President Barack Obama on Sunday peers out the window of the Robben Island cell in which Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of his 27 years in prison. Obama visited the island with his wife and daughters. Carolyn Kaster Associated Press

Obama calls on Africans to promote democracy

Published: Monday, Jul. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9A
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 1, 2013 - 6:35 am

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – President Barack Obama challenged Africa on Sunday – especially its young people – to build on the remarkable progress the continent has made by promoting democratic and honest government and a thriving middle class.

"There is an energy here that can't be denied," he said. "Africa rising."

Obama acknowledged the immense changes that have transformed sub-Saharan African in recent years, speaking on the same campus where Robert F. Kennedy in 1966 delivered his Day of Affirmation speech about the spread of civil rights. Earlier, Obama took his family to see the prison that in the days of apartheid held Nelson Mandela, who remained in critical condition Sunday in a Pretoria hospital with a recurring lung infection.

Obama cautioned in his speech that, despite freer societies and growing economies, much needs to be done to eradicate poverty, shed corruption and eliminate conflict.

"We know this progress rests on a fragile foundation," he said. "Across Africa, the same institutions that should be the backbone of democracy can all too often be infected with the rot of corruption."

He pledged that the United States would do its part, not by offering handouts, but by partnering with African governments and private companies to lure businesses to the continent. That would come in the form of a new $7 billion program to double access to electricity and continuing efforts to produce new food technologies and reduce illness.

"We are moving beyond the simple provision of assistance, foreign aid, to a new model of partnership," he said.

The goal, he said, is to boost a middle class that will benefit both the United States and Africa.

Earlier Sunday, Obama, his wife and daughters toured Robben Island, where Mandela was held in a small cell for 18 of his 27 years in prison as a political prisoner of the white leaders who ruled the nation. Obama had been there before, but it was his family's first visit.

"On behalf of our family we're deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield," Obama wrote in the guest book. "The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit."

Obama, much like Kennedy before him, encouraged young Africans to take the mantle from their leaders, working to help nations and societies. He announced a program to bring 500 young leaders to Washington from Africa for training each year.

The Obamas leave South Africa for Tanzania today. The president will speak at a power plant about his new initiative to increase electricity across Africa. Six nations – Tanzania, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia – will launch the program with the goals of providing power to 20 million.

Obama also may appear in Tanzania with former President George W. Bush, who has been working against AIDS, cancer and malaria in Africa. Michelle Obama already plans to appear at an event with Laura Bush and African first ladies.

The president also stopped Sunday at a health center overseen by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Associated Press reported. Obama praised Tutu's work in an emotional meeting in which Tutu said Africans are praying that Obama will be a success and a leader for peace, particularly in the Middle East.

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