- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009

L’AQUILA, Italy | President Obama on Friday said African countries cannot blame colonialism for problems caused by corruption and their own bad governance as he embarked on his first trip as president to sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Obama also announced that he has secured a commitment from major countries to spend $20 billion on food security aid, or $5 billion more than expected from world leaders meeting in Italy this week. But he said rather than simple assistance, this money will be managed “to help people become self-sufficient, provide for their families and lift their standards of living.”

“We do not view this assistance as an end in itself. We believe that the purpose of aid must be to create the conditions where it’s no longer needed,” he said.

The president flew from Italy to Ghana Friday and is scheduled to deliver a speech to that nation’s parliament Saturday, at which time he is expected to lay out developing nations’ roles and responsibilities, and his strong words on ending excuses are likely to be a theme.

He said he delivered that message in Italy at a meeting of major economies and African countries, when some fellow leaders started blaming “colonialism and other policies by wealthier nations.”

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Mr. Obama said he told them the parallel between Kenya and South Korea, which 50 years ago had similar-sized economies. Today South Korea’s economy is nearly $1 trillion, while Kenya’s is about $30 billion.

“If you talk to people on the ground in Africa, certainly in Kenya, they will say that part of the issue here is the institutions aren’t working for ordinary people,” he said.

In an interview with AllAfrica.com, released by the White House earlier this week, Mr. Obama sounded an even tougher note.

“I think part of what’s hampered advancement in Africa is that for many years we’ve made excuses about corruption or poor governance; that this was somehow the consequence of neo-colonialism, or the West has been oppressive, or racism,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m not a believer in excuses.

“The fact is we’re in 2009. The West and the United States has not been responsible for what’s happened to Zimbabwe’s economy over the last 15 or 20 years,” he said. “It hasn’t been responsible for some of the disastrous policies that we’ve seen elsewhere in Africa. And I think that it’s very important for African leadership to take responsibility and be held accountable.”

Still, he said the world has a responsibility to help African people who are suffering, and that the $20 billion in food aid - of which $3.5 billion has been pledged by the U.S. - will help.

He recounted for reporters a story he had told leaders at a meeting earlier Friday in which he said he has family members in Kenya who live in villages where “hunger is real” - though he stressed his family members do not go hungry.

Aid groups praised the $20 billion figure, but some - including the One campaign, co-founded by rock group U2 singer Bono - said pledges don’t matter until the money comes through. Italy, in particular, has been blasted for being recalcitrant in the past.

“The food initiative looks promising, but what will Italy’s contribution be?” said Bob Geldof, another singer involved with One, who said Italy has delivered on only 3 percent of its commitment to African aid since 2005. “Mr. Berlusconi, you owe the poor a billion euros. Where is it, Mr. Three Percent?”

Mr. Obama said 1 billion people worldwide are hungry, and 100 million have dropped into dire poverty because of the world financial collapse.

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