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Obama Hails Democratic Progress in Africa

President Barack Obama in the Cabinet Room of the White House after a meeting with, from left, Malawi President Joyce Banda; Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma; and Cape Verde Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves , March 28, 2013.
President Barack Obama in the Cabinet Room of the White House after a meeting with, from left, Malawi President Joyce Banda; Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma; and Cape Verde Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves , March 28, 2013.
Michael Bowman
— U.S. President Barack Obama says Africa is strengthening democratic rule and making economic strides, and that the United States will be a partner for achieving further progress. President Obama spoke after meeting at the White House with the leaders of Cape Verde, Malawi, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.

Obama says improved governance is taking root in Africa, as evidenced by the nations whose leaders sat with him in the Oval Office.

“The reason that I met with these four... they exemplify the progress we are seeing in Africa," said President Obama. "All of them have had to deal with some extraordinary challenges. Sierra Leone just 10 years ago was in the midst of as brutal a civil war as we have ever seen. And yet now we have seen consecutive fair and free elections.”

Earlier in the day, in an interview with VOA, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma echoed many of Obama’s comments, saying “nobody should get to leadership or power other than [through] the ballot box.”

Obama said the goal is to build on those gains.

“When you have got good governance - when you have democracies that work, sound management of public funds, transparency and accountability to the citizens that put leaders in place - it turns out that that is not only good for the state and the functioning of government, it is also good for economic development," he said.

And on the economic front,. Obama noted that Africa is making great strides.

“Africa has actually been growing faster than almost every other region of the world. [But] it started from a low baseline and still has a lot of work to do," said Obama. "That means building human capacity and improving education and job skills for rapidly-growing young populations.”

The U.S. leader also noted shared security concerns in the region.

Jennifer Cooke at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies says it is no accident that President Obama met with the four leaders.

“Strong institutions, rather than strongmen, democratic principles, really [are] the cornerstone of U.S. policy towards Africa. And these are countries that have done well or are struggling to do well. They are not the big powerhouses on the African continent. But they are examples that I think he [Obama] and the administration want to encourage support and see continued democratic consolidation," said Cooke.

At the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Mathurin Houngnikpo says the Obama administration wants other African leaders to draw a simple conclusion:

“’If I want to meet President Barack Obama, I need to behave.’ It is a demonstration that, indeed, the U.S. means it when it says it is going to support democracy on the continent," said Houngnikpo.

President Obama said the United States seeks a new partnership with Africa - one that goes beyond U.S. aid to the continent.  Jennifer Cooke applauds a multifaceted approach.

“It is a much more competitive world out there, and so the U.S., rather than [just] lecturing on democracy and so forth, probably needs to do more in terms of supporting the domestic pressures for reform in these countries. Our best bet is to reinforce the internal pressures in these countries that are pushing for change: the younger generation, social media, and a middle class," she said.

At the end of comments to reporters,  Obama said his thoughts and prayers are with South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, who has been hospitalized once again.  The African leaders seated around him nodded in agreement.

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