back to top

Obama Hails Progress Made By Africa But Warns There's Still Work To Be Done

Concluding his East African trip with an address to the 54-member African Union in the Ethiopian capital on Tuesday, Obama praised the progress in the continent over the years but also pointed out that the gains made rest on "fragile foundations."

Posted on

President Obama capped off his East African trip with an address to the African Union on Tuesday from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. It was the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited Ethiopia and addressed the 54-member organization.

In an almost 40-minute speech, Obama praised the continent's progress over the last few years, but warned there is still work to be done.

"A half century into this independence era, it is long past time to put aside old stereotypes of an Africa forever mired in poverty and conflict. The world must recognize Africa's extraordinary progress," he said.

However, the U.S. president, whose father was born in Kenya, also warned those advancements are at risk if the region does not reform. The U.S. leader pointed out that while some African countries were leading the way in technology and entrepreneurship, many of its citizens still lived in extreme poverty.

"Alongside high-tech hubs of innovation, many Africans are crowded into shantytowns without power or running water — a level of poverty that's an assault on human dignity," he said.

Obama also touched on corruption, describing it as a "drain" on African countries. And while he was quick to admit it was not just an African problem, the U.S. leader observed the issue affected Africa and its citizens in a different way.

"Corruption drains billions of dollars from countries that can't afford to lose billions of dollars."

In a message he had expressed during his visit to Kenya, Obama also appealed to the continent's political leaders to respect democratic values and their countries' constitutions.

"Democracy is not just formal elections," he said, in a remark that was seen by many as a dig to the Ethiopian government, which won every single seat in parliament at the last election earlier this year.

The government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is also reported to have jailed hundreds of opposition activists and journalists, many of them without charge, over the last few months.

Obama, on his last term in office, said he didn't understand those who want to overstay their welcome.

"I don't understand when people want to stay [in power], for so long especially when they have got a lot of money," he said, to raucous laughter from the crowd.

The U.S. president was also vocal on women's rights, saying practices like female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and rape as a weapon of war must come to an immediate halt.

Felipe Araujo is the overnight homepage editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.