2013
Courtesy VOA News
By Dan Robinson
June 28, 2013
JOHANNESBURG — U.S. President Barack Obama begins a day of events in South Africa Saturday, continuing a three-nation African tour. Obama spoke on Air Force One before his arrival about lessons young Africans can learn from former South African president Nelson Mandela.
Obama was last in South Africa in 2006 as a U.S. senator. Now, he has returned, as the first African-American president of the United States, seeking to re-engage with the continent during his second term.
On Saturday in Pretoria, South African President Jacob Zuma formally welcomes Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. After bilateral talks, the two presidents hold a news conference. President Zuma hosts a state dinner later.
Obama holds a town hall-style meeting in Soweto, the Johannesburg township that played such a pivotal role during protests against apartheid, the former racial segregation system in force during white minority rule.
As part of Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, he will answer questions from South Africans and young people participating from Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya in a televised event.
President Obama wants to expand the initiative into an exchange program to bring young Africans to the United States in the coming years, working with American educational institutions, including historically black universities.
He spoke about this in a radio interview as he flew into South Africa aboard Air Force One.
“That we hope can identify as many as 500 outstanding young leaders all across Africa to participate in visiting the United States, getting training programs, getting the kinds of skills they are going to need that they can then take back to their countries,” said President Obama.
Obama was also asked about the message he will deliver here, especially when South Africans are focused on the health of former president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
He said his message would be “consistent” with one of the central lessons of Mandela’s life, saying that Africa’s rise will continue if African countries are unified and not divided by tribe or race or religion.
In his media interview, Obama linked the legacy of Mandela, whom he met briefly in Washington in 2005, with what he believes is the great potential and promise of new generations of Africans.
“He showed that when you lead with integrity, when you are more concerned about what is right than simply being in power, you can perform miracles. You can bring about incredible change,” said Obama.
Obama played down expectations of a visit with the 94-year-old Mandela, saying “I don’t need a photo op” and adding that he does not want to be obtrusive at a time when Mandela’s family is concerned with his condition.
The president said the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with Nelson Mandela, his family, and his country – sentiment he said is universally shared.
Obama and his family will spend just over two days in South Africa, before heading Monday to Tanzania on the final stop of his trip
For More on The President’s Trip Visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/africa-trip-2013
June 27, 2013
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama participates in a joint press conference with President Macky Sall of Senegal at the Presidential Palace in Dakar
President Obama was in Senegal today, the first stop on his three-country trip to Africa. The day began with an arrival ceremony and bilateral meeting with President Sall at the Presidential Palace in Dakar. The two leaders also held a press conference. At Dakar’s La Cour Suprême, President Obama met with judicial leaders from across Africa to discuss the importance of an independent judiciary system and respect for the rule of law. “I believe that the rule of law is a foundation for governance and also a foundation for human rights and economic growth,” President Obama said during their meeting. “It’s a pillar of our democracy.”
In the afternoon, the President and his family traveled to Gorée Island, where they toured a former slave house. The house, which was once the last place slaves were held before being sent to North America, is now a museum. More recently, Gorée Island served as a hub for political activism, particularly during Senegal’s election last year. President Obama met with a group of advocates and activists before returning to Dakar.
“The leaders who are gathered here today, these are all representatives of civil society, which is incredibly strong here in Senegal,” President Obama said. “And last year, when there were some significant questions as to whether Senegal’s democracy would continue to represent the will of the people, it is leaders like these that were able to maintain the pressure and to maintain a focus on the peaceful transfer of power and the continuation of democratic traditions here in Senegal. And it’s a reminder that democracy is not just about Election Day.”
The President and First Lady ended the day with a state dinner at President Sall’s residence.
Below is the transcript of a joint press conference between host President Sall, and President Obama
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release | June 27, 2013
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AND PRESIDENT SALL OF THE REPUBLIC OF SENEGAL AT JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE
11:00 A.M. GMT
PRESIDENT SALL: (As interpreted.) Mr. President, Mr. Barack Obama, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m extremely happy to welcome President Barack Obama for his first trip to Africa since his reelection in November last year.
So, Mr. President, I’d like to once again welcome you to Senegal and wish you a pleasant stay in Senegal. Your stay among us, Mr. President, is a source of pride for the Senegalese population and its government.
Now, with this visit we are jointly pursuing an age-old tradition, a privileged tradition full of trust between Senegal and the United States of America. I’m extremely happy that you’ve chosen Senegal to be the first point of entry on this continent after having received me very warmly on the 20th of March in the Oval Office.
President Obama and myself, we have held talks on issues of common interest on the African continent as well as the international level. Of course, we discussed bilateral issues and my capacity as the current chairperson of the Orientation Committee of NEPAD.
I informed the President about our African infrastructure projects as well as a discussion on a bilateral level about the excellent cooperation between our two countries. And I thanked the U.S. for the help in developing Senegal. And we also have a common vision of the main values: freedom, democracy, peaceful coexistence of cultures and religions, and good governance.
On this last issue, Senegal would like to commend the American initiative of Open Government Partnership, which we fully endorse. We are working together to protect and promote all these common shared values for the strengthening of our bilateral cooperation and the continuation of our joint efforts for stability in Africa, and the protection of peace and security at the international level.
I would like to commend President Obama’s leadership and his will to start a new — give a new impetus to a relationship between Africa and the U.S. USA are a great country, spearheading progress in all fields for greater prosperity between the African continent and the U.S. And the African continent is progressing, is marching ahead with tremendous potential in terms of natural and human resources.
On both sides, we have a historical opportunity here to open new prospects for relations on the business of complementarity by offering greater opportunities to our youth and by stimulating trade and investments for shared prosperity. Senegal is extremely happy with this new impetus, Mr. President, and I’m ready to pursue our efforts with you in this direction.
I thank you, and I would like to give the floor to you so that you can address the press. Thank you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, President Sall, for your generous words and the very warm welcome that we’ve received from your delegation. On behalf of myself and Michelle, our two daughters, Malia and Sasha, and our entire delegation — it is wonderful to be here in Senegal. To all the Senegalese who lined the streets to welcome us — we are deeply touched. We are so grateful for your teranga — your hospitality.
I’m making this visit to Africa because, as I’ve said before, I see this as a moment of great progress and great promise for the continent. It’s true that Africa faces great challenges, and meeting these challenges together is a focus of my trip. But all too often the world overlooks the amazing progress that Africa is making, including progress in strengthening democracy. Many African nations have made tremendous strides in improving democratic governance and empowering citizens. Here in West Africa we see progress in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and Niger, in Ghana and here in Senegal.
And that’s why I welcomed President Sall to the White House this spring. And that’s why I’m beginning my trip here in Dakar. Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa and one of the strongest partners that we have in the region. It’s moving in the right direction with reforms to deepen democratic institutions. And as more Africans across this continent stand up and demand governments that are accountable and serve the people, I believe Senegal can be a great example.
I’m told there’s a word here — disso — which reflects the desire of Senegalese to resolve disagreements through dialogue and not conflict. Senegal has never suffered a military coup. There are free and fair elections, repeated transfers of power — peacefully — a vibrant civil society, a strong press, and dozens of political parties. And I have to say, back in Washington, we have our hands full with just two parties.
PRESIDENT SALL: Two-hundred, sir. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don’t know how you manage it. (Laughter.) But after last year’s election here, we were inspired by the citizens of Senegal demanding that their votes be respected and that President Sall be sworn in as the democratically elected leader of this nation.
Of course, we all know that democracy is not just what happens on election day, it’s also what happens in between elections. So, President Sall, I want to commend you for the ambitious reforms that you’re pursuing to strengthen democratic governance — more openness, more transparency, more accountability. I know it’s hard, but it’s absolutely necessary both politically and economically. History shows that governments that are more open and more responsive to citizens are more effective in delivering basic services. They’re also more successful in attracting the trade and investment that creates jobs and lifts people out of poverty.
President Sall, during our discussions, updated me on his reform efforts, including efforts to stamp out corruption. As progress is made, I look forward to seeing Senegal join the Open Government Partnership. And because just as the United States stood with the people of Senegal as you defended your democracy last year, we want to remain your partner for years to come to show that democracy delivers progress and jobs and justice that people deserve.
With regard to jobs, the President and I discussed the need to increase our trade and make it easier to invest and do business together. On our side, the African Growth and Opportunity Act — also known as AGOA — expires in two years, and I’m looking for ways to renew it but also improve it so that we’re generating more jobs and more trade. We also need to do more across this region. So I’m directing my new U.S. Trade Representative, Mike Froman, to finalize a new trade and investment agreement with ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States.
Ultimately, though, growth and progress has to reach more people. We believe in broad-based development and growth — not just for the few, but for the many. And our mission has always been to try to deliver that kind of broad-based growth through our development program. So, as one example, I’m very proud to be here as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps in Senegal. Today I’m reaffirming that the United States will remain one of Senegal’s strongest partners in development — from new roads and bridges, so merchants can get their goods to the market, to new textbooks and schools, including the Internet, so that more students can learn.
Since most people in Senegal, as is true across Africa, work in agriculture, our food security initiative will keep helping farmers harness new seeds and technologies, increase yields and boost incomes. And as President Sall pursues land reforms, we’re looking forward to Senegal joining the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which I’ll be discussing further tomorrow. We will continue efforts that are shared against HIV and AIDS, which, because of those efforts, we’ve been able to keep infection rates here relatively low. We’ll continue distributing the nets that are saving the lives of countless Senegalese from malaria.
And, more broadly, I want to thank Senegal for being such a strong partner in regional security. Senegalese peacekeepers have served bravely, from Cote d’Ivoire to the Congo. Senegalese are currently helping the people of Mali reclaim their country, and I assured President Sall that American support for that mission will continue. And with Senegal, we support — within Senegal, we support President Sall’s determined efforts to achieve a lasting peace in the Casamance region.
Finally, I’m very pleased that we’re deepening the ties between our peoples, especially young people. I was proud to welcome two Senegalese — both women — to the forum for young African leaders that we hosted in the White House. And in the coming days I’ll be announcing an expansion of our efforts to empower more young Africans who want to contribute to their respective countries. I hope that will include young people here in Senegal — because we believe in Senegal and we believe in its people. We believe we can make progress together. And we believe in investing in the youth of tomorrow.
So, again, President Sall, thank you for your partnership and thank you for the extraordinary welcome that my family and I have received. Our nations are partners — nyo far.
PRESIDENT SALL: Thank you very much. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: My only regret on this visit is that I won’t be here long enough to take in a match of Senegal’s world-famous wrestling. I have to see that. Maybe next time.
PRESIDENT SALL: Next time.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: So, for now, I’ll simply say thank you. Jerejef.
PRESIDENT SALL: Thank you very much, Mr. President. And your Wolof is wonderful. (Laughter.)
Now I think we can give the floor to the press. Somebody?
Q (As interpreted.) Firstly, on behalf of the national and international media, we would like to welcome Mr. President Obama. My question is for President Macky Sall. Mr. President, how do you describe this visit? And what are the new prospects that this visit opens for Senegal and Africa?
PRESIDENT SALL: (As interpreted.) Well, this visit is extremely important for Senegal and for Africa because it is indeed the visit by the President of the USA. And it’s not every day that we have the privilege of having the President of the United States of America on our soil.
This visit is also important, because this trip by President Obama will further build trust for the corporate and business environment. And we are convinced that Africa’s progress and development and growth through partnership in the private investment trade and partnership. The importance of his presence, the trust that he has in Senegal and in the future of the continent should enable us to establish a bridge between the USA and Africa, particularly for the development of private investment.
We do have shared values, such as democracy, freedom, human rights, good governance. Africa has made very important progress on these last aspects over the years. Of course, in the past, Africa did suffer a lot. But for about 10 years or so, during the last decade, this has been a decade towards democratization, and this is a prerequisite for the development of Africa. We have tremendous natural resources. We have a lot of human resources. We need infrastructure to accompany the development of all these resources, but all this in the context of good governance, otherwise these resources will be in vain.
Now, the presence of President Obama, as he has said, is also meant to give a new contract for AGOA — revisit the conditions which should enable countries like Senegal to do more to better export towards the United States of America. But this has to also do with the relationship between ECOWAS and the U.S. for fast-tracked trade relations.
The U.S. is already intervening through different mechanisms. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is one of the latest, which is doing a lot of things in Senegal with a program of $542 million which should allow us to rehabilitate our Highway 6 in Casamance, which will lead to giving better access to the region. We have the — road for the development of 10,000 hectares to step up agricultural production.
So, generally speaking, the Peace Corps, USAID, in short, all are the supporting instruments, which are supporting cooperation, should enable us to further boost the already excellent relations at the political and economic levels. And I’m sure that this will give an additional boost to our relationship.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You called the DOMA ruling a victory for couples everywhere who are seeking equal treatment under the law. But this leaves unanswered questions for couples in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage. And now it’s largely up to you. Will you direct the government to make sure that federal benefits are extended, like Social Security, to all couples, no matter where they live? And will you comment generally on the historic nature of yesterday’s rulings? Also, did you press President Sall to make sure that homosexuality is decriminalized in Senegal?
And, President Sall, may I ask you, sir — thank you, first of all, for your hospitality. You just said you embrace democracy and freedom. As this country’s new President, sir, will you work to decriminalize homosexuality in this country?
And may I also ask both of you, because –
PRESIDENT OBAMA: How many questions you got there, Jessica?
Q One more. (Laughter.) Just one more, sir. Because the world is watching and because President Mandela is in such a fragile condition right now, may I ask both of you just to comment on his legacy and what he means to both of you?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think the Supreme Court ruling yesterday was not simply a victory for the LGBT community, it’s a victory for American democracy. I believe at the root of who we are as a people, who we are as Americans is the basic precept that we are all equal under the law. We believe in basic fairness. And what I think yesterday’s ruling signifies is one more step towards ensuring that those basic principles apply to everybody.
When I spoke to Ms. Windsor — 83 years old — and I thought about the 40 years of her relationship and her partner, who is now passed, for her to live to see this day where that relationship was the vehicle whereby more people received their rights and are recognized as a testament to the love and commitment that they have made to each other, that was special. And that’s just a microcosm of what it meant for families and their children all across America. So it was a proud day I think for America.
Now, as you point out, there are a whole lot of implications that flow from it, because the Supreme Court did not make a blanket ruling that applies nationally, but rather lifted up the ability of states to recognize the dignity and respect of same-sex marriage, and that the federal government couldn’t negate the decision by those states. We now have to comb through every federal statute. And although we hadn’t pre-judged what the ruling had been, I had asked my White House Counsel to help work with lawyers across every agency in the federal government to start getting a sense of what statutes would be implicated and what it will mean for us to administratively apply the rule that federal benefits apply to all married couples.
What’s true though is that you still have a whole bunch of states that do not recognize it. The Supreme Court continues to leave it up to the states to make these decisions. And we are going to have to go back and do a legal analysis of what that means. It’s my personal belief — but I’m speaking now as a President as opposed to as a lawyer — that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple. But I’m speaking as a President, not a lawyer.
So we’re going to be evaluating all these issues and making sure that we work through them in a systematic and prompt way, because now that the Supreme Court has spoken it’s important that people who deserve these benefits know that they’re getting them quickly. And I know that, for example, Chuck Hagel already mentioned some work that the Department of Defense is doing on that front. And I think we’re going to be seeing that in all the various agencies.
Now, this topic did not come up in the conversation that I had with President Sall in a bilateral meeting. But let me just make a general statement. The issue of gays and lesbians, and how they’re treated, has come up and has been controversial in many parts of Africa. So I want the African people just to hear what I believe, and that is that every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions. And when it comes to people’s personal views and their religious faith, et cetera, I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there.
But when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally. I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort. That’s my personal view. And I speak as somebody who obviously comes from a country in which there were times when people were not treated equally under the law, and we had to fight long and hard through a civil rights struggle to make sure that happens.
So my basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you — the benefits, the rights and the responsibilities under the law — people should be treated equally. And that’s a principle that I think applies universally, and the good news is it’s an easy principle to remember.
Every world religion has this basic notion that is embodied in the Golden Rule — treat people the way you want to be treated. And I think that applies here as well.
Finally, with respect to Mr. Mandela — and, by the way, Mr. President, I apologize. Sometimes my press — I notice yours just ask one question; we try to fit in three or four or five questions in there. (Laughter.)
My first act of political activism was when I was at Occidental College. As a 19-year-old, I got involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement back in 1979, 1980, because I was inspired by what was taking place in South Africa.
I think at that time I didn’t necessarily imagine that Nelson Mandela might be released, but I had read his writings and his speeches, and I understood that this was somebody who believed in that basic principle I just talked about — treating people equally — and was willing to sacrifice his life for that belief.
When I was in law school, in 1990, 1991, to see Nelson Mandela step forward after 27 years of captivity and not only help usher in democracy and majority rule, and one person, one vote in South Africa, but as importantly, for him to say, I embrace my former captors and my former oppressors, and believe in one nation and believe in judging people on the basis of their character and not their color — it gave me a sense of what is possible in the world when righteous people, when people of goodwill work together on behalf of a larger cause.
So obviously, our thoughts and prayers right now are with the people of South Africa and, more specifically, the Mandela family. I will be traveling there over the next several days, after I leave Senegal. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Madiba and speaking to him. And he’s a personal hero, but I don’t think I’m unique in that regard. I think he’s a hero for the world. And if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we’ll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages.
PRESIDENT SALL: (As interpreted.) Thank you very much. I will leave the floor to you and then react maybe.
Q Good morning, Mr. President. I have a question regarding the sub-regional context. President Barack Obama has come here at a time when the situation is quite volatile. I’d like to know if he has discussed the sub-regional context with you.
And the other question is the following. The U.S. is not intervening militarily, but they do have a special envoy for Casamance. I’d like to know if the peace process in Casamance has been discussed by the two Presidents. Thank you.
PRESIDENT SALL: (As interpreted.) Mr. President, following your own statement, I’d like to come back to two issues before I address the question raised by Mr. Alisan Zambajouz (ph). Firstly, regarding Mandela, I think we are all extremely sad and pained to see Madiba in this situation of health for the past three weeks. My hope was to see him be a centenarian. But I think Mandela is an example for the whole world. And for us, as political leaders, we need to take inspiration from his humility and his capacity of sacrifice and self-denial, but also from his greatness and forgiveness that he has given us as reference.
As President Obama said, he is more than an idol for all of us. We all prayed for him to recover his freedom. But even now, and after he passes, we should always draw inspiration from his thoughts, because South Africa is a rainbow nation even now. And we hope that leaders all over the world will learn from his example.
Now, on the issue of homosexuality, Mr. President, you did make a long development on this issue. But you said something very important — general principles which all nations could share, and that is the respect for the human being and non-discrimination. But these issues are all societal issues basically, and we cannot have a standard model which is applicable to all nations, all countries — you said it, we all have different cultures. We have different religions. We have different traditions. And even in countries where this has been decriminalized and homosexual marriage is allowed, people don’t share the same views.
Senegal, as far as it is concerned, is a very tolerant country which does not discriminate in terms of inalienable rights of the human being. We don’t tell anybody that he will not be recruited because he is gay or he will not access a job because his sexual orientation is different. But we are still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality. I’ve already said it in the past, in our Cabinet meeting it is Senegal’s option, at least for the time being, while we have respect for the rights of homosexuals — but for the time being, we are still not ready to change the law.
But of course this does not mean that we are all homophobic. But the society has to absolve these issues. It has to take time to digest them, bringing pressure to bear upon them, on such issues. It is just like the capital punishment. In our country, we have abolished it for many years. In other countries, it is still the order of the day, because the situation in the country requires it. And we do respect the choice of each country. But please be assured that Senegal is a country of freedom and homosexuals are not being prosecuted, persecuted. But we must also show respect for the values and choices of the other Senegalese people.
And we are discussing issues such as adoption of children. This is a serious topic of debate within the government. The Parliament will be taking over shortly, so these are issues that will be addressed by the society based on the progress of the mentalities and on what people believe is acceptable or unacceptable. That’s what I want to say on that issue.
Now to come back very quickly to the sub-regional context for the crisis ongoing in Mali — of course, we discussed it at length. And I thanked President Obama for the support offered by the U.S. You know that today it is the U.S. who are giving almost all the food and fuel used by MINUSMA, that is the United Nations mission for Mali. And they’re also intervening to assist us with the logistics after the French response, which we of course approved, the Serval Operation.
We also worked to develop a model of cooperation. Senegal does cooperate with the U.S. from the military standpoint. And given the constant global threat of terrorism, as well as other scourges such as drugs in the sub-region, human beings trafficking, circulation of weapons and piracy — we have decided to pursue our cooperation in all these fields. And our governments and our administrations will continue these consultations in order to arrive at greater efficiency for African forces, because I think it’s time for Africa to stand up and address its own issues. And for this, we do need the American support in terms of capacity, in terms of equipment, in terms of training.
But we will be ready to work for this and Senegal will continue to supply troops for peacekeeping in the world. We are present in more than five countries with more than 2,000 peacekeeping soldiers. And we can build up these forces if required.
And to conclude, of course Casamance, we did discuss it. I also thanked him for the interest shown by the U.S. in solving this conflict. He has encouraged me in the efforts to obtain peace. And I’ve also asked for the contribution of the U.S. in development projects, because one of the responses to this crisis is to give an economic perspective — we need for conciliation of course to start with. We need reintegration. We need development, substantial development in Casamance. On all these issues, we did have a discussion. And I thank the President for the interest he has in Senegal and in Casamance. Thank you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Major.
Q Good morning, Mr. President. Good morning, President Sall. Thank you for your hospitality. It’s a pleasure to be in your country. President Obama, two subjects. First of all, picking up on your comments about equal rights under the law, could you give us your gut, your visceral reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in the voting rights case? Explain legislative remedy you will pursue and the pace of that?
Secondly, Edward Snowden — there have been a lot of developments. First of all, there’s word that he might be given safe passage to Ecuador. Mr. President, will you use U.S. military assets to in any way intercept Mr. Snowden should he at some point in the future leave Russia to try to find safe passage in another country? Have you spoken to President Xi of China, President Putin about this personally — and if not, why not? And how frustrated or angry are you, sir, that China’s defiance and Russia’s indifference have vastly complicated the pursuit of Mr. Snowden and turned it into what some people regard as kind of an international game of cat and mouse that’s almost farcical?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me take the issue of voting rights first. The Voting Rights Act, Sections 2, 4, 5 were the cornerstones of providing political power to African Americans that then led to a whole range of other steps to make America more just and more equal. It was the cornerstone and the culmination of years of struggle — blood, sweat, tears — in some cases, deaths.
I might not be here as President had it not been for those who courageously helped to pass the Voting Rights Act. I think that the Supreme Court made a mistake in its ruling, but that decision is now here. I think the Supreme Court didn’t recognize the degree to which voter suppression is still a problem around the country, and that it makes sense for us to put in place mechanisms to check practices and procedures that may make it harder for people to vote in those areas where there’s been a history in the past of discrimination.
And part of the reason, Major, is because even though law suits can still be filed now if there’s discrimination, if you don’t have the structure of Section 4 and Section 5 in place ahead of time, the election may be over by the time law suits are filed or a court rules. And oftentimes, it may be too late.
Having said that, the Supreme Court has ruled and Congress can’t overturn this particular aspect of their ruling. The good news is that there are other potential remedies, and the most important one is to simply make sure that everybody around the country can vote and that everywhere around the country we’re not seeing seven-hour lines — we’re not seeing mechanisms put in place to make it harder for people to vote, but rather we should have mechanisms that make it easier to vote. And that is within Congress’s power. Congress doesn’t have to target or identify a particular jurisdiction. What it can do now is to say, regardless of where you are — regardless of where you live — there are going to be certain rules that apply to elections.
And as you know, right after the election when we had already seen some of these problems, I assigned a close advisor of mine, Bob Bauer, to work with a close advisor of Mitt Romney’s. They’re going to be issuing a report in terms of how we can start making it easier for folks to vote. I recognize that whenever you get into voting rights issues, inevitably some partisan thoughts cross people’s minds about who is it going to advantage or disadvantage.
But in the wake of this Supreme Court ruling, surely we can all agree that people should be able to vote. They shouldn’t be restricted
from voting or have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops in order to vote, and that there should be some uniformity in terms of how that right is upheld. It’s the cornerstone of our democracy. It’s what makes our democracy work. And I’m looking forward to working with both Democrats and Republicans in a non-partisan basis to make sure that if you’re a citizen of the United States of America, you can vote without a whole bunch of barriers, regardless of your race or your political leaning. So that’s on the voting rights issue.
With respect to Mr. Snowden, we have issued through our Justice Department very clear requests to both initially Hong Kong and then Russia that we seek the extradition of Mr. Snowden. And we are going through the regular legal channels that are involved when we try to extradite somebody. I have not called President Xi personally or President Putin personally. And the reason is because, number one, I shouldn’t have to. This is something that routinely is dealt with between law enforcement officials in various countries. And this is not exceptional from a legal perspective.
Number two, we’ve got a whole lot of business that we do with China and Russia. And I’m not going to have one case of a suspect who we’re trying to extradite suddenly being elevated to the point where I’ve got to start doing wheeling and dealing and trading on a whole host of other issues simply to get a guy extradited, so that he can face the Justice system here in the United States.
I get why it’s a fascinating story from a press perspective. And I’m sure there will be a made-for-TV movie somewhere down the line. But in terms of U.S. interests, the damage was done with respect to the initial leaks. And what I’m really focused on is making sure, number one, that we are doing everything we can to prevent the kind of thing that happened at the NSA from happening again, because we don’t know right now what Mr. Snowden’s motives were except for those things that he said publicly. And I don’t want to prejudge the case, but it does show some pretty significant vulnerabilities over at the NSA that we’ve got to solve. That’s number one.
Number two, I’m focused on making sure that we have a healthy, effective debate in the United States about how we balance our security and our privacy concerns, because these programs which I believe make America safe — help make America safe and that I believe draw the appropriate balance right now are generating a lot of questions in the press and in the American public. And I want to make sure that everybody — Congress, opinion leaders and our government officials — feel confident that the laws are being obeyed, that there’s strong oversight and that the American people don’t have a Big Brother who is snooping into their business. I’m confident of that, but I want to make sure everybody is confident of that. And so I think we have to have a strong public debate to make that happen.
So I am interested in making sure that the rules of extradition are obeyed. Now, we don’t have an extradition treaty with Russia, which makes it more complicated. You don’t have to have an extradition treaty though to resolve some of these issues. There have been some useful conversations that have taken place between the United States government and the Russian government. And my continued expectation is that Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr. Snowden asylum recognize that they are part of an international community, and that they should be abiding by international law. And we’ll continue to press them as hard as we can to make sure that they do so.
But one last thing, because you asked a final question — no, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.
Q Do you believe that all the damage that he can do has been done by Mr. Snowden? Is that what you’re saying, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I’m saying is that he has those documents. He has released some of them. Not all of them have been released. The damage that’s been done essentially goes to the fact of some of these programs. And we don’t yet know what other documents he may try to dribble out there.
On the other hand, what I’m also confident about is that the way we run these programs abides by the laws that were passed by Congress, the oversight of the FISA courts. And we are trying to declassify as much as possible, so that the American people and our international partners feel confidence about how we operate in this regard.
I continue to be concerned about the other documents that he may have. That’s part of the reason why we’d like to have Mr. Snowden in custody. But what I think we’re going to continue to do is to make sure that we are following the various channels that are well established and the rules that are well established to try to get this thing done.
In the meantime, we’ve got other business to do. For example, we’re here in Africa and I don’t want people to forget why we’re here. The fact of the matter is that Africa oftentimes is not focused on by our press and our leadership back home unless there’s a crisis. And part of the reason why we want to focus here, starting in Senegal, is to make sure people understand there is enormous potential here. Six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are happening right here in Africa. You talk about President Xi. China is paying a lot of attention to Africa — Brazil, Turkey, India are heavily invested in trying to expand trade and commerce with Africa. We have economic and security interests that are critical. We’re seeing countries like Senegal that have sustained democracy and have sustained peace for many years who want to partner with us, who are making sacrifices in places like Mali to maintain regional stability.
And so, I just want to make sure that we don’t lose focus here. The reason I came to Africa is because Africa is rising. And it is in the United States’ interests — not simply in Africa’s interests — that the United States don’t miss the opportunity to deepen and broaden the partnerships and potential here. This is going to be a continent that is on the move. It is young. It is vibrant and full of energy. And there’s a reason why a lot of other countries around the world are spending a lot of time here.
We historically have been an enormous provider of development, aid to Africa — food, medicine. But what I want us to do is to have a shifting paradigm where we start focusing on trade, development, partnerships where we see ourselves as benefiting and not simply giving in the relationship with Africa. And I think that’s what people like President Sall are looking forward to.
Thank you very much. It was a very long answer. But these are big questions you guys are asking.
END 11:48 A.M. GMT