ADDIS ABABA: Barack Obama arrived at African Union headquarters Tuesday, where he will become the first US president to address the 54-member continental bloc, at the end of a tour focused on corruption, rights and security.
AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma hailed the “historic visit” as a “concrete step to broaden and deepen the relationship between the AU and the US”.
Obama’s address to the AU in the Ethiopia capital Addis Ababa is at its gleaming Chinese-built headquarters — a symbol of Beijing’s growing influence in the region.
He is widely expected to stress the importance of Africa’s continued economic growth amid the challenges the continent still faces of ensuring equal rights, boosting democracy and ending corruption.
Obama is also expected to address Washington’s strategic and security concerns, including extremism and the democratic deficit in many African nations.
The speech will close Obama’s two-nation tour. After visiting Kenya, the country of his father’s birth, Obama landed on Sunday in Ethiopia, where he praised the country as a key partner in the war against Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab in Somalia.
“Part of the reasons we’ve seen this shrinkage of Shebab in East Africa is that we’ve had our regional teams,” Obama said Monday, referring to AU and Somali government troops.
“We don’t need to send our own Marines in to do the fighting: the Ethiopians are tough fighters,” Obama said, adding: “We’ve got more work to do. We have to now keep the pressure on.”
After talks on Monday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, whose ruling party won 100 percent of seats in parliament two months ago, Obama gave the blunt message that Ethiopia — while credited with strong economic growth — needed to improve basic rights.
Activists have complained that Obama’s visit to Addis Ababa could add credibility to a government they accuse of suppressing democratic rights — including the jailing of journalists and critics — with anti-terror legislation.
Obama addressed those concerns, saying “there is still more work to do”.
“There are certain principles we think have to be upheld,” Obama added.
“Nobody questions our need to engage with large countries where we may have differences on these issues. We don’t advance or improve these issues by staying away,” he said.
It is a message he also pushed in Kenya, promoting the country’s economic potential and vowing steadfast support for Nairobi’s fight against the Shebab, but also telling Kenya to get tough on corruption and put an end to tribalism and gender discrimination.