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Obama Lays Out Africa Plan


Earlier today in South Africa where Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition, President Barack Obama arrived and gave a speech at the University of Cape Town, outlining Africa's increasingly prominent role.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Progress is also rippled across the African continent. You know, from Senegal to Cote d'Ivoire to Malawi, democracy has weathered strong challenges. Many of the fastest growing economies in the world are here in Africa where there's a historic shift taking place.

LYDEN: The president announced a plan to partner with the continent on everything from economic growth to health care to electricity. Our White House correspondent Ari Shapiro has been traveling with the president throughout this African tour, and he joins us now from Cape Town. Hello, Ari.


LYDEN: So this was a much-anticipated speech. Give us some of the highlights, will you, please?

SHAPIRO: Well, you know, the president described his approach to Africa generally, which you could sum it up by saying we've moved beyond the relationship where the U.S. just provide foreign aid. And as the president sees it, we're moving into a relationship where the U.S. and Africa can engage in trade, partnerships and other sort of mutually beneficial arrangements going forward that will help everybody on both sides of the ocean.

LYDEN: And, Ari, it was also an intensely personal speech, it seemed to me. He talked about the inspiration of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's struggles playing into his own political development. He told a story about himself as a 19-year-old uninterested in politics until he heard about apartheid. Let's hear him.

OBAMA: I know now that something inside me was stirring at that time, something important. 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.

LYDEN: Very personal, Ari. How did that go over?

SHAPIRO: Well, yeah, he spoke so much about his own personal life. The speech came just a couple hours after he visited Robben Island with his family. Of course, that's the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. And at every stop on this trip, President Obama has spoken about Mandela as a personal hero and also a hero to the world.

As you mentioned, the president said his first act of political activism at age 19 was getting involved in the anti-apartheid movement. So he spoke very personally to the audience, and the audience really seemed to appreciate it.

LYDEN: And this, of course, comes 50 years after Robert F. Kennedy gave his very famous Ripple of Hope speech when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1964. And he met the Mandela family.

SHAPIRO: That's right. The president met the Mandela family yesterday. And the Ripples of Hope speech was a big part of President Obama's talk today. He said: Imagine that just less than 50 years later, in the same place where Robert F. Kennedy gave that speech that there could be an African-American president speaking to an integrated audience at South Africa's oldest university, a university that had given an honorary degree to President Nelson Mandela who had been sentenced to life in prison shortly before Robert F. Kennedy gave that iconic speech.

LYDEN: Ari, how has the president's reception been in Africa this week?

SHAPIRO: Honestly, it's been mixed. People are very enthusiastic about seeing him, but people are a little bit resentful that he didn't come earlier in his term. Yesterday, he had a big youth town hall at Soweto outside of Johannesburg. And there were big protests outside. On the whole, I think this is a continent that has loved Barack Obama but has also been a little bit resentful that he hasn't invested more in the continent before now.

LYDEN: And finally, before we let you go, is there an update on Nelson Mandela's condition?

SHAPIRO: You know, it's pretty much what we've been hearing for the last week or so, which is that he is in critical condition but stable condition in the hospital.

LYDEN: All right. Well, thank you so much for being here. NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro traveling with the president. Thanks again, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Longtime listeners recognize Jacki Lyden's voice from her frequent work as a substitute host on NPR. As a journalist who has been with NPR since 1979, Lyden regards herself first and foremost as a storyteller and looks for the distinctive human voice in a huge range of national and international stories.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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