Mandela an example to Africa, Obama says
US president uses Cape Town speech to defend US military interventions in Africa
Barack Obama speaking at the University of Cape Town yesterday: Nelson Mandela “showed us that one man’s courage can move the world”. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times
US president Barack Obama has invoked the example of Nelson Mandela in urging African leaders to improve their record on governance and human rights.
Delivering a cornerstone speech of his three-country tour of Africa last night, Mr Obama defended US military interventions in Africa, warning of terrorism in countries like Mali and Somalia. And he accused leaders who demonised the US of trying to deflect from their own abuses.
“You can measure how well a country does by how it treats its women,” he said.
Speaking on a day of heightened emotion, just hours after visiting Mandela’s former prison home, Robben Island, Mr Obama also called for a new relationship between America and Africa. Striking an optimistic tone, he declared “Africa is rising”, citing a growing middle class and greater opportunities for investment.
The US was moving from an aid-focused strategy to a “partnership of equals”, citing as one example a $7 billion initiative to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.
Announcing plans for a summit of African leaders to be hosted in the US next year, Mr Obama said political progress was being made, but “it’s not moving fast enough for the protester who is beaten in Harare, for the woman who is raped in eastern Congo”.
Citing the “extraordinary” leadership of Mr Mandela, he said the anti-apartheid icon “showed us that one man’s courage can move the world”.
His address last night to Cape Town University was steeped in symbolism, as the same location played host to a famous anti-apartheid speech nearly 50 years ago by the slain US presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. Two years before he was assassinated in Los Angeles, Kennedy made his “ripple of hope” address on a visit to the university in 1966, a call for non-violent change and equality.
Earlier, Mr Obama – accompanied by his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha – toured Robben Island where Mr Mandela had spent 18 of his 27 years in captivity. Mr Obama said he was “deeply humbled” by the experience of standing in the former cell of Mr Mandela, a man once branded a terrorist by the US.
‘Critical but stable’
The 94-year-old remained “critical but stable” in a Pretoria hospital after being admitted for a lung infection three weeks ago.
Mr Obama spoke to members of Mr Mandela’s family and his wife Graça Machel on Saturday to express his support and good wishes. Afterwards Ms Machel said “I am humbled by their comfort and messages of strength and inspiration, which I have already conveyed to Madiba”, referring to her husband’s clan name.
In Pretoria on Saturday, South African president Jacob Zuma gave a bullish account of Mr Mandela’s health, saying he hoped he would be able to leave hospital soon.
But Mr Zuma has been accused of previously giving misleading reports about his condition, and has been criticised by Mr Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela for making a “most insensitive” visit to him in April. She said the visit to his home while he was recovering from a 10-day hospital visit “compromised his dignity and it should have never been done”.