Obama Meets with African Heads of State

Illustration for article titled Obama Meets with African Heads of State

After addressing the United Nations on the topic of climate change and having a closely-watched bilateral meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao, President Obama headed to the Clinton Global Initiative to address conference attendees from businesses, NGOs, and governments around the world. There, he gave a well-rounded, if vague address on the major crises of globalization, and the importance of public service, even outside of elected office. "No one nation, no matter how large and how powerful, can meet these challenges alone," he said—perhaps saving specifics on US foreign policy for his remarks to the UN General Assembly tomorrow morning.


Before heading to the Clinton Initiative, Obama dined with 25 African heads of state and lead diplomats, a lunch designed to broaden and expand the vision for US partnership with the continent expressed in his July visit to Accra, Ghana. Michelle Gavin, senior White House adviser for African Affairs, briefed reporters on the working lunch at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York:

[T]he lunch focused on how we can forge stronger partnerships to create more opportunity for Africans…looking beyond immediate emergencies and crises, out into the future…

It focused on three topics: job creation, particularly for youth; then increasing trade and investment; and particularly strengthening the agricultural sector and agricultural productivity.

[T]he President stressed a couple key premises of his — that an Africa that's prosperous and at peace is vital to the interests of the United States and the rest of the world, premise one; and premise two, that Africa's future is up to Africans.

With that emphasis, Obama stuck with the framework established in Accra and during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's August trip across the continent, which is that good governance, a robust civil society and investment in human capital are key to continued US partnership with Africa, in both the public and private sphere.

Libyan president Muammar Qaddhafi, who with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one of the more controversial attendees of this year's UNGA, was not in attendance. Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman head of state in Africa and a leading voice for economic and democratic advancement, led a conversation on how to provide good jobs to Africa's exploding under-30 population. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whom Bill Clinton praised effusively during his private chat with reporters Monday, was also given the chance to speak. Rwanda was named the world's "top reformer" in the World Bank's recent "Doing Business" report—an example that could be instructive for the tens of thousands of African businesses and governments looking to attract foreign direct investment.

Gavin continued:

President Obama really did stress that this is not kind of a one-off situation, but it's a start of a dialogue between his administration and African leaders.  And I know that that dialogue won't be all just governmental leaders.  He's also interested in of course hearing from African civil society and the private sector.  We're trying to think about how to move this partnership forward and achieve some real transformation in terms of the nature of opportunity available to Africans.



Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.