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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Remarks of President Obama After Meeting with African Heads of State

4:13 P.M. EDT

        PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I just wanted to publicly welcome four very distinguished leaders to the White House:  President Yayi of Benin; President Conde of Guinea; President Issoufou of Niger; and President Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire.  

        Although, obviously, we’ve got a lot of things going here in Washington today, it was important for us I think to maintain this scheduled appointment with four leaders of nations that represent Africa’s democratic progress, which is vital to a stable and prosperous and just Africa, but is also critical to the stability and prosperity of the world.

        All these leaders were elected through free and fair elections.  They’ve shown extraordinary persistence in wanting to promote democracy in their countries despite significant risks to their own personal safety and despite enormous challenges, in some cases -- most recently in Côte d’Ivoire -- in actually implementing the results of these elections.

        But because of their fortitude and because of the determination of their people to live in democratic, free societies, they have been able to arrive at a position of power that is supported by the legitimate will of their peoples.  And as such, they can serve as effective models for the continent.

        These countries all underscore what I emphasized when I visited Ghana and gave a speech about Africa as a whole -- this is a moment of great opportunity and significant progress in Africa.  Politically, the majority of Sub-Saharan African countries are now embracing democracy.  Economically, Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world.  

        And we just had a very productive discussion where we discussed how we can build on both the political progress, the economic progress, and address the security challenges that can continue to confront Africa.  And I emphasized that the United States has been and will continue to be a stalwart partner with them in this process of democratization and development.  

        Despite the impressive work of all these gentlemen, I’ve said before and I think they all agree, Africa does not need strong men; Africa needs strong institutions.  So we are working with them as partners to build effective judiciaries, strong civil societies, legislatures that are effective and inclusive, making sure that human rights are protected.  

        With respect to economic development, all of us agree that we can’t keep on duplicating a approach that breeds dependence, but rather we need to embrace an approach that creates sustainability and capacity within each of these countries, through trade and investment and the development of human capital and the education of young people throughout these countries.

        We discussed as well that not only do we want to encourage trade between the United States and each of these respective countries but we want to encourage inter-African and regional trade, and that requires investments in infrastructure in those areas.  

        We are partners in resolving conflicts peacefully and have worked effectively with ECOWAS and the African Union to resolve crises in the region.  And we appreciate very much the assistance that we’ve received on battling terrorism that currently is trying to gain a foothold inside of Africa.

        And, finally, we discussed how we can partner together to avert the looming humanitarian crisis in eastern Africa.  I think it hasn’t gotten as much attention here in the United States as it deserves.  But we’re starting to see famine developing along the Horn of Africa, in areas like Somalia in particular.  And that’s going to require an international response, and Africa will have to be a partner in making sure that tens of thousands of people do not starve to death.

        So let me just close by saying that many of the countries here are -- either have celebrated or are in the process of celebrating their 50th year of independence.  As President Issoufou pointed out, I’m also celebrating my 50th of at least existence.  (Laughter.)  

        And when we think about the extraordinary progress that’s been made, I think there’s much we can be proud of.  But of course, when we think about the last 50 years, we also have to recognize there have been a lot of opportunities missed.  And so, these leaders I think are absolutely committed to making sure that 50 years from now they can say that they helped to turn the tide in their countries, to establish strong, democratic practices, to help establish economic prosperity and security.  

        And we just want you to know the United States will stand with you every step of the way.

        Thank you very much, everyone.  (Applause.)  

END 4:24 P.M. EDT