In Senegal on the first leg of a three-nation Africa trip designed to demonstrate his re-engagement with the continent, U.S. President Barack Obama praised democratic progress made by African nations. He also spoke about former South African president Nelson Mandela.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were welcomed by President Macky Sall at the presidential palace.
Obama's motorcade drove through streets lined with thousands of people holding signs welcoming the first African-American U.S. president back to the continent, reading: “Yes we can - President Obama and Macky Sall.”
One of Obama's objectives is to recognize democratic progress in this small Muslim-majority nation, and across Africa.
Lauding Senegal's progress
He called Senegal an inspiring example.
“Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa and one of the strongest partners that we have in the region. It is 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.”
Obama said the world too often overlooks “amazing progress” Africa is making to improve democratic governance and empower citizens. He also mentioned Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Niger and Ghana.
In translated remarks, Sall praised Obama for his determination to give new energy to relations between the U.S. and Africa.
“We have a historic opportunity here to open new prospects for our relations on the basis of complementarity, by offering greater opportunities to our youth and by stimulating trade and investments for shared prosperity,” said Sall.
Answering a U.S. reporter's question, Sall said Senegal is a tolerant country, but is still not ready to decriminalize homosexuality. He said homosexuals are not discriminated against.
Obama said the issue did not come up in their talks, but said he believes in equal treatment for all under the law.
“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,” said Obama.
Obama next went to Senegal's Supreme Court, where he addressed judicial system leaders from across the West African region about the importance of the rule of law.
He also commented on 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon Mandela, who is in critical condition in a hospital.
Saying his thoughts and prayers are with Mandela and his family, Obama said Mandela's life provided an example to the world.
“I think he is a hero for the world, and if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we will all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages,” said Obama.
The rest of Obama's schedule Thursday included a visit, with his family, to Goree Island, site of a museum dedicated to the history of the West African slave trade.
His visit there with civil society leaders reflects another major objective of underscoring the importance of empowering citizens to play a role in their governments and work to demand accountability of their leaders.
Obama's daughters Malia and Sasha are traveling with the president and the first lady. Separately, Michelle Obama visited an all-girl's school in Dakar named in honor of the late African-American U.S. civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
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