Obama sees a hopeful democratic Senegal
27 June 2013, 12:04
Dakar - The hopeful story President Barack Obama wants to
tell about Africa is represented in the first stop of his weeklong trip to
re-engage the continent, in a country where democracy recently overcame an
impending electoral crisis.
During his visit to Senegal on Thursday, Obama also will
reflect on the ties many African-Americans share with the continent as he takes
a tour of Goree Island, Africa's westernmost point. By some accounts, millions
of Africans were shipped off into slavery across the Atlantic Ocean through the
island's "Door of No Return".
It's the first of two island visits Obama planned to
highlight racial atrocities of the past. The second was scheduled for Sunday at
South Africa's Robben Island, where anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was
imprisoned for 18 years.
But Mandela's condition could affect Obama's plans. The
former South African president is gravely ill, and Obama foreign policy adviser
Ben Rhodes said it would be left to the Mandela family to decide whether he is
up for a visit from Obama this weekend.
Mandela's legacy hangs over the entire trip, with Senegal
among many African countries that have benefited from his example of a peaceful
transition to power. "So much of the democratic progress that we see across
the continent I think can be tied in some way to the inspiration that Nelson
Mandela set," Rhodes said.
Obama's focus in Senegal will be on the modern-day
achievements of the former French colony after half a century of independence.
He planned to meet with Senegalese President Macky Sall, who
ousted an incumbent president who attempted to change the constitution to make
it easier for him to be re-elected and pave the way for his son to succeed him.
The power grab sparked protests, fuelled by hip-hop music and social media,
that led to Sall's election.
But such people-powered democratic transitions are not
always the story of the African experience. Fighting and human rights abuses
limited Obama's options for stops in his first major tour of sub-Saharan Africa
since he took office more than four years ago. Obama is avoiding his father's
homeland, Kenya, whose president has been charged with war crimes, and Nigeria,
the country with the continent's most dominant economy. Nigeria is enveloped in
an Islamist insurgency and military crackdown.
Obama's itinerary in Senegal was designed to send a message,
purposefully delivered in a French-speaking, Muslim-majority nation, to other
Africans in countries that have not made the strides toward democracy that Senegal
has. Obama plans to meet with civil society leaders at the Goree Institute and
visit the Supreme Court to speak about the importance of an independent
judiciary and the rule of law in Africa's development.
"It's not enough to have elections, it's not enough to
have democratically elected leaders," Rhodes said.
"You need to
have independent judiciaries. You need to have confidence in the rule of law.
You need to have efforts to combat corruption. Because, frankly, not only is
that good for democracy and respect for human rights, but it's critical to
Africa's economic growth, because where you have clear rules of the road and
efforts to combat corruption, businesses will invest, and jobs will be created
and growth will take off. And that's what we want to see."