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Obama and Zuma Expected to Discuss Zimbabwe

  • VOA Staff

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, Thursday, June 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, Thursday, June 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

An aide to President Obama says the US leader will include Zimbabwe in his discussions with South African President Jacob Zuma, when the two leaders meet in South Africa on Friday.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told VOA that the “contrast could not be clearer” between democracy as seen in South Africa and Senegal, two of three African countries Mr. Obama is visiting during his first trip to the continent since 2009, and Zimbabwe, “where you have deeply undemocratic practices that have been pursued in the past, very questionable elections, crackdowns on independent media and civil society.”

Mr. Rhodes said the US position on Zimbabwe “is going to be that that [the upcoming harmonized] election has to be free, fair, and credible, and there has to be a means of establishing that that is the case.”

However, he said, “democracy goes beyond elections, so we would like to see space for independent media, for civil society, and for those elements of democracy to exist within Zimbabwe.”

While Rhodes did not mention any specific actions or policies the President might propose regarding Zimbabwe, US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton told VOA that America is still pursuing what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as a policy of "action for action" in dealing with Zimbabwe, meaning that an “acceptable election” in Zimbabwe is likely to prompt positive changes to the US’ policy of “targeted sanctions” against some Zimbabwean officials and parastatals.

On Saturday President Obama will hold a town hall meeting with university students in Soweto, an area of Johannesburg, South Africa. The VOA will broadcast and digitally stream the event live. Mr. Obama is expected to mention Zimbabwe in remarks he will make at the town hall, according to a State Department official.

Obama’s Visit to Senegal

Senegal was the first stop for Obama and his family on their weeklong trip to Africa that includes South Africa and Tanzania.

Thousands turned out to welcome America's first African-American president, on his first return to sub-Saharan Africa since 2009.

At the presidential palace in Dakar, Obama and First Lady Michelle were welcomed by Senegalese President Macky Sall and his wife Mareme.

Bilateral talks covered a range of issues, from U.S. support for Senegal's democracy and infrastructure to joint security.

President Obama's trip to Africa
President Obama praised Sall for his openness and anti-corruption efforts. He said Senegal is an example for Africa.

“It is moving in the right direction, with reforms to deepen democratic institutions and as more Africans across this continent stand up and demand governments that are accountable and serve the people, I believe Senegal can be a great example," said President Obama.

Speaking about economic development, Obama said U.S. policy emphasizes partnership and trade rather than merely assistance.

President Sall said Africa needs good governance to make use of its resources.

“We have tremendous natural resources, we have a lot of human resources, we need infrastructure to accompany the development of all these resources, but all this in the context of good governance, otherwise these resources will be in vain," said President Sall.

First Lady Michelle Obama and her mother joined the president at a museum on Goree Island dedicated to the West African slave trade. Centuries ago, Africans were held captive here before being shipped off, in chains, to be slaves.

Obama said the tour here was a powerful moment that reminded him about the importance of human rights.