So I do not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart; I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world – as partners with America on behalf of the future that we want for all our children. That partnership must be grounded in mutual responsibility, and that is what I want to speak with you about today.
It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants. In my father’s life, it was partly tribalism and patronage in an independent Kenya that for a long stretch derailed his career, and we know that this kind of corruption is a daily fact of life for far too many.
Of course, we also know that is not the whole story. Here in Ghana, you show us a face of Africa that is too often overlooked by a world that sees only tragedy or the need for charity. The people of Ghana have worked hard to put democracy on a firmer footing, with peaceful transfers of power even in the wake of closely contested elections. And with improved governance and an emerging civil society, Ghana’s economy has shown impressive rates of growth.
This progress may lack the drama of the 20th century’s liberation struggles, but make no mistake: it will ultimately be more significant. For just as it is important to emerge from the control of another nation, it is even more important to build one’s own.
This is about more than holding elections – it’s also about what happens between them. Repression takes many forms, and too many nations are plagued by problems that condemn their people to poverty. No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the Port Authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.
In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success – strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples’ lives.
Now let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at war. But for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources. And it is still far too easy for those without conscience to manipulate whole communities into fighting among faiths and tribes.
These conflicts are a millstone around Africa’s neck. We all have many identities – of tribe and ethnicity; of religion and nationality. But defining oneself in opposition to someone who belongs to a different tribe, or who worships a different prophet, has no place in the 21st century. Africa’s diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division. We are all God’s children. We all share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to access education and opportunity; to love our families, our communities, and our faith. That is our common humanity.
Freedom is your inheritance. Now, it is your responsibility to build upon freedom’s foundation. And if you do, we will look back years from now to places like Accra and say that this was the time when the promise was realized – this was the moment when prosperity was forged; pain was overcome; and a new era of progress began. This can be the time when we witness the triumph of justice once more.
Throughout the speech, I thought that President Obama spoke much like Bill Cosby does to the African American community. Just as Cosby says that it's time for African Americans to stop using prior wrongs as an excuse to live life poorly, so too did President Obama say that prior wrongs done on the continent by outsiders are no excuse for what is happening now in the continent.
Africa has a long and terrible history of oppression, slavery, and colonialism. That history has lead drawing lines of sovereignty that have a lot less to do with history and relationships and lot more to do with the naive randomness that outside colonials dreamed up in their heads. While President Obama acknowledged this terrible history and its weight on current African society, he said firmly that this was no excuse for corruption, tyranny, and the broken societies that this leads to.
President Obama laid out four pillars to transforming the continent: better governance, more opportunity for economic growth, better health care, and a decrease and ultimate end to conflicts.
Anyone that knows anything about the current politics and geopolitics of Africa knows that all four are symbiotic. For instance, there can be no economic opportunity in a country full of government corruption. Africa is gripped in an AIDS crisis and this a direct result of corrupt governments standing by while that disease took hold.
In fact, you could even say the last three are a by product of the first. President Obama is further right that an isolated election here and there does NOT make for good governance. Herein lies the rub. While the president recognizes the complexities of good governance, especially in the African nation, and pledges to support all such governments, it will take more than one good speech to make this happen. That's been our policy for decades but the continent simply refuses to take anything more than marginal steps toward this.
Of course, there can be no economic opportunity in countries run by corrupt governments. A former client spent a lot of time working for Motorola in the Phillipines. Motorola has a strict policy of never being a part of any corruption. That's no easy task in the Phillipines. As such, intermediaries were often used for pay offs so that Motorola was never directly part of any pay offs. Ask any citizen of any third world nation and you will always find obscene corruption: pay offs are a part of doing business.
AIDS exploded in Africa for several reasons. First, men simply thought it was weak to wear condoms. Truckers travelled the region having sex with any women they could find and then in fect their wives when they got back home. Beyond this, the governments are so corrupt that they were simply ill equipped to handle the virus as it spread. Instead, these governments often joined in propaganda campaigns claiming that AIDS simply didn't exist.
Of course, conflicts are often all too normal reality on this continent because it's ruled almost entirely by either strongmen or by weak and corrupt governments. (or in the case of Somalia, no government) Too many of the second lead directly internal conflicts that often spill outside their borders. So, in the last twenty years Ethiopia, Somalia, the Congo and the Sudan are just some of the African nations that have experienced conflict.
While the president did an excellent job of laying out the problems, he was short and vague on solutions. Of course, that's natural. The solutions can't possibly be summed up in any reasonable way in a speech that was about a half hour. The solutions can be laid out in a speech but it will take hard work, not yet seen, to resolve them. So, while I commend the president on an excellent speech that identifies many of the problems on the continent, and lays out in broad strokes the solutions. It will be, as the president himself pointed out, up to the African continent to follow through and lift itself up. We can only be there to support those that support freedom, democracy and good governance. (something the president also said)
full audio here.