President Obama pledged $7 billion in aid Sunday to provide electricity to sub-Saharan Africa, as he warned Africans to be wary of exploitation by other countries, including the U.S.
“I’m calling for America to up our game when it comes to Africa,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at the University of Capetown in South Africa, midway through his weeklong tour of the continent. “We want to unleash the power of entrepreneurship and markets to create opportunity here in Africa.”
Funds from the electricity initiative, dubbed Power Africa, will be distributed over the next five years to six countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. Mr. Obama said the U.S. wants to help Africa without interfering like colonial powers did in the past.
“You will always find the extended hand of a friend in the United States of America,” he said.
But on his three-nation tour, the president also has been warning Africans not to automatically trust foreign powers offering help, including the U.S.
“When we look at what other countries are doing in Africa, I think our only advice is make sure it’s a good deal for Africa,” Mr. Obama told reporters in Johannesburg.
“If somebody says they want to come build something here, are they hiring African workers? If somebody says that they want to help you develop your natural resources, how much of the money is staying in Africa? … Don’t just assume that folks come here and they’re automatically benefiting Africans. And that includes the United States. Ask questions in terms of what we do.”
Although Mr. Obama has been emphasizing initiatives such as food security and international funding to combat AIDS, much of his African trip has been overshadowed by his inability to meet over the weekend with the critically ill Nelson Mandela, 94, hospitalized with a lung infection.
The president and his aides held out the possibility of a meeting with Mr. Mandela until Saturday, when Mr. Obama decided to meet instead with several members of the civil rights icon’s family, saying he didn’t want to intrude at the hospital. He praised Mr. Mandela as a “hero for the world” and said America’s prayers were with him.
He said he was motivated to give a short speech about divesting from South African companies after learning about Mr. Mandela and other political prisoners fighting for equality in South Africa.
“My own government in the United States was not standing on their side,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s why I got involved in what was known as the divestment movement in the United States. It was the first time I ever attached myself to a cause.
“I know now that something inside me was stirring at that time, something important,” he said. “And that was the belief that I could be part of something bigger than myself, that my own salvation was bound up with those of others.”
Mr. Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha, and the Obamas’ niece Leslie Robinson arrived on Robben Island after a five-minute helicopter flight from Capetown on Marine One. They were accompanied by a press helicopter and a contingent of Secret Service agents.
The president and first lady paused at the prison’s logbook, and Mr. Obama wrote the following entry:
“On behalf of our family we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit. Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, 30 June 2013.”