America envisions a partnership with Africa that unleashes growth, and the potential of every citizen, said President Barack Obama in a speech at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “But history tells us,” he said, “that true progress is only possible where governments exist to serve their people, and not the other way around.”
"True progress is only possible where governments exist to serve their people, and not the other way around.”
In South Africa, citizens braved bullets and beatings to claim the right to be free from the racially-based system of apartheid, to determine their own fate in their own land. South Africa’s experience has inspired others on the continent.
But the work of democratization, said Mr. Obama, is not complete. “Not in countries where leaders enrich themselves with impunity; not in communities where you can’t start a business, or go to school, or get a house without paying a bribe to somebody.”
These things have to change, not just because such corruption is immoral, but it’s also a matter of self-interest and economics. Governments that respect the rights of their citizens and abide by the rule of law do better, grow faster, and draw more investment than those who don’t.
In Zimbabwe, for example, the promise of liberation gave way to the corruption of power and then the collapse of the economy. Now, after the leaders of this region -- led by South Africa -- brokered an end to the long-running crisis, Zimbabweans have a new constitution and the economy is beginning to recover. So there is an opportunity to move forward -- but only if there is an election that is free, and fair, and peaceful.
The United States is interested in investing not in strongmen, but in strong institutions: independent judiciaries that can enforce the rule of law; honest police forces that can protect the peoples’ interests instead of their own; an open government that can bring transparency and accountability. And that’s why, said President Obama, “We support societies that empower women -- because no country will reach its potential unless it draws on the talents of our wives and our mothers, and our sisters and our daughters.”
Ultimately, Africans must determine for themselves what serves their interests. As President Obama said, “We trust your judgment. . . .We believe that when. . .you've got a handle on your governments, then governments will promote freedom and opportunity, because that will serve you.”