After arriving on the podium to a chorus of cheers and applause, U.S. President Barack Obama told African nations on Tuesday they needed to respect democratic rules and create jobs to avoid sliding into disorder.
In his speech to the 54-nation African Union, Obama said the continent would need to generate millions more jobs than it is doing now.
He warned of the risks of not training young people in a continent whose population of 1 billion will double in a few decades.
“Economists will tell you that countries, regions, continents grow farther with younger populations, it is a demographic edge and advantage. But only if those young people are being trained. We need only to look at the Middle East and North Africa that large numbers of young people with no jobs and stifled voices can fuel instability and disorder,” Obama said.
Obama’s speech – the first by a serving U.S. president to the African Union – wound up a tour of Kenya, his father’s homeland, and Ethiopia, a once famine-stricken nation which is on course to deliver 10 percent growth this year.
The president challenged Ethiopia about its human rights and media freedoms record, repeating similar comments made at a joint news conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on Monday.
“Democracy is not just formal elections. When journalists are put behind bars for doing their jobs or activists are threatened as governments crack down on civil society, then you may have democracy in name but not in substance. I am convinced that nations cannot realize the full promise of independence until they fully protect the rights of their people,” Obama said on Tuesday.
Obama also said violence unleashed in Burundi by the president’s bid for a third term in office showed the risks of ignoring constitutional principles.
“When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to try and stay in office, it risks instability and strife as we have seen in Burundi. And this is often just a first step down a perilous path, and sometimes you will hear a leader say, ‘Well I am the only person who can hold this nation together’. If that is true then that leader has failed to truly build their nation,” he told the audience.
Obama said he did not understand why leaders wanted to stay in power for so long, and made a reference to his second term being his last.
“I actually think I am a pretty good president, I think if I ran I could win. But I can’t. So there is a lot I would like to do to keep America moving but the law is the law,” Obama said.
AU Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma challenged Obama and other world leaders to give Africa a permanent membership position on the U.N. Security Council.
“Africa is the only continent that is not represented in the permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council. We know it cannot be a decision of one member but we are asking all members to support us in making sure that this historic injustice is corrected,” she said.
Throughout his trip, Obama has spoken of security cooperation with states battling Islamist militants in Somalia, democratic development and trade with the continent, which since 2009 has done more trade with China than America.
Story by Reuters