US calls for political tolerance in Africa

2014-08-05 07:49
Angola Vice President Manuel Vicente and US Secretary of State John Kerry arrive for the US Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington. (Evan Vucci, AP)

Angola Vice President Manuel Vicente and US Secretary of State John Kerry arrive for the US Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington. (Evan Vucci, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington - The United States on Monday urged African leaders to respect political differences, saying that core democratic principles are vital to achieving long-term economic growth.

The call came at the start of an unprecedented US-Africa summit in Washington attended by 35 presidents, nine prime ministers, three vice presidents, two foreign ministers and a king.

The three-day programme of talks marks one of President Barack Obama's biggest initiatives for Africa, against the backdrop of an Ebola outbreak and several security crises on the continent.

Democracy, corruption

Washington is seeking stronger economic ties with Africa, having found itself outpaced by China and Europe on a continent where the International Monetary Fund expects to see 5.4% growth this year and 5.8% the next.

But, in a sharp contrast to China's business-first approach, US leaders first addressed democracy and civil rights concerns.

US Vice President Joe Biden met African civil rights leaders and encouraged them to fight corruption.

"It's a cancer in Africa as well as around the world. Widespread corruption is an affront to the dignity of its people and a direct threat to each of your nations' stability, all nations' stability," Biden said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that a strong civil society can bolster democracy and the rule of law - which are "not just American values, but universal values".

"Diversity is always a better predictor of success than uniformity. Because strong institutions are always more effective, more durable and more predictable than strong men or women," he said.

Outside the US State Department a crowd of around 100 protesters, many from Washington's large expatriate Ethiopian community, demanded the United States not cosy up to African autocrats.

Mandela example

Citing the example of former South African president Nelson Mandela, Kerry said that most Africans supported limiting their leaders to two terms in office.

"We will urge leaders not to alter national constitutions for personal or political gain," Kerry said.

But Kerry did not directly name any of the long-serving leaders - most of whom were nonetheless invited to the summit - including Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Rwanda's Paul Kagame, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni or Cameroon's Paul Biya.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, in office for 35 years, was also invited but sent the vice president.

Earlier on Monday, Kerry met with President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and welcomed his efforts to tackle militia violence in the war-torn nation.

The United States has been pushing Kabila to step down in line with his constitutional limit when the vast nation goes to the polls again in 2016.

The top US diplomat also vowed that the United States would support the work of embattled gay activists and champion press freedom "including for journalists charged with terrorism or imprisoned on arbitrary grounds."

Ethiopia has recently charged seven bloggers and three journalists with terrorism. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn - a key security partner - was nevertheless invited.

Ebola outbreak

While the United States had hoped to focus on an economic agenda, the public health crisis caused by the Ebola outbreak - which has left almost 900 people dead in west Africa since the start of the year - is also taking centre stage.

On the sidelines of the summit, Guinean President Alpha Conde and senior officials from Liberia and Sierra Leone held talks on the Ebola response with Tom Frieden, the director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the US secretary of health and human services.

Security officials were expected to focus on instability in South Sudan and the Central African Republic and to discuss ways to act against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram militants from Nigeria and Shebab militants from Somalia.

And, despite strong growth in much of Africa, Ghana's President, John Mahama, said that he is seeking an IMF bailout to address a currency plunge and close a large fiscal deficit in what was once one of Africa's healthiest economies.

Greater involvement by Obama

Obama, who plans personal involvement on Tuesday and Wednesday at the summit, is the first US president of African descent but devoted little time in his first term to the continent.

He travelled last year to Africa and announced an initiative to bring electricity to at least 20 million more Africans through $7bn in private funds. But officials have warned observers not to expect flashy announcements from the summit in Washington.

President Jacob Zuma said he believed Obama's African background "has not helped" as he faces domestic political pressure in the United States not to put more focus on Africa.

"I believe he could have done more, but I think he always was aware of this fact, and therefore he has navigated the situation very well," Zuma told reporters.

Read more on:    john kerry  |  jacob zuma  |  barack obama  |  us  |  us-africa leaders’ summit  |  east africa  |  west africa  |  north africa  |  southern africa  |  central africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.