President Obama Addresses African Union In Ethiopia

Jul 28, 2015
Originally published on July 29, 2015 3:15 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

President Obama addressed the African Union today in Ethiopia, the first U.S. president to speak to the continental body. He praised Africa's progress, but promised to keep pointing out lingering problems with human rights and democracy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: And I know that there are some countries that don't say anything and maybe that's easier to, you know, for leaders to deal with. But you're kind of stuck with us. This is how we are. We believe in these things. We're going to keep on talking about it.

BLOCK: This is Obama's fourth and final trip to Africa as president. And NPR's Gregory Warner reports that he's shifted the way he talks about these sensitive issues.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: President Obama came to an Africa different than the one he first visited in 2009, an Africa buoyed by Chinese money and rising economies and less accommodating to lectures from the West. Human rights groups have even been chased out of some countries or accused of being foreign agents for Western powers. While in 2009, on his first trip to Africa, Obama denounced presidents for life with the line Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men. Today, he entered the touchy subject in a friendlier style - imagining if he sought a third term.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: I actually think I'm a pretty good president. I think if I ran I could win.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: But I can't.

WARNER: But Elizabeth Ohene, a retired journalist and ex-government minister in Ghana, says that President Obama understood something about his African audience - that Africans are ashamed, that many African countries are still dealing with these problems.

ELIZABETH OHENE: It’s something that I think many Africans are embarrassed about. That at this time of our lives, the question of people wanting to stay on in power, should still be something that we are dealing with.

WARNER: She thinks President Obama tread softly, not to make nice with authorities, but out of respect for his audience's autonomy. He spoke, she says, like he understood us. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.