Obama Meets With African Leaders at the White House

Heads of state from the Ivory Coast, Benin, Niger and Guinea discussed democracy with the president.

Posted: 08/01/2011 06:20 PM EDT

Obama meets with, from left; Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, Benin President Boni Yayi, Guinea President Alpha Conde, and Cote d'Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara on Friday. (Photo: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

In an unprecedented event, President Obama took time out from attempting to handle the debt crisis to welcome leaders from four African nations – Ivory Coast, Benin, Niger and Guinea— to the White House for closed-door discussions.


After the meeting—which lasted about an hour—the president praised the leaders for their commitment to democracy and free elections.


“[The leaders] have shown extraordinary persistence in wanting to promote the democracies in the countries despite significant risks to their own personal safety and despite enormous challenges,” he said.


 “This is a moment of great opportunity and significance in Africa,” Obama added, referencing economic gains on the continent.


“We just had a very productive discussion,” he said of the meeting. “I emphasized that the U.S. has been and will continue to be a stalwart partner.”


The U.S. and African nations however “can’t keep on duplicating an approach that breeds dependence,” he said encouraging inter-continent trade.


Though the leaders made no remarks following the meetings, their discussions with Obama was an opportunity for the four West African heads of state – Preisdent Alassane Ouattara of the Ivory Coast, President Alpha Conde of Guinea, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger and Boni Yayi of Benin – to bring issues concerning their respective nations to the global stage.


For instance, prior to the meeting, Yayi said he wanted to talk about his nation’s increasing piracy problem in the Gulf of Guinea during an event Thursday in D.C. at the United States Institute of Peace. And in the past, Ivory Coast leader Ouattara has asked for millions in foreign aid to help his nation, which underwent six months of post-election violence following last December’s vote, to recover from the ordeal. Ouattara’s visit was the first to the White House by an Ivory Coast leader since John F. Kennedy’s tenure as president.


This isn’t the first time a meeting of this kind has been held this year. Back in June, the president hosted leaders from Nigeria and Gabon.


In addition to harnessing a relationship with officials from Africa — a continent he has deep roots in through his father, a Kenyan native — Obama and his administration also aim to promote democracy in a place where corruption is sometimes rampant and large populations of oppressed are forced to survive under harsh, long-ruling dictators. The leaders invited to talks on Friday were all democratically elected.


"The United States are champions of democracy,” Niger’s ruling party spokesman Iro Sani said, the AFP reports.  “If they consider that a president can [be allowed to visit], then that means they approve of his commitment to democracy."