The Obama Interview on his African visit – Part 1-
Washington, DC — Barack Obama interview with Allafrica.com
We asked visitors to our site, allAfrica.com, what they might be interested in with respect to your policy. And as you might imagine, the responses are everywhere: conflict resolution, development issues, trade issues, et cetera. But they and we have one immediate question: How is it that you happened to pick Ghana as the first place to visit in sub-Saharan Africa?
Well, part of the reason is because Ghana has now undergone a couple of successful elections in which power was transferred peacefully, even a very close election. I think that the new president, President Mills, has shown himself committed to the rule of law, to the kinds of democratic commitments that ensure stability in a country.
And I think that there is a direct correlation between governance and prosperity. Countries that are governed well, that are stable, where the leadership recognizes that they are accountable to the people and that institutions are stronger than any one person have a track record of producing results for the people. And we want to highlight that.
And I assume that you’d like to see a lot more ‘Ghanas’ in Africa. And part of your policy would be, I assume, to encourage that.
Well, part of it is lifting up successful models. And so, by traveling to Ghana, we hope to highlight the effective governance that they have in place.
I don’t think that we can expect that every country is going to undergo these transitions in the same way at the same time. But we have seen progress in democracy and transparency and rule of law, in the protection of property rights, in anti-corruption efforts.
We have seen progress over the last several years; in some cases, though, we’re also seeing some backsliding. In my father’s own country of Kenya, I’m concerned about how the political parties do not seem to be moving into a permanent reconciliation that would allow the country to move forward. And Kenya is not alone in some of the problems that we’ve seen of late, post-election or pre-election.
And we just want to make sure that people are mindful that this isn’t just some abstract notion that we’re trying to impose on Africa. There is a very practical, pragmatic consequence to political instability and corruption when it comes to whether people can feed their families, educate their children, and we think that Africa – the African continent is a place of extraordinary promise as well as challenges. We’re not going to be able to fulfill those promises unless we see better governance.
Do you have priorities in terms of countries or regions? For instance, West Africa is extremely important in terms of oil; East Africa in terms of some of the strategic concerns of the United States?
I think the entire continent is important. And keep in mind that although I’m visiting Ghana on this particular trip, we’ve already had [Prime Minister] Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe in the Oval Office. We’ve had [President] Kikwete from Tanzania in my office.
And in each case, I’m trying to send the same message. You’ve seen some very good work by the administration in Tanzania focusing on how to deliver concrete services to the people, and wherever folks want to help themselves, we want to be there as a partner. And I think that you’ve got some very strong leadership in Africa that is ready to move forward and we want to be there with them.
On the economic front, that means opening up better trade opportunities. It means that we are interested not just in foreign aid, but in how we strengthen the capacity for development internally in these countries, and we want to work in a multilateral context, as well as the bilateral strengthening of relations with many of these countries
But as you point out, there are strategic, national security, economic, environmental reasons why we think this region is important. And part of the reason we wanted to – although we’re only going to one country this time, I actually thought that it made sense for us to connect a trip to Ghana to a previous trip with the G8.
We’ll be meeting a number of African countries in Italy during the G8 meeting – before that, a meeting in Russia – to show that Africa is directly connected to our entire foreign policy approach; that it’s not some isolated thing where once every term you go visit Africa for a while to check that box, but rather it’s an ongoing part of a broader discussion about how we move many of these international challenges forward.
Development assistance will presumably be an important piece of your Africa policy. Now, development assistance is pretty fragmented, whether you look at the United States or you look at it globally, in the sense that varying countries have varying approaches. Now you, more than any President, are associated with using technological tools, and I can’t help but wonder if you have thought about using technology to bring some coherence, if you will, like tracking how aid works or where it goes, et cetera.
Look, I think you make a very important point, and that is that even just within the U.S. government, our aid policies have been splintered among a variety of agencies, different theories embraced by different people depending on which administration, which party, is in power at any given time.
Trying to create something steady and focused – and always basing our policies on what works and not on some ideological previous position is going to be very important.