Obama declares a new era of U.S.-Africa relations
'We can't force a solution onto the region,' president says in Tanzania on last stop of African tour
U.S. President Barack Obama, basking in an exuberant welcome from Tanzania's streets teeming with well-wishers, today declared a new era in U.S. relations with Africa based on partnership as opposed to charitable aid.
Obama's visit to Tanzania, the last stop on a weeklong tour of the continent, offers him a unique opportunity to meet with a fellow U.S. president hailed for his Africa aid programs. Former President George W. Bush plans to be in the same city for a conference on African women organized by his institute.
The presidents' brief meeting, scheduled for Tuesday in Dar es Salaam, highlights how the U.S. philosophy on relations with the developing continent has evolved since the time when Bush was in office.
Obama praised Bush's funding for AIDS treatment in particular during a news conference with President Jakaya Kikwete, shortly after his arrival to fawning crowds in the streets.
"I think this is one of his crowning achievements," Obama said of Bush's President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. "Because of the commitment of the Bush administration and the American people, millions of lives have been saved."
Obama rejected the notion that he has reduced the U.S. commitment to the program, saying reduced spending on PEPFAR is because it has become more efficient at treating more people. But he also said he wants to change the approach that the U.S. takes with Africa.
"We are looking at a new model that's based not just on aid and assistance, but on trade and partnership," he said. For example, he said he doesn't want to just provide food aid but help for Tanzanians to grow their own.
"Ultimately, the goal here is for Africa to build Africa for Africans," Obama said. "And our job is to be a partner in that process."
He said that philosophy applies to addressing conflict as well, and that includes addressing rampant violence in Congo. Obama told a Tanzania reporter who asked how the United States would help bring peace that ultimately the countries around Congo have to find a solution.
"We can't force a solution onto the region," he said. "The people of the region have to stand up and say, `That's enough. It's time to move forward in a different way."'
Tanzanians honour Obamas
Obama, his wife Michelle Obama and their two daughters touched down Monday afternoon in Dar es Salaam, where a marching band awaiting them on the tarmac danced and played as members of the welcoming party waved U.S. and Tanzanian flags.
Hundreds of young people lined the streets wearing T-shirts and sarongs bearing images of Obama in the biggest welcome of his three-country visit to Africa. The crowds forced Obama's motorcade to slow at times as it sped along a main thoroughfare that's been permanently renamed "Barack Obama Drive" — a sign that the visit from America's first president of African descent has resonated deeply with Tanzania's people.
Obama called it an "incredible welcome" on his first visit to Tanzania, which borders his father's homeland of Kenya.
"I feel a special connection to this country," Obama said, adding that some of his father's family spent time in Tanzania. "I want to ensure you that love is reciprocated and given back in return."
Obama and Kikwete met privately at the Tanzanian State House, an ocean-front government complex that includes the presidential offices. They then held a news conference on the lush grounds outside, with bunting in the colours of the American and Tanzanian flags lining balconies above.
Kikwete thanked Obama for U.S. aid of all sorts, including the contribution of two million children's books. He said he's looking for more so that "we'll have every Tanzanian child have a book of his or her own."
The Tanzanian president also praised Bush's commitments to the continent and said having them both in town at the same time is "a blessing to this country."
Obama and Bush plan to meet for a wreath-laying ceremony at a monument honoring Americans killed nearly 15 years ago in a bombing at the former U.S. Embassy. Eleven Americans were killed in that Osama bin Laden-masterminded attack, which mirrored a near-simultaneous bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya.
Wives empower African women
Meanwhile, their wives planned to appear on a panel together at the conference on empowering African women organized by the George W. Bush Institute. The former president plans to be in attendance, before delivering his own speech there the following day, after the Obamas will have left.
While in Tanzania, Obama planned to launch a trade partnership initially focused on the eastern African countries of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda — a region of more than 130 million people.
The program is designed to assist those countries' trade with each other and with the United States. Among the impediments to trade that the U.S. intends to alleviate are physical roadblocks that delay the transport of goods and products. As an example, Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative who is traveling with Obama, told reporters it takes 42 days to export coffee out of Rwanda, compared to 14 days out of Colombia.
Obama also signed an executive order aimed at combating wildlife trafficking in Africa, particularly the sale of rhinoceros horns and elephant tusks.
The State Department will provide $10 million US to train and assist African authorities fighting the illegal poaching and selling of animals and animal parts. Grant Harris, the senior director for Africa for the National Security Council, said rhinoceros horns sell for $30,000 a pound on the black market.