Barack Obama spoke with the BBC ahead of his trip to East Africa.

JON SOPEL: Mr President, you’re about to fly to Kenya, to your ancestral home. Given the al-Shabaab attacks on the West Gate mall and Garissa University, I’m sure your secret service could’ve suggested other countries for you to visit. But you wanted to go to Kenya.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think it is important first of all that the president of the United States underscores our commitment to partnering with countries around the world, even though we’re not intimidated by terrorist organisations. Second, the counterterrorism co-operation between the United States and Kenya – and Uganda and other countries – in East Africa – is very strong. And part of the subject of the visit is to continue to strengthen those ties to make them more effective. Third, as I wind down my presidency, I’ve already had a number of visits to Africa. But this gives me an opportunity to focus on a region that I have not been visiting as president, and I’m also going to have the opportunity to talk to the African Union. So I’ll be the first US president to not only visit Kenya and Ethiopia, but also to address the continent as a whole, building off the African summit that we did here which was historic and has, I think, deepened the kinds of already strong relationships that we have across the continent.

SOPEL: And you’re going to talk about entrepreneurship at this summit in Nairobi.

OBAMA: Uh-huh.

SOPEL: Is there any link between security and entrepreneurship?

OBAMA: I think there is. I believe that when people see opportunity, when they have a sense of control of their own destiny, then they’re less vulnerable to the propaganda and twisted ideologies that have been attracting young people – particularly now being turbocharged through social media. And a while back, when we started looking at strategies to reach out to the Muslim world – to reach out to – developed countries, a common theme emerged, which was people
are not interested in – just being patrons- or- or being patronised. And being given aid. They’re interested in building capacity.

The more we can encourage entrepreneurship, particularly for young people, the more they have hope. Now that requires some reforms in these governmentsthat we continue to emphasise. Rooting out corruption, increased transparency and how government operates, making sure that regulations are not designed just to advantage elites, but are allowing people who have a good idea to get out there and
get things done.

SOPEL: And I suppose the – you know, you famously said when you went to Africa, I think when you first became president, you know, “What we need is strong institutions and- ”

OBAMA: Yes.

SOPEL: ” – not strong men”. You’re going to Ethiopia, where there is effectively no opposition in Parliament.

OBAMA: Right.

SOPEL: You’re going to Kenya, where the International Criminal Court is still investigating certain members of the government, which seems kind of hardly ideal institutions.

OBAMA: Well, they’re not ideal institutions. But what we found is, is that when we combined blunt talk with engagement, that gives us the best opportunity to influence and open up space for civil society. And the human rights agenda that we think is so important. And, you know, a good example of this is Burma. Where I was the first US president to visit there. At a time when we saw some possibility of transition, by the time I landed in Burma – it is not a liberal democracy by any means. And there were still significant human rights violations taking place. But my visit then solidified and validated the work of dissenters and human rights activists. And that has continued to allow them to move in the direction of a democracy. So, so our view is, in the same way that I visited Russia, and in the same way that I visited China, even when we know  that there are significant human rights violations taking place, we want to make sure that we’re there so that we can have this conversation and point them in a better direction.

SOPEL: Well, haven’t the Chinese got there first in Africa? You’re going to go to the African Union Building, which was built with Chinese money, you’re going to travel along Chinese I built roads, you’re going to go past endless Chinese traders on those roads.

OBAMA: Well, the – what is true is that China has – over the last several years, because of the surplus that they’ve accumulated in global trade and the fact that they’re not accountable to their constituencies, have been able to funnel an awful lot of money into Africa, basically in exchange for raw materials that are being extracted from Africa.

And what is certainly true is that the United States has to have a presence to promote the values that we care about. We welcome Chinese aid into Africa. I think we think that’s a good thing. We don’t want to discourage it.

As I’ve said before, what I also want to make sure though is that trade is benefiting the ordinary Kenyan and the ordinary Ethiopian and the ordinary Guinean and not just a few elites. And the Chinese, who then get the resources that they need. And I think that we can help to shape an agenda where China, Europe, and the United States are all working together in order to address some of these issues.

SOPEL: I’m going to suggest there may be one other difficult issue when you’re there. And that’s the issue of homosexuality, gay marriage, after the Supreme Court ruling. I mean, the deputy president in Kenya, who you’re going to meet, Mr Ruto, he said – “We have heard that in the US they have allowed gay relations and other dirty things.”

OBAMA: Yeah. Well, I disagree with him on that, don’t I? And I’ve had this experience before when we’ve visited Senegal in my last trip to Africa. I think that the president there President Sall, is doing a wonderful job in moving the country forward – a strong democrat. But in a press conference, I was very blunt about my belief that everybody deserves fair treatment, equal treatment in the eyes of the law and the state.

And that includes gays, lesbians, transgender persons. I am not a fan of discrimination and bullying of anybody on the basis of race, on the basis of religion, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender. And I think that this is actually part and parcel of the agenda that’s also going to be front and centre, and that is how are we treating women and girls.

And as somebody who has family in Kenya and knows the history of how the country so often is held back because women and girls are not treated fairly, I think those same values apply when it comes to different sexual orientations.

ethiothinkthank.com

Advertisements