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Obama Charges Africans To Stand For Their Democratic Rights

Jul 13, 2009, 6:11 AM

US President Barrack Obama has made a powerful call for Africans to stand up for their democratic rights, stressing the need for Africa to have an independent press, independent judiciary and strong civil society activists for its own prosperity.

In an address to the Ghanian parliament on his first official visit to sub-Saharan Africa on Saturday 11th July, 2009, the American President, said Africa did not need strong men but strong institutions. He said Africa could have a prosperous future but also pointed out that the continent was often the source of its own difficulties. He urged an end to the conflict which, he said, was hampering Africa's development.

"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", President Obama told the Ghanian parliament. These conflicts, he added, are a millstone around Africa's neck.

He went on: "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".

The US President spoke of a new beginning for Africa, saying that the continent's future was up to Africans. He was however confident that the continent has now reached a turning point, calling for an end to tyranny and corruption.

On governance, President Obama said, development depends on good governance, saying that it's the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. This, he added, is the change that can unlock Africa's potential, noting that it's a responsibility that can only be met by Africans.

On corruption, he said 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 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. Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions", President Obama told his audience.

On colonialism and responsibility, US President told Ghanian parliament that it is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for these problems on others. He said "yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner." He noted that the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children were enlisted as combatants.

On aid, President Obama, Said "By cutting costs that go to Western consultants and administration, we will put more resources in the hands of those who need it, while training people to do more for themselves".

"That is why our $3.5bn food security initiative is focused on new methods and technologies for farmers - not simply sending American producers or goods to Africa. Aid is not an end in itself. The purpose of foreign assistance must be creating the conditions where it is no longer needed", he said.

He added that he did not see the countries and peoples of Africa as a world apart, but that he sees Africa as a fundamental part of the interconnected world - "as partners with America on behalf of the future that we want for all our children."

On health, he told Ghanians and Africans in general that yet because of incentives often provided by donor nations, many African doctors and nurses understandably go overseas, or work for programmes that focus on a single disease. This, he stated, creates gaps in primary care and basic prevention. He called on individual Africans to make responsible choices that would prevent the spread of diseases, while promoting public health in their communities and countries.

Our reporter Baboucarr Senghore was at the US Embassy in Banjul where invitees viewed Mr. Obama's historic address live from Accra.