Entire Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by President Barack Obama to the United Nations General Assembly at New York.
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: we come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.
Around the globe, there are signposts of progress. The shadow of World War that existed at the founding of this institution has been lifted; the prospect of war between major powers reduced. The ranks of member states has more than tripled, and more people live under governments they elected. Hundreds of millions of human beings have been freed from the prison of poverty, with the proportion of those living in extreme poverty cut in half. And the world economy continues to strengthen after the worst financial crisis of our lives.
Today, whether you live in downtown New York or in my grandmother’s village more than two hundred miles from Nairobi, you can hold in your hand more information than the world’s greatest libraries. Together, we have learned how to cure disease, and harness the power of the wind and sun. The very existence of this institution is a unique achievement – the people of the world committing to resolve their differences peacefully, and solve their problems together. I often tell young people in the United States that this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, and to be free to pursue your dreams.
And yet there is a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers, and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces. As we gather here, an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa, and threatens to move rapidly across borders. Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.
Each of these problems demands urgent attention. But they are also symptoms of a broader problem – the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world. We have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries. Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe.
Fellow delegates, we come together as United Nations with a choice to make. We can renew the international system that has enabled so much progress, or allow ourselves to be pulled back by an undertow of instability. We can reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront global problems, or be swamped by more and more outbreaks of instability. For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort. We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs; we choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.
There is much that must be done to meet the tests of this moment. But today I’d like to focus on two defining questions at the root of many of our challenges– whether the nations here today will be able to renew the purpose of the UN’s founding; and whether we will come together to reject the cancer of violent extremism.
First, all of us – big nations and small – must meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms.
We are here because others realized that we gain more from cooperation than conquest. One hundred years ago, a World War claimed the lives of many millions, proving that with the terrible power of modern weaponry, the cause of empire leads to the graveyard. It would take another World War to roll back the forces of fascism and racial supremacy, and form this United Nations to ensure that no nation can subjugate its neighbors and claim their territory.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine challenge this post-war order. Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled. Against the will of the government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed. Russia poured arms into Eastern Ukraine, fueling violent separatists and a conflict that has killed thousands. When a civilian airliner was shot down from areas that these proxies controlled, they refused to allow access to the crash for days. When Ukraine started to reassert control over its territory, Russia gave up the pretense of merely supporting the separatists, and moved troops across the border.
This is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.
These are simple truths, but they must be defended. America and our allies will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. We will reinforce our NATO allies, and uphold our commitment to collective defense. We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.
Moreover, a different path is available – the path of diplomacy and peace and the ideals this institution is designed to uphold. The recent cease-fire agreement in Ukraine offers an opening to achieve that objective. If Russia takes that path – a path that for stretches of the post-Cold War period resulted in prosperity for the Russian people – then we will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges. That’s what the United States and Russia have been able to do in past years – from reducing our nuclear stockpiles to meet our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to cooperating to remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons. And that’s the kind of cooperation we are prepared to pursue again—if Russia changes course.
This speaks to a central question of our global age: whether we will solve our problems together, in a spirit of mutual interests and mutual respect, or whether we descend into destructive rivalries of the past. When nations find common ground, not simply based on power, but on principle, then we can make enormous progress. And I stand before you today committed to investing American strength in working with nations to address the problems we face in the 21st century.
As we speak, America is deploying our doctors and scientists – supported by our military – to help contain the outbreak of Ebola and pursue new treatments. But we need a broader effort to stop a disease that could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific suffering, destabilize economies, and move rapidly across borders. It’s easy to see this as a distant problem – until it isn’t. That is why we will continue mobilizing other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this outbreak, and enhance global health security for the long-term.
America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them. This can only happen if Iran takes this historic opportunity. My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.
America is and will continue to be a Pacific power, promoting peace, stability, and the free flow of commerce among nations. But we will insist that all nations abide by the rules of the road, and resolve their territorial disputes peacefully, consistent with international law. That’s how the Asia-Pacific has grown. And that’s the only way to protect this progress going forward.
America is committed to a development agenda that eradicates extreme poverty by 2030. We will do our part – to help people feed themselves; power their economies; and care for their sick. If the world acts together, we can make sure that all of our children can enjoy lives of opportunity and dignity
America is pursuing ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions, and we have increased our investments in clean energy. We will do our part, and help developing nations to do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every major power. That’s how we can protect this planet for our children and grandchildren.
On issue after issue, we cannot rely on a rule-book written for a different century. If we lift our eyes beyond our borders – if we think globally and act cooperatively – we can shape the course of this century as our predecessors shaped the post-World War II age. But as we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail such progress: and that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.
Of course, terrorism is not new. Speaking before this Assembly, President Kennedy put it well: “Terror is not a new weapon,” he said. “Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example.” In the 20th century, terror was used by all manner of groups who failed to come to power through public support. But in this century, we have faced a more lethal and ideological brand of terrorists who have perverted one of the world’s great religions. With access to technology that allows small groups to do great harm, they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels – killing as many innocent civilians as possible; and employing the most brutal methods to intimidate people within their communities.
I have made it clear that America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism. Rather, we have waged a focused campaign against al Qaeda and its associated forces – taking out their leaders, and denying them the safe-havens they rely upon. At the same time, we have reaffirmed that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no us and them – there is only us, because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country.
So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.
This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment. Moreover, this campaign against extremism goes beyond a narrow security challenge. For while we have methodically degraded core al Qaeda and supported a transition to a sovereign Afghan government, extremist ideology has shifted to other places – particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where a quarter of young people have no job; food and water could grow scarce; corruption is rampant; and sectarian conflicts have become increasingly hard to contain.
As an international community, we must meet this challenge with a focus on four areas. First, the terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed.
This group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria. Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded, with videos of the atrocity distributed to shock the conscience of the world.
No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.
In this effort, we do not act alone. Nor do we intend to send U.S. troops to occupy foreign lands. Instead, we will support Iraqis and Syrians fighting to reclaim their communities. We will use our military might in a campaign of air strikes to roll back ISIL. We will train and equip forces fighting against these terrorists on the ground. We will work to cut off their financing, and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region. Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition. Today, I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build – not those who destroy.
Second, it is time for the world – especially Muslim communities – to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL.
It is the task of all great religions to accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world. No children – anywhere – should be educated to hate other people. There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim. It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology.
That means cutting off the funding that fuels this hate. It’s time to end the hypocrisy of those who accumulate wealth through the global economy, and then siphon funds to those who teach children to tear it down.
That means contesting the space that terrorists occupy – including the Internet and social media. Their propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars, and turned students into suicide bombers. We must offer an alternative vision.
That means bringing people of different faiths together. All religions have been attacked by extremists from within at some point, and all people of faith have a responsibility to lift up the value at the heart of all religion: do unto thy neighbor as you would have done unto you.
The ideology of ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed, confronted, and refuted in the light of day. Look at the new Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies – Sheikh bin Bayyah described its purpose: “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace.” Look at the young British Muslims, who responded to terrorist propaganda by starting the “notinmyname” campaign, declaring – “ISIS is hiding behind a false Islam.” Look at the Christian and Muslim leaders who came together in the Central African Republic to reject violence – listen to the Imam who said, “Politics try to divide the religious in our country, but religion shouldn’t be a cause of hate, war, or strife.”
Later today, the Security Council will adopt a resolution that underscores the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism. But resolutions must be followed by tangible commitments, so we’re accountable when we fall short. Next year, we should all be prepared to announce the concrete steps that we have taken to counter extremist ideologies – by getting intolerance out of schools, stopping radicalization before it spreads, and promoting institutions and programs that build new bridges of understanding.
Third, we must address the cycle of conflict – especially sectarian conflict – that creates the conditions that terrorists prey upon.
There is nothing new about wars within religions. Christianity endured centuries of vicious sectarian conflict. Today, it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery. It is time to acknowledge the destruction wrought by proxy wars and terror campaigns between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East. And it is time that political, civic and religious leaders reject sectarian strife. Let’s be clear: this is a fight that no one is winning. A brutal civil war in Syria has already killed nearly 200,000 people and displaced millions. Iraq has come perilously close to plunging back into the abyss. The conflict has created a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists who inevitably export this violence.
Yet, we also see signs that this tide could be reversed – a new, inclusive government in Baghdad; a new Iraqi Prime Minister welcomed by his neighbors; Lebanese factions rejecting those who try to provoke war. These steps must be followed by a broader truce. Nowhere is this more necessary than Syria. Together with our partners, America is training and equipping the Syrian opposition to be a counterweight to the terrorists of ISIL and the brutality of the Assad regime. But the only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war is political – an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or creed.
Cynics may argue that such an outcome can never come to pass. But there is no other way for this madness to end – whether one year from now or ten. Indeed, it’s time for a broader negotiation in which major powers address their differences directly, honestly, and peacefully across the table from one another, rather than through gun-wielding proxies. I can promise you America will remain engaged in the region, and we are prepared to engage in that effort.
My fourth and final point is a simple one: the countries of the Arab and Muslim world must focus on the extraordinary potential of their people – especially the youth.
Here I’d like to speak directly to young people across the Muslim world. You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder. Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it.
You have demonstrated that when young people have the tools to succeed –good schools; education in math and science; an economy that nurtures creativity and entrepreneurship – then societies will flourish. So America will partner with those who promote that vision.
Where women are full participants in a country’s politics or economy, societies are more likely to succeed. That’s why we support the participation of women in parliaments and in peace processes; in schools and the economy.
If young people live in places where the only option is between the dictates of a state, or the lure of an extremist underground – no counter-terrorism strategy can succeed. But where a genuine civil society is allowed to flourish – where people can express their views, and organize peacefully for a better life – then you dramatically expand the alternatives to terror.
Such positive change need not come at the expense of tradition and faith. We see this in Iraq, where a young man started a library for his peers. “We link Iraq’s heritage to their hearts,” he said, and “give them a reason to stay.” We see it in Tunisia, where secular and Islamist parties worked together through a political process to produce a new constitution. We see it in Senegal, where civil society thrives alongside a strong, democratic government. We see it in Malaysia, where vibrant entrepreneurship is propelling a former colony into the ranks of advanced economies. And we see it in Indonesia, where what began as a violent transition has evolved into a genuine democracy.
Ultimately, the task of rejecting sectarianism and extremism is a generational task – a task for the people of the Middle East themselves. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds. But America will be a respectful and constructive partner. We will neither tolerate terrorist safe-havens, nor act as an occupying power. Instead, we will take action against threats to our security – and our allies – while building an architecture of counter-terrorism cooperation. We will increase efforts to lift up those who counter extremist ideology, and seek to resolve sectarian conflict. And we will expand our programs to support entrepreneurship, civil society, education and youth – because, ultimately, these investments are the best antidote to violence.
Leadership will also be necessary to address the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. As bleak as the landscape appears, America will never give up the pursuit of peace. The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home. And the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. But let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable. We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza. So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just with two states living side by side, in peace and security.
This is what America is prepared to do – taking action against immediate threats, while pursuing a world in which the need for such action is diminished. The United States will never shy away from defending our interests, but nor will we shrink from the promise of this institution and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the notion that peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of a better life.
I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within our own borders. This is true. In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.
But we welcome the scrutiny of the world – because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect. America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals, and are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. Because we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and independent judiciary. Because we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and countries for the better.
After nearly six years as President, I believe that this promise can help light the world. Because I’ve seen a longing for positive change – for peace and freedom and opportunity – in the eyes of young people I’ve met around the globe. They remind me that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what God you pray to, or who you love, there is something fundamental that we all share. Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the UN and America’s role in it, once asked, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places,” she said, “close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”
The people of the world look to us, here, to be as decent, as dignified, and as courageous as they are in their daily lives. And at this crossroads, I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done. We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.
Source: White House
Remarks by the President at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you. Please be seated. Well, good afternoon, everybody. To Mayor Bloomberg, thank you -- not only for the kind introduction, but to Bloomberg Philanthropies as our co-host, and for the great work that you’re doing across Africa to help create jobs, and promote public health, encourage entrepreneurship, especially women. So thank you very much, Michael, for your leadership. I want to thank our other co-host -- my great friend and tireless Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker. (Applause.)
I want to welcome all of our partners who are joining us from across Africa -- heads of state and government, and let me welcome the delegations from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with whom we are working so urgently to control the Ebola outbreak and whose citizens are in our thoughts and prayers today. I also want to welcome Madame Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma of the African Union Commission; President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka; as well as the President of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Kim. Please give them all a round of applause. (Applause.)
And I want to acknowledge members of Congress who are here and who are such great champions of Africa’s engagement with -- America’s engagement with Africa. In a city that does not always agree on much these days, there is broad bipartisan agreement that a secure, prosperous and self-reliant Africa is in the national interest of the United States.
And most of all, I want to thank all of you -- the business leaders, the entrepreneurs both from the United States and from across Africa who are creating jobs and opportunity for our people every day. And I want to acknowledge leaders from across my administration who, like Penny, are your partners, including our U.S. Trade Representative, Mike Froman; USAID Administrator Raj Shah; and our new head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Dana Hyde; President of the Export-Import Bank, Fred Hochberg; Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Lee Zak; and our President and CEO of OPIC, Elizabeth Littlefield.
So we are here, of course, as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit -- the largest gathering any American President has ever hosted with African heads of state and government. And this summit reflects a perspective that has guided my approach to Africa as President. Even as Africa continues to face enormous challenges, even as too many Africans still endure poverty and conflict, hunger and disease, even as we work together to meet those challenges, we cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging.
We all know what makes Africa such an extraordinary opportunity. Some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. A growing middle class. Expanding sectors like manufacturing and retail. One of the fastest-growing telecommunications markets in the world. More governments are reforming, attracting a record level of foreign investment. It is the youngest and fastest-growing continent, with young people that are full of dreams and ambition.
Last year in South Africa, in Soweto, I held a town hall with young men and women from across the continent, including some who joined us by video from Uganda. And one young Ugandan woman spoke for many Africans when she said to me, “We are looking to the world for equal business partners and commitments, and not necessarily aid. We want to do [business] at home and be the ones to own our own markets.” That’s a sentiment we hear over and over again. When I was traveling throughout Africa last year, what I heard was the desire of Africans not just for aid, but for trade and development that actually helps nations grow and empowers Africans for the long term.
As President, I’ve made it clear that the United States is determined to be a partner in Africa’s success -- a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term. (Applause.) We don’t look to Africa simply for its natural resources; we recognize Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people and its talents and their potential. (Applause.) We don’t simply want to extract minerals from the ground for our growth; we want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and that unleash the next era of African growth. That’s the kind of partnership America offers.
And since I took office, we’ve stepped up our efforts across the board. More investments in Africa; more trade missions, like the one Penny led this year; and more support for U.S. exports. And I’m proud -- I’m proud that American exports to Africa have grown to record levels, supporting jobs in Africa and the United States, including a quarter of a million good American jobs.
But here’s the thing: Our entire trade with all of Africa is still only about equal to our trade with Brazil -- one country. Of all the goods we export to the world, only about one percent goes to Sub-Saharan Africa. So we’ve got a lot of work to do. We have to do better -- much better. I want Africans buying more American products. I want Americans buying more African products. I know you do, too. And that’s what you’re doing today. (Applause.)
So I’m pleased that in conjunction with this forum, American companies are announcing major new deals in Africa. Blackstone will invest in African energy projects. Coca-Cola will partner with Africa to bring clean water to its communities. GE will help build African infrastructure. Marriott will build more hotels. All told, American companies -- many with our trade assistance -- are announcing new deals in clean energy, aviation, banking, and construction worth more than $14 billion, spurring development across Africa and selling more goods stamped with that proud label, “Made in America.”
And I don’t want to just sustain this momentum, I want to up it. I want to up our game. So today I’m announcing a series of steps to take our trade with Africa to the next level.
First, we’re going to keep working to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act -- and enhance it. (Applause.) We still do the vast majority of our trade with just three countries -- South Africa, Nigeria and Angola. It’s still heavily weighted towards the energy sector. We need more Africans, including women and small- and medium-sized businesses, getting their goods to market. And leaders in Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- have said they want to move forward. So I’m optimistic we can work with Congress to renew and modernize AGOA before it expires, renew it for the long term. We need to get that done. (Applause.)
Second, as part of our “Doing Business in Africa” campaign, we’re going to do even more to help American companies compete. We’ll put even more of our teams on the ground, advocating on behalf of your companies. We’re going to send even more trade missions. Today, we’re announcing $7 billion in new financing to promote American exports to Africa. Earlier today, I signed an executive order to create a new President’s advisory council of business leaders to help make sure we’re doing everything we can to help you do business in Africa. (Applause.)
And I would be remiss if I did not add that House Republicans can help by reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. That is the right thing to do. (Applause.) I was trying to explain to somebody that if I’ve got a Ford dealership and the Toyota dealership is providing financing to anybody who walks in the dealership and I’m not, I’m going to lose business. It’s pretty straightforward. We need to get that reauthorized. (Applause.) And you business leaders can help make clear that it is critical to U.S. business.
Number three, we want to partner with Africa to build the infrastructure that economies need to flourish. And that starts with electricity, which most Africans still lack. That’s why last year while traveling throughout the continent, I announced a bold initiative, Power Africa, to double access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa and help bring electricity to more than 20 million African homes and businesses.
Now, we’ve joined with African governments, the African Development Bank, and the private sector -- and I will tell you, the response has exceeded our projections. It has been overwhelming. Already, projects and negotiations are underway that, when completed, will put us nearly 80 percent of the way toward our goal. On top of the significant resources we’ve already committed, I’m announcing that the United States will increase our pledge to $300 million a year for this effort.
And as of today -- including an additional $12 billion in new commitments being announced this week by our private sector partners and the World Bank and the government of Sweden -- we’ve now mobilized a total of more than $26 billion to Power Africa just since we announced it -- $26 billion. (Applause.) So today we’re raising the bar. We decided we’re meeting our goal too easily, Zuma, so we’ve got to go up. So we’re tripling our goal, aiming to bring electricity to more than 60 million African homes and businesses that can spark growth for decades to come. (Applause.)
Fourth, we’ll do more to help Africans trade with each other, because the markets with the greatest potential are often the countries right next door. And it should not be harder to export your goods to your neighbor than it is to export those goods to Los Angeles or to Amsterdam. (Applause.) So through our Trade Africa initiative, we’ll increase our investments to help our African partners build their own capacity to trade, to strengthen regional markets, make borders more efficient, modernize the customs system. We want to get African goods moving faster within Africa, as well as outside of Africa.
And finally, we’re doing more to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs and business leaders -- it’s young men and women, like our extraordinary Mandela Washington Fellows that I met with last week. And I have to say to the heads of state and government, you would have been extraordinarily proud to meet these young people who exhibit so much talent and so much energy and so much drive.
With new Regional Leadership Centers and online courses, we’re going to offer training and networking for tens of thousands of young entrepreneurs across Africa. New grants will help them access the capital they need to grow. Our annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit this year will be held in Morocco. Next year, it will be held for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa -- because we want to make sure that all that talent is tapped and they have access to the capital and the networks and the markets that they need to succeed. Because if they succeed, then the countries in which they live will succeed. They’ll create jobs. They’ll create growth. They’ll create opportunity.
So the bottom line is the United States is making a major and long-term investment in Africa’s progress. And taken together, the new commitments I’ve described today -- across our government and by our many partners -- total some $33 billion. And that will support development across Africa and jobs here in the United States. Up to tens of thousands of American jobs are supported every time we expand trade with Africa.
As critical as all these investments are, the key to unlocking the next era of African growth is not going to be here in the United States, it’s going to be in Africa. And so, during this week’s summit, we’ll be discussing a whole range of areas where we’re going to have to work together -- areas that are important in their own right, but which are also essential to Africa’s growth.
Capital is one thing. Development programs and projects are one thing. But rule of law, regulatory reform, good governance -- those things matter even more, because people should be able to start a business and ship their goods without having to pay a bribe or hire somebody’s cousin.
Agricultural development is critical because it’s the best way to boost incomes for the majority of Africans who are farmers, especially as they deal with the impacts of climate change.
Rebuilding a strong health infrastructure, especially for mothers and children, is critical because no country can prosper unless its citizens are healthy and strong, and children are starting off with the advantages they need to grow to their full potential.
And we’re going to have to talk about security and peace, because the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy. And it’s very hard to attract business investment, and it’s very hard to build infrastructure, and it’s very hard to sustain entrepreneurship in the midst of conflict.
So I just want to close with one example of what trade can help us build together. Kusum Kavia was born in Kenya; her family was originally from India. Eventually, she emigrated to the United States and along with her husband started a small business in California. It started off as a small engineering firm. Then it started manufacturing small power generators. With the help of the Export-Import Bank -- including seminars and a line of credit and risk insurance -- they started exporting power generators to West Africa. In Benin, they helped build a new electric power plant.
And it’s ended up being a win-win for everybody. It’s been a win for their company, Combustion Associates, because exports to Africa have boosted their sales, which means they’ve been able to hire more workers here in the United States. They partner with GE; GE is doing well. Most of their revenues are from exports to Africa. It’s been a win for their suppliers in Texas and Ohio and New York. It’s been a win for Benin and its people, because more electricity for families and businesses, jobs for Africans at the power plant because the company hires locally and trains those workers. And they hope to keep expanding as part of our Power Africa initiative.
So this is an example of just one small business. Imagine if we can replicate that success across our countries.
Kusum says, “When our customers see the label, ‘Made in America,’ when they see our flag, it puts us above all the competition.” And her vision for their company is the same vision that brings us all here today. She says, “We really want to have a long-term partnership with Africa.” So Kusum is here. I had a chance to meet her backstage. Where is she? Right there. Stand up, Kusum. So she’s doing great work. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
But she’s an example of what’s possible -- a long-term partnership with Africa. And that’s what America offers. That’s what we’re building. That’s the difference we can make when Africans and Americans work together. So let’s follow Kusum’s lead. Let’s do even more business together. Let’s tear down barriers that slow us down and get in the way of trade. Let’s build up the infrastructure -- the roads, the bridges, the ports, the electricity -- that connect our countries. Let’s create more and sell more and buy more from each other. I’m confident that we can. And when we do, we won’t just propel the next era of African growth, we’ll create more jobs and opportunity for everybody -- for people here in the United States and for people around the world.
So thank you very much, everybody, for what so far has been an outstanding session. And I’ve got the opportunity to speak to this young man. (Applause.)
Q So thank you very much, Mr. President for this opportunity. I’ll start by wishing you a belated Happy Birthday.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Thank you very much. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Have you introduced yourself to everybody?
Q I wanted to really jump into the issues. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, go ahead and introduce yourself.
Q All right. I’m Takunda Chingonzo. I’m a young entrepreneur. I’m 21. I’m from Zimbabwe. And I’m working in the wireless technology space. We’re essentially liberating the Internet for Zimbabweans. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: And let me just -- this is an example of our young African leaders; in fact, the youngest young African leader. But one thing I will say, though, if you’re going to promote your business, you’ve got to make sure to let people know who you are. (Laughter.)
Q Definitely, definitely.
THE PRESIDENT: Just a little tip.
THE PRESIDENT: You can’t be shy, man. (Laughter.) Please, go ahead.
Q That’s correct, Mr. President. So I was really going to start by delving into a personal experience. I was going to get to my business and how I got to where we are.
So as I was saying, we’re working in the technology space. I’m working on my third startup -- it’s called Saisai. We’re creating Zimbabwe’s first free Internet-access network, hence liberating the Internet. So in our working, we came to a point in time where we needed to import a bit of technology from the United States, and so we were engaging in conversation with these U.S.-based businesses. And the response that we got time and time again was that unfortunately we cannot do business with you because you are from Zimbabwe. And I was shocked -- this doesn’t make sense.
And so this is the exact same experience that other entrepreneurs that are in Zimbabwe have gone through, even through the meetings that I’ve had here. You know, you sit down with potential investors, you talk about the project, the outlook, the opportunity, the growth and all that -- and they’re excited, you can see. All systems are firing, right? And then I say I’m from Zimbabwe and they look at me and they say, young man, this is a good project, very good, very good, but unfortunately we cannot engage in business with you.
And I understand that the sanctions that we have -- that are imposed on entities in Zimbabwe, these are targeted sanctions, right? But then we have come to a point in time where we as young Africans are failing to properly engage in business with U.S.-based entities because there hasn’t been that clarity. These entities believe that Zimbabwe is under sanctions. So what really can we do to do try and clarify this to make sure that we as the young entrepreneurs can effectively develop Africa and engage in business?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, the situation in Zimbabwe is somewhat unique. The challenge for us in the United States has been how do we balance our desire to help the people of Zimbabwe with what has, frankly, been a repeated violation of basic democratic practices and human rights inside of Zimbabwe.
And we think it is very important to send clear signals about how we expect elections to be conducted, governments to be conducted -- because if we don’t, then all too often, with impunity, the people of those countries can suffer. But you’re absolutely right that it also has to be balanced with making sure that whatever structures that we put in place with respect to sanctions don’t end up punishing the very people inside those countries.
My immediate suggestion -- and this is a broader point to all the African businesses who are here, as well as the U.S. businesses -- is to make sure that we’re using the Department of Commerce and the other U.S. agencies where we can gather groups of entrepreneurs and find out exactly what can be done, what can’t be done, what resources are available. It may be that you and a group of entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe are able to meet with us and propose certain projects that allow us to say this is something that will advance as opposed to retard the progress for the Zimbabwean people.
So what I’d suggest would be that we set up a meeting and we find out what kinds of things that the young entrepreneurs of Zimbabwe want to do, and see if there are ways that we can work with you consistent with the strong message that we send about good governance in Zimbabwe.
Q I see. Because really -- the point of emphasis really is that as young Africans we want to converse with other business entities here in the U.S., and if these sanctions are really targeted, then in honest truth, they aren’t supposed to hamper the business that we’re trying to engage in, the development that we’re talking about.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let’s see if we can refine them further based on some of the things you’re talking about.
Q That’s all right. Now, there have been a good number of investments that have been announced here -- multibillion-dollar investments in Africa -- and we’re really excited. And there’s been a lot of talk about how the public and private partnerships are the vehicle through which this investment will come into Africa, but I really want to bring it to a point of clarity. I believe that the private sector is stratified in itself. We have the existing indigenous businesses in these countries that you’re hoping to invest in, and this is where usually the funding comes through -- the partnerships and all that. That is well and fine.
But then, underneath that, we have these young, upcoming entrepreneurs -- the innovators, those that come up with products and services that disrupt the industry. And this is the innovation that we want in Africa, to build products by Africans for Africans. But in most cases, in what we have seen over the past years, is that, indeed, this investment comes through but it never cascades down to these young entrepreneurs, the emerging businesses. And so the existing businesses then form a sort of ceiling which we cannot break through.
When it comes to investment, when you’re talking about solving unemployment, I believe that it’s more realistic to assume and understand that the probability of 10 startups employing 10 people in a given time period, it’s more realistic than one indigenous company employing 100 people.
So what really has been -- or rather, has there been any consideration in these deals that have been structured in the investments that you announced to cater for the young entrepreneur who is trying to innovate to solve the problems in society?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think for the business leaders who are here, both African and U.S., it’s hard being a startup everywhere.
Q That’s true.
THE PRESIDENT: Part of what you’re describing is typical of business around the world: Folks who are already in, they don’t necessarily want to share. They don’t want to be disrupted. If there’s a good opportunity, they’d rather do it themselves. If they see a small up-and-coming hotshot who might disrupt their business, they may initially try to block you or they may try to buy you out. And getting financing for a startup is always going to be difficult. You hear that from entrepreneurs here in the U.S. as well.
Having said that, what is absolutely true is that as we think about the billions of dollars that we’re mobilizing, we want to make sure that small businesses, medium-size businesses, women-owned businesses -- that they have opportunity. And so my instructions to all of our agencies and hopefully the work that we're doing with all of our partners is how can we identify, target financing for the startup; how can we identify and link up U.S. companies with small and medium-size businesses and not just the large businesses? And I think you are absolutely right that by us trying to spread investment, not narrowly through one or two companies but more broadly, that the opportunities for success in those countries are higher, and it also creates a healthy competition.
And that's true also in terms of how we're designing – for example, our Feed the Future program, which is working with almost 2 million small farmers inside of Africa. When I was in Senegal, I met with a woman, maybe in her 30s; she had a small plot of land initially. Through the Feed the Future program, she had been able to mechanize, double her productivity. By doubling her productivity and, through a smartphone, getting better prices to the market, she was able to increase her profits. Then she bought a tractor. Then she doubled her productivity again. And suddenly what had started off as just a program to increase her income had become capital for a growing business where she was now hiring people in her area and doing some of the process of the grain that she grew herself, so that she could move up the value chain.
There are entrepreneurs like that all across Africa. Sometimes the capital they need is not very large. Sometimes it's a fairly modest amount. And so what I want to do is to make sure that we are constantly looking out for opportunities to disburse this capital not just narrowly, but broadly. And one of the things that I hope happens with U.S. companies is that they’re constantly looking for opportunities to partner with young entrepreneurs, startups, and not just always going to the same well-established businesses.
Now, there are going to be some large-capital projects where you’ve got a good, solid, established company. Hopefully they, themselves, have policies with respect to their suppliers that allow them to start encouraging and growing small businesses as well.
Q Exactly. And on that note, I'm glad that you acknowledged that and I hope that even in these deals, in the investments that you're talking about, that one of the conditions be that those large organizations that are getting investment have policies that cascade down to people at the grassroots.
You spoke about this lady who was using a smartphone to -- it is one key issue that is really propelling business and development in Africa, the ability to leverage technology. And really it is all about the Internet of things. And that is why I'm personally working in liberating the Internet to get more people connected.
Now, this is a huge opportunity in Africa as well. Now, there is this troubling issue that has been brought to our attention with entities and organizations that have come up and have said we want to control the Internet, we want to see who gets what traffic and from whom. And policies and activities like that become challenges for startups that are trying to leverage the Internet, for this lady farmer that you talked about who is trying to leverage and get information from the Internet.
So I want to understand what is your stance on net neutrality and its effects on the global development in Africa?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, this is an important issue for all the heads of state and government not just in Africa but around the world. The reason the Internet is so powerful is because it's open. My daughters, 16 and 13, they can access information from anyplace in the world. They can learn about a particular discipline instantaneously, in ways that when I was their age -- first of all, I wasn’t as motivated as they are. I was lazier than them. (Laughter.) They do much better in school than I did. But the world is at their fingertips.
And what facilitates that, and what has facilitated the incredible value that's been built by companies like Google and Facebook and so many others, all the applications that you find on your smartphone, is that there are not restrictions, there are not barriers to entry for new companies who have a good idea to use this platform that is open to create value. And it is very important I think that we maintain that.
Now, I know that there’s a tension in some countries -- their attitude is we don't necessarily want all this information flowing because it can end up also being used as a tool for political organizing, it can be used as a tool to criticize the government, and so maybe we’d prefer a system that is more closed. I think that is a self-defeating attitude. Over the long term, because of technology, information, knowledge, transparency is inevitable. And that's true here in the United States; it's true everywhere.
And so what we should be doing is trying to maintain an open Internet, trying to keep a process whereby any talented person who has an idea can suddenly use the Internet to disperse information. There are going to be occasional tensions involved in terms of us monitoring the use of the Internet for terrorist networks or criminal enterprises or human trafficking. But we can do that in ways that are compatible with maintaining an open Internet.
And this raises the broader question that I mentioned earlier, which is Africa needs capital; in some cases, Africa needs technical assistance; Africa certainly needs access to markets. But perhaps the biggest thing that Africa is going to need to unleash even more the potential that's already there and the growth that's already taking place is laws and regulations and structures that empower individuals and are not simply designed to control or empower those at the very top.
And the Internet is one example. You’ve got to have a system and sets of laws that encourage entrepreneurship, but that's also true when it comes to a whole host of issues. It's true when it comes to how hard is it to get a business permit when a new startup like yours wants to establish itself.
When it comes to Power Africa, there are billions of dollars floating around the world that are interested in investing in power generation in Africa. And the countries that are going to attract that investment are the ones where the investor knows that if a power plant is built, that there are rules in place that are transparent that ensure that they’re going to get a decent return, and that some of the revenue isn't siphoned off in certain ways so that the investor has political risks or risks with respect to corruption.
The more that governments set up the right rules, understanding that in the 21st century the power that drives growth and development and the marketplace involves knowledge and that can't be controlled, the more successful countries are going to be.
Q I see. So just to clarify on the issue of net neutrality, you are advocating for an open and fair Internet --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q -- which would -- then it has structure to ensure that the platform itself isn't abused.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there are two issues -- net neutrality -- in the United States, one of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers. That's the big controversy here. You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more but then also charge more for more spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster or what have you.
And I personally -- the position of my administration, as well as I think a lot of companies here is you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to various users. You want to leave it open so that the next Google or the next Facebook can succeed.
There’s another problem, though -- there are other countries -- and I think this is what you were alluding to -- that feel comfortable with the idea of controlling and censoring Internet content in their home countries, and setting up rules and laws about what can or cannot be on the Internet. And I think that that not only is going to inhibit entrepreneurs who are creating value on the Internet; I think it’s also going to inhibit the growth of the country generally, because closed societies that are not open to new ideas, eventually they fall behind. Eventually, they miss out on the future because they’re so locked into trying to maintain the past.
Q I see. Thank you for the clarity. I think we’re out of a bit of time. I’ll ask my final question. When we began this conversation, we were alluding to the fact that -- the need to separate the political function and economic function. In other words, politics should not get in the way of business. And I’ve gone to quite a good number of -- I know it’s difficult -- so I’ve gone to a good number of conferences where the end deliverable of the entire summit, or whatever it is, is that we need to lobby government to create policies that are conducive, and this and that. And that’s usually what you get -- either you’re trying to lobby somebody to do something, right? And, in turn, governments come up and say, yes, we promise to come up with this and that, and this and that. And that’s a whole political sphere of things. My question is, apart from that, what can we as business leaders, as the private sector, what can we do sort of independently to -- what can we do to create this economic environment that fosters for the growth and development of Africa as a continent?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, although this isn’t always a popular position here in Washington these days, the truth is, is that government really can help set the conditions and the framework for markets to function effectively -- in part because governments are able to initiate projects like roads and bridges and airports that any individual business would find cost prohibitive. It wouldn’t make sense to invest in what is a collective good; it’s not going to help your bottom line if everybody else is using it. So that’s part of the function of government.
Part of the function of government is to educate a population so that you got a well-trained workforce. It’s hard for companies to invest in doing that by themselves. There are certain common goods, like maintaining clean air and clean water, and making sure that if you have capital markets, that they’re well-regulated so that they’re trust-worthy, and small investors and large investors know that if they invest in a stock that they’re not being cheated.
So there are a whole host of functions that government has to play. But in the end, what drives innovation typically is not what happens in government, it’s what’s happening in companies. And what we found in the United States is, is that companies, once they’ve got the basic rules and they’ve got the basic platform, they are able to create value and innovation and cultures that encourage growth. And I think that African entrepreneurs are going to be the trendsetters for determining how societies think about themselves and, ultimately, how governments think about these issues.
The truth of the matter is, is that if you have big, successful companies or you’ve got widespread entrepreneurship, and you have a growing middle class and practices have been established in terms of fair dealing, and treating your workers properly, and extending opportunity to smaller contractors, and promoting women and making sure women are paid like men -- suddenly, what happens is businesses create new norms and new sensibilities. And governments oftentimes will respond.
And so I think in Africa what I’d like to see more and more of is partnerships between American businesses, between African businesses. Some of the incredible cultures of some of our U.S. businesses that do a really good job promoting people and maintaining a meritocracy, and treating women equally, and treating people of different races and faiths and sexual orientations fairly and equally, and making sure that there are typical norms of how you deal with people in contracts and respect legal constraints -- all those things I think can then take root in a country like Zimbabwe or any other country. Hopefully, governments are encouraging that, not inhibiting that. They recognize that that’s how the world as a whole is increasingly moving in that direction. And over time, you will see an Africa that is driven by individual entrepreneurs and private organizations, and governments will be responsive to their demands.
So I think the one thing I want to make sure people understand, though, is it’s not an either/or issue. Government has a critical role to play. The marketplace has a critical role to play. Nonprofit organizations have a critical role to play. But the goal and the orientation constantly should be how do we empower individuals to work together. And if we are empowering young people like you all across Africa, if we’ve got a 21-year-old who has already started three businesses, we’ve got to figure out how to invest in him, how to make it easier for him to succeed. If you succeed, you’re going to then be hiring a whole bunch of people, and they, in turn, will succeed. And that’s been the recipe for growth in the 20th century and the 21st century.
And I’m confident that Africa is well on its way. America just wants to make sure that we’re helpful in that process. And I know that all the U.S. companies who are here, that’s their goal as well. We are interested in Africa, because we know that if Africa thrives and succeeds, and if you’ve got a bunch of entrepreneurs, they’re going to need supplies from us maybe, or they may supply us with outstanding products; they’re going to have a growing middle class that wants to buy iPhones or applications from us. In turn, they may provide us new services and we can be the distributor for something that’s invented in Africa, and all of us grow at the same time.
That’s our goal, and I’m confident that we can make it happen. And this summit has been a great start. So I want to thank you for doing a great job moderating. I want to thank all the leaders here not only of government, but also business for participating. There’s been great energy, great enthusiasm. I know a lot of business has gotten done. If any of you are interested in investing in this young man, let him know. (Laughter.)
All right, thank you, guys.
Source: White House USA
United States of America president Barack Obama could have done more for the African continent especially because of his African descent, President Jacob Zuma said in Washington on Monday.
"[This African descent] has made him tread very carefully and I think that is a reality," he told a National Press Club (NPC) luncheon.
"I believe he could have done more, but I think he was always aware of this fact and therefore he has navigated that situation very well."
Zuma was fielding questions on a range of issues after addressing the NPC. A question was asked about whether Obama met Zuma's expectations in his dealings with the African continent. Zuma also answered questions about the conflict in Gaza, Ebola, Brics and South Africa's economy.
He was asked whether he agreed with the African National Congress's call for the Israeli ambassador in South Africa to be expelled. "As you know there was demonstration in South Africa where the call was made... I think as a free country, a country with free expression people indicated how they felt and made that call," he said.
"But we believe recalling an ambassador is not a simple matter."
Zuma said South Africa had experience it could offer to Israel and Palestine and did not want to do anything that could prevent the country from helping.
"We believe that -- and we have offered this to both sides -- that we come from a conflict that nobody else ever thought would be resolved [apartheid]... We resolved it and we are better off."
Earlier, Zuma told a US Chamber of Commerce business forum that South Africa was outraged by violence in the region. He said there would never be a military solution to the problem and urged both sides to sit and talk so that they could arrive at an internationally agreed solution of two states.
During the NPC luncheon Zuma was asked how Ebola was affecting South Africa and what it was doing to make sure it did not spread south.
"South Africa is in no risk so far. Ebola I think has been around for a long time in other parts of the continent. It has never come down to the south," he said.
"Of course South Africa is working together with all health institutions in the continent to address the problem but there is no imminent risk to South Africa.
Zuma reiterated during the luncheon that South Africa was open for business and ready for more US investment in the country.
A South African delegation, led by Zuma, were in the US capital attending a US-Africa summit, initiated by Obama.
(*Flight and hotel costs for Sapa's reporter covering the summit were paid by the SA presidency*)
In eight weeks, Washington, D.C., will see another historic event: the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. All but a few of the heads of state of the 54 nations of Africa have been invited and most are expected to attend. It will be the most heads of state to ever be in Washington at one time, likely creating traffic jams Washington has seldom seen before as the Secret Service escorts the presidents and prime ministers across town several times a day.
The purpose of the program is ostensibly to bring Africa and the United States closer together economically and politically. While it is a program also designed to strengthen the legacy of the Obama presidency, it is not without significant risks and challenges, for this summit will be like none the African leaders have ever experienced.
The summit represents a shift in strategy in the administration. In the first term, the administration was adamant that it would work with the "like-minded" nations (read, democratically elected leaders) first, receiving selected leaders in Washington either alone or in small groups of three or four. There would be no massive summits with Africa. During this period, no African head of state was given a state dinner, a fact that did not go unnoticed in Africa.
During the same period, China, Japan, India and Europe have all had African summits, respectively, with China being the first. Nearly every African head of state flew to Beijing and met Chinese leadership one-on-one and dined at a state dinner in the Great Hall. No leader of Africa was uninvited and the Chinese entertained the leaders lavishly and made commitments towards the development of most of the countries attending. A $20 billion commitment of aid to Africa was made, and that has since been supplemented
by another $10 billion.
Japan followed course, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave each of 46 African leaders a 15 minute meeting over a three-day period. Japan, fearing a rising China, and also needing Africa's trade and resources for its own economy, promised $30 billion in aid among several other means of support for African development, including 10,000 business internships for African students. India and the European Union also brought the African presidents together to pledge support and cooperation. There was little choice left at the White House but to also host nearly all African heads of state, but with some interesting wrinkles to the formula.
The White House has told African ambassadors and others that no African leader will be given a one-on-one meeting with President Obama during the August summit, a fact that has caused some African leaders to ask what is the utility of the trip. This breaks all protocol tradition as the Africans know it.
Instead, the African presidents received an invitation to "an interactive dialogue" with the American president on Aug. 6. What, many ask, is an interactive dialogue ? There will be a state dinner on the White House lawn for all presidents the evening before, but once the interactive dialogue is concluded the next day, so too is the summitt. There is to be no final document, another break with protocol. No doubt Obama will shake the hand of each president, but there will be little substantive dialogue.
The African leaders have been asked to come to Washington for at least three days, with a Monday morning program focusing on civil society and an afternoon with Congress, organized by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Africa. Currently, the White House has asked various cabinet secretaries to host African heads of state for private dinners that evening. This, too, is a very different approach to diplomacy. Cabinet secretaries and African government ministers rank below heads of state, of course, and protocol-sensitive heads of state may seriously question whether they should attend. Furthermore, who is hosted by the secretary of state or the secretary of defense will be noted by those hosted by less prestigious cabinet officers. It may be all too easy for some heads of state to take umbrage.
Economics and trade will have their day as well, as the administration plans a U.S.-Africa CEO summit, organized by the secretary of commerce and her staff. Three hundred CEOs will be invited to meet and discuss business and trade over six hours with African heads of state. The White House is strictly adhering to selected CEOs only. In some ways, this meeting may be the most critical of all to U.S.-Africa relations, as the U.S. private sector has been slow to respond to the new African market and is falling behind as an investor and trader in the world's largest emerging market. The administration is hoping that this program will spark new interest in Africa from the corporate world. To help them, the White House called upon business and political titan Michael Bloomberg to add his name as co-convener, in order to better draw corporate peers to this meeting.
The program breaks many international protocol traditions. That it is also held on President Obama's birthday has added fuel for critics who say that this more a legacy' program than a working meeting with real results. It is too early to say. An innovative program is being planned. This is a program of high risk, ultimately to be judged by the results to come. We shall hope and then we shall see.
Stephen Hayes is president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa.
"This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education - grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls." United States First Lady Michelle Obama
The full Remark:
Hello everyone, I’m Michelle Obama, and on this Mother’s Day weekend, I want to take a moment to honor all the mothers out there and wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.
I also want to speak to you about an issue of great significance to me as a First Lady, and more importantly, as the mother of two young daughters.
Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night.
This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls.
And I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find these girls and bring them home.
In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes, their dreams – and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.
Many of them may have been hesitant to send their daughters off to school, fearing that harm might come their way.
But they took that risk because they believed in their daughters’ promise and wanted to give them every opportunity to succeed.
The girls themselves also knew full well the dangers they might encounter.
Their school had recently been closed due to terrorist threats…but these girls still insisted on returning to take their exams.
They were so determined to move to the next level of their education…so determined to one day build careers of their own and make their families and communities proud.
And what happened in Nigeria was not an isolated incident…it’s a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives to pursue their ambitions.
It’s the story of girls like Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan.
Malala spoke out for girls’ education in her community…and as a result, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a school bus with her classmates.
But fortunately Malala survived…and when I met her last year, I could feel her passion and determination as she told me that girls’ education is still her life’s mission.
As Malala said in her address to the United Nations, she said “The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”
The courage and hope embodied by Malala and girls like her around the world should serve as a call to action.
Because right now, more than 65 million girls worldwide are not in school.
Yet, we know that girls who are educated make higher wages, lead healthier lives, and have healthier families.
And when more girls attend secondary school, that boosts their country’s entire economy.
So education is truly a girl’s best chance for a bright future, not just for herself, but for her family and her nation.
And that’s true right here in the U.S. as well…so I hope the story of these Nigerian girls will serve as an inspiration for every girl – and boy – in this country.
I hope that any young people in America who take school for granted – any young people who are slacking off or thinking of dropping out – I hope they will learn the story of these girls and recommit themselves to their education.
These girls embody the best hope for the future of our world…and we are committed to standing up for them not just in times of tragedy or crisis, but for the long haul.
We are committed to giving them the opportunities they deserve to fulfill every last bit of their God-given potential.
So today, let us all pray for their safe return... let us hold their families in our hearts during this very difficult time…and let us show just a fraction of their courage in fighting to give every girl on this planet the education that is her birthright. Thank you.
The Obama administration made it official on Tuesday that it will host the first “U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit” in August at Washington.
A statement from spokesman Jay Carney reads:
"The White House is pleased to announce that the United States will host the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC on August 5 and 6, 2014.
"President Obama looks forward to welcoming leaders from across the African continent to the Nation's Capital to further strengthen ties with one of the world's most dynamic and fastest-growing regions.
"The Summit will build on the progress made since the President's trip to Africa last summer, advance the Administration's focus on trade and investment in Africa, and highlight America's commitment to Africa's security, its democratic development, and its people."
President Obama and former President Bill Clinton delivered statements respectively, on the passing of former South African President and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
"A man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice."
"We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again," the President said. "So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice." - President Obama
Statement by President Clinton on the Passing of Nelson Mandela
"Today the world has lost one of its most important leaders and one of its finest human beings. And Hillary, Chelsea and I have lost a true friend.
History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation. We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Graça and his family and to the people of South Africa. All of us are living in a better world because of the life that Madiba lived. He proved that there is freedom in forgiving, that a big heart is better than a closed mind, and that life’s real victories must be shared." - President Bill Clinton
“For you to fix the world, you must fix Africa. For you to fix Africa, you must fix Nigeria,” President Jonathan said to President Obama as they meet in New York in the opening of their bilateral and diplomatic meeting.
As world leaders gathered in New York for United Nations annual diplomatic converging of heads of State, the first diplomatic initiative has already been taken place between Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and American President Barack Obama. The both leaders met at Lyndon B. Johnson suite in the Waldorf-Astoria for the bilateral meeting.
Speaking on the Kenya attack by terroists at the Mall and on broader Africa Obama said, “We stand with them against this terrible outrage that’s occurred, we will provide them with whatever law enforcement help that is necessary. The United States will continue to work with the entire continent of Africa and around the world to make sure that we are dismantling these networks of destruction.”
According to Associate Press, "The two leaders met Monday in New York. Obama stressed a comprehensive anti-terror approach that calls for creating economic opportunity and protecting human rights. During remarks to the media, Obama said ensuring that governments are responsive to people's needs is the best way to undermine the agenda of radical groups like Boko Haram.
Boko Haram's violence occurs mostly in northern Nigeria. Obama called it one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world. The White House says Obama also restated U.S. support for strengthening transparent, democratic governance, and of making sure upcoming Nigerian elections in 2015 are peaceful, transparent and credible."
“The arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own." - President Obama
To the King family, who have sacrificed and inspired so much; to President Clinton; President Carter; Vice President Biden and Jill; fellow Americans.
Five decades ago today, Americans came to this honored place to lay claim to a promise made at our founding: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In 1963, almost 200 years after those words were set to paper, a full century after a great war was fought and emancipation proclaimed, that promise — those truths — remained unmet. And so they came by the thousands from every corner of our country, men and women, young and old, blacks who longed for freedom and whites who could no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of others.
Across the land, congregations sent them off with food and with prayer. In the middle of the night, entire blocks of Harlem came out to wish them well. With the few dollars they scrimped from their labor, some bought tickets and boarded buses, even if they couldn’t always sit where they wanted to sit. Those with less money hitchhiked or walked. They were seamstresses and steelworkers, students and teachers, maids and Pullman porters. They shared simple meals and bunked together on floors. And then, on a hot summer day, they assembled here, in our nation’s capital, under the shadow of the Great Emancipator — to offer testimony of injustice, to petition their government for redress, and to awaken America’s long-slumbering conscience.
We rightly and best remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory that day, how he gave mighty voice to the quiet hopes of millions; how he offered a salvation path for oppressed and oppressors alike. His words belong to the ages, possessing a power and prophecy unmatched in our time.
But we would do well to recall that day itself also belonged to those ordinary people whose names never appeared in the history books, never got on TV. Many had gone to segregated schools and sat at segregated lunch counters. They lived in towns where they couldn’t vote and cities where their votes didn’t matter. They were couples in love who couldn’t marry, soldiers who fought for freedom abroad that they found denied to them at home. They had seen loved ones beaten, and children fire-hosed, and they had every reason to lash out in anger, or resign themselves to a bitter fate.
And yet they chose a different path. In the face of hatred, they prayed for their tormentors. In the face of violence, they stood up and sat in, with the moral force of nonviolence. Willingly, they went to jail to protest unjust laws, their cells swelling with the sound of freedom songs. A lifetime of indignities had taught them that no man can take away the dignity and grace that God grants us. They had learned through hard experience what Frederick Douglass once taught — that freedom is not given, it must be won, through struggle and discipline, persistence and faith.
That was the spirit they brought here that day. That was the spirit young people like John Lewis brought to that day. That was the spirit that they carried with them, like a torch, back to their cities and their neighborhoods. That steady flame of conscience and courage that would sustain them through the campaigns to come — through boycotts and voter registration drives and smaller marches far from the spotlight; through the loss of four little girls in Birmingham, and the carnage of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the agony of Dallas and California and Memphis. Through setbacks and heartbreaks and gnawing doubt, that flame of justice flickered; it never died.
And because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else’s laundry or shining somebody else’s shoes. (Applause.) Because they marched, city councils changed and state legislatures changed, and Congress changed, and, yes, eventually, the White House changed. (Applause.)
Because they marched, America became more free and more fair — not just for African Americans, but for women and Latinos, Asians and Native Americans; for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims; for gays, for Americans with a disability. America changed for you and for me. and the entire world drew strength from that example, whether the young people who watched from the other side of an Iron Curtain and would eventually tear down that wall, or the young people inside South Africa who would eventually end the scourge of apartheid. (Applause.)
Those are the victories they won, with iron wills and hope in their hearts. That is the transformation that they wrought, with each step of their well-worn shoes. That’s the debt that I and millions of Americans owe those maids, those laborers, those porters, those secretaries; folks who could have run a company maybe if they had ever had a chance; those white students who put themselves in harm’s way, even though they didn’t have; those Japanese Americans who recalled their own internment; those Jewish Americans who had survived the Holocaust; people who could have given up and given in, but kept on keeping on, knowing that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Applause.)
On the battlefield of justice, men and women without rank or wealth or title or fame would liberate us all in ways that our children now take for granted, as people of all colors and creeds live together and learn together and walk together, and fight alongside one another, and love one another, and judge one another by the content of our character in this greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)
To dismiss the magnitude of this progress — to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed — that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years. (Applause.) Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King Jr. — they did not die in vain. (Applause.) Their victory was great.
But we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete. The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency. Whether by challenging those who erect new barriers to the vote, or ensuring that the scales of justice work equally for all, and the criminal justice system is not simply a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, it requires vigilance. (Applause.)
And we’ll suffer the occasional setback. But we will win these fights. This country has changed too much. (Applause.) People of goodwill, regardless of party, are too plentiful for those with ill will to change history’s currents. (Applause.)
In some ways, though, the securing of civil rights, voting rights, the eradication of legalized discrimination — the very significance of these victories may have obscured a second goal of the March. For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract ideal. They were there seeking jobs as well as justice — (applause) — not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity. (Applause.)
For what does it profit a man, Dr. King would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal? This idea — that one’s liberty is linked to one’s livelihood; that the pursuit of happiness requires the dignity of work, the skills to find work, decent pay, some measure of material security — this idea was not new. Lincoln himself understood the Declaration of Independence in such terms — as a promise that in due time, “the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”
And Dr. King explained that the goals of African Americans were identical to working people of all races: “Decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community.”
What King was describing has been the dream of every American. It’s what’s lured for centuries new arrivals to our shores. And it’s along this second dimension — of economic opportunity, the chance through honest toil to advance one’s station in life — where the goals of 50 years ago have fallen most short.
Yes, there have been examples of success within black America that would have been unimaginable a half century ago. But as has already been noted, black unemployment has remained almost twice as high as white unemployment, Latino unemployment close behind. The gap in wealth between races has not lessened, it’s grown. And as President Clinton indicated, the position of all working Americans, regardless of color, has eroded, making the dream Dr. King described even more elusive.
For over a decade, working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes. Inequality has steadily risen over the decades. Upward mobility has become harder. In too many communities across this country, in cities and suburbs and rural hamlets, the shadow of poverty casts a pall over our youth, their lives a fortress of substandard schools and diminished prospects, inadequate health care and perennial violence.
And so as we mark this anniversary, we must remind ourselves that the measure of progress for those who marched 50 years ago was not merely how many blacks could join the ranks of millionaires. It was whether this country would admit all people who are willing to work hard regardless of race into the ranks of a middle-class life. (Applause.)
The test was not, and never has been, whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many — for the black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran. To win that battle, to answer that call — this remains our great unfinished business.
We shouldn’t fool ourselves. The task will not be easy. Since 1963, the economy has changed. The twin forces of technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that once provided a foothold into the middle class — reduced the bargaining power of American workers. And our politics has suffered. Entrenched interests, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, resisted any government efforts to give working families a fair deal — marshaling an army of lobbyists and opinion makers to argue that minimum wage increases or stronger labor laws or taxes on the wealthy who could afford it just to fund crumbling schools, that all these things violated sound economic principles. We’d be told that growing inequality was a price for a growing economy, a measure of this free market; that greed was good and compassion ineffective, and those without jobs or health care had only themselves to blame.
And then, there were those elected officials who found it useful to practice the old politics of division, doing their best to convince middle-class Americans of a great untruth — that government was somehow itself to blame for their growing economic insecurity; that distant bureaucrats were taking their hard-earned dollars to benefit the welfare cheat or the illegal immigrant.
And then, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that during the course of 50 years, there were times when some of us claiming to push for change lost our way. The anguish of assassinations set off self-defeating riots. Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways, as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support — as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child, and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself.
All of that history is how progress stalled. That’s how hope was diverted. It’s how our country remained divided. But the good news is, just as was true in 1963, we now have a choice. We can continue down our current path, in which the gears of this great democracy grind to a halt and our children accept a life of lower expectations; where politics is a zero-sum game where a few do very well while struggling families of every race fight over a shrinking economic pie — that’s one path. Or we can have the courage to change.
The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate. But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.
And I believe that spirit is there, that truth force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man. It’s there when the native-born recognizing that striving spirit of the new immigrant; when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who are discriminated against and understands it as their own.
That’s where courage comes from — when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from. (Applause.)
And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages. With that courage, we can stand together for the right to health care in the richest nation on Earth for every person. (Applause.) With that courage, we can stand together for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit, and prepares them for the world that awaits them. (Applause.)
With that courage, we can feed the hungry, and house the homeless, and transform bleak wastelands of poverty into fields of commerce and promise.
America, I know the road will be long, but I know we can get there. Yes, we will stumble, but I know we’ll get back up. That’s how a movement happens. That’s how history bends. That’s how when somebody is faint of heart, somebody else brings them along and says, come on, we’re marching. (Applause.)
There’s a reason why so many who marched that day, and in the days to come, were young — for the young are unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is. They dared to dream differently, to imagine something better. And I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose stirs in this generation.
We might not face the same dangers of 1963, but the fierce urgency of now remains. We may never duplicate the swelling crowds and dazzling procession of that day so long ago — no one can match King’s brilliance — but the same flame that lit the heart of all who are willing to take a first step for justice, I know that flame remains. (Applause.)
That tireless teacher who gets to class early and stays late and dips into her own pocket to buy supplies because she believes that every child is her charge — she’s marching. (Applause.)
That successful businessman who doesn’t have to but pays his workers a fair wage and then offers a shot to a man, maybe an ex-con who is down on his luck — he’s marching. (Applause.)
The mother who pours her love into her daughter so that she grows up with the confidence to walk through the same door as anybody’s son — she’s marching. (Applause.)
The father who realizes the most important job he’ll ever have is raising his boy right, even if he didn’t have a father — especially if he didn’t have a father at home — he’s marching. (Applause.)
The battle-scarred veterans who devote themselves not only to helping their fellow warriors stand again, and walk again, and run again, but to keep serving their country when they come home — they are marching. (Applause.)
Everyone who realizes what those glorious patriots knew on that day — that change does not come from Washington, but to Washington; that change has always been built on our willingness, We The People, to take on the mantle of citizenship — you are marching. (Applause.)
And that’s the lesson of our past. That’s the promise of tomorrow — that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. That when millions of Americans of every race and every region, every faith and every station, can join together in a spirit of brotherhood, then those mountains will be made low, and those rough places will be made plain, and those crooked places, they straighten out towards grace, and we will vindicate the faith of those who sacrificed so much and live up to the true meaning of our creed, as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. (Applause.)
Courtesy of the White House Press Office:
Well, I — I wanted to come out here first of all to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is — is very much looking forward to the session.
Second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks there are going to obviously be a whole range of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera — we’ll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.
The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week, the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave an — a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday, but watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.
First of all, you know, I — I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s — it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.
The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there are going to be a lot of arguments about the legal — legal issues in the case. I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues.
The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a — in a case such as this, reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works.
But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.
And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.
The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Now, this isn’t to say that the African-American community is naive about the fact that African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, that they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact, although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.
We understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African-American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African-American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
I think the African-American community is also not naive in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.
So — so folks understand the challenges that exist for African-American boys, but they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it or — and that context is being denied. And — and that all contributes, I think, to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.
Now, the question for me at least, and I think, for a lot of folks is, where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? You know, I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.
But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do? I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government — the criminal code. And law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.
That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation, we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.
No. 1 precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it’d be productive for the Justice Department — governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.
You know, when I was in Illinois I passed racial profiling legislation. And it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.
And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way, that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and in turn be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously law enforcement’s got a very tough job.
So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And — and let’s figure out other ways for us to push out that kind of training.
Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.
I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the “stand your ground” laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.
On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?
And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?
And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
No. 3 — and this is a long-term project: We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys? And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?
You know, I’m not naive about the prospects of some brand-new federal program.
I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as president, I’ve got some convening power.
And there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that — and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — you know, I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.
And then finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. You know, there has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.
On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
And let me just leave you with — with a final thought, that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.
And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, you know, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.
All right? Thank you, guys.