Barack Obama on Africa’s fragile foundation

By Tinishu Solomon

Posted on Wednesday, 29 July 2015 10:11

Obama’s speech, the first by a sitting President of the United States at the AU, acknowledged progress Africa has made, ranging from a decline in HIV case to attracting increased foreign direct investment to the continent.

If a leader thinks they’re the only person who can hold their nation together, then that leader has failed

But he told the African Union that these gains rest “on a fragile foundation”.

“Africa’s progress will also depend on democracy, because Africans, like people everywhere, deserve the dignity of being in control of their own lives,” he said.

Obama said democracy is not just formal elections.

“When journalists are put behind bars for doing their jobs, or activists are threatened as governments crack down on civil society, then you may have democracy in name, but not substance,” he said.

The American president urged leaders respect their constitutions.

“Today, Africa’s democratic progress is also at risk from leaders who refuse to step aside when their terms end,” he said, striking a chord with delegates at the AU, who cheered.

“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife, as we’ve seen in Burundi.

“And it’s often just a first step down a perilous path.”

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has won a contentious third term, with opponents claiming his bid was illegal, due to a limit of two terms in the constitution.

In nearby Rwanda, they have set in motion plans to allow Paul Kagame to stand for a third term, which was previously blocked by the constitution.

“If a leader thinks they’re the only person who can hold their nation together, then that leader has failed to truly build their country,” Obama said

“And just as the African Union has condemned coups and illegitimate transfers of power, the AU’s authority and strong voice can also help the people of Africa ensure that their leaders abide by term limits and their constitutions.

“No one should be president for life.”

The US president reiterated his statements from a previous trip to the continent that what Africa needs are strong institutions and not strong men.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options