Remarks by the President on the Economy -- Kansas, City, MO
Kansas City, Missouri
11:06 A.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Kansas City! (Applause.) Well, it is good to be back in Kansas City, back in the Midwest. (Applause.) And I have to say, I love these old theaters. I mean, they are unbelievable. This is just gorgeous.
It is good to see Governor Jay Nixon here today. (Applause.) Congressman Emanuel Cleaver is here. (Applause.) Congressman Lacy Clay is here. (Applause.) Mayor Sly James is here. (Applause.) And you’re here! All of you are here. (Applause.)
Now, if you have a seat, feel free to sit down, because I don’t want everybody starting to fall out. (Laughter.) If you don’t have a seat, don’t sit down. But bend your knees a little bit.
It’s always good to spend a little time in Kansas City. Last night, I had a chance to get some barbecue at Arthur Bryant’s. (Applause.) Now, they had run out of coleslaw, which I asked -- I said, did you save some coleslaw for me? They said, no, they hadn’t saved any.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry, what are you hollering about?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible) to God --
THE PRESIDENT: I believe in God. Thanks for the prayer. Amen. Thank you. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE: We love you! We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I just want to be on record, though, because people have been asking me this question. I deal with a lot of tough issues -- I am not going to decide who makes the best barbecue in Kansas City. (Laughter.) Bryant’s barbecue was tasty. And Victor is right, I did plow through it pretty good. (Laughter.) But I have not had enough samples to make a definitive judgment, so I’m going to have to try some other barbecue the next time I come in. I have to say, by the way, Victor was not shy about eating either. (Laughter.) So I just want to be clear.
But I had a chance -- I went there for the barbecue, but also I went there because I wanted to have a chance to talk to Victor and three other people from the area who took the time to sit down with me and talk, because they had written letters to me. Some of you may know --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I wrote you, too! (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know what, if I had known, I would have had you over for dinner, too. (Laughter.)
But what happens is, every night I read 10 letters that we receive. We get 40,000 correspondence. And then our correspondence office chooses 10, sort of a sample for me to take a look at. And it gives me a chance to hear directly from the people I serve. And folks tell me their stories -- they tell me their worries and their hopes and their hardships, their successes. Some say I’m doing a good job. (Applause.) But other people say, “You’re an idiot.”
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, I mean, this is how I know that I’m getting a good sample of letters. (Laughter.)
Last week, a young girl wrote to ask me why aren’t there any women on our currency, and then she gave me like a long list of possible women to put on our dollar bills and quarters and stuff -- which I thought was a pretty good idea.
Now, Victor wrote to me to tell me about his life in Butler, and he told me that he has been unemployed for a while after he and his wife had had their first child. But he refused to quit. He earned his degree, found a full-time job. He now helps folks with disabilities live independently. And he’s just a good-hearted man. (Applause.) And you can tell, really, he’s doing great stuff. And Victor described how he got through some tough times because of his Christian faith and his determination -- which are things that government programs and policies can’t replace. You got to have that sense of purpose and perseverance. That has to come from inside; you can’t legislate that.
But he also said that he was able to afford health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. (Applause.) And he also said that because of the income-based repayment plan that we had put in place, where you only have to pay 10 percent of your income maximum in repaying your loans each month, that was what allowed him and his family to keep a roof over their heads and support themselves.
And so I’m here because Victor is the sort of person I'm working for every single day -- (applause) -- somebody who never quits, somebody who is doing everything right, somebody who believes in the American Dream. Somebody who just wants a chance to build a decent life for himself and his family. And that's the vast majority of Americans. That's who I'm fighting for right here in Kansas City and all across this country. (Applause.) That's why I ran for President in the first place, to fight for folks like that. (Applause.)
Now, we all know it hasn’t always been easy. The crisis that hit near the end of my campaign back in 2008, it would end up costing millions of Americans their jobs, their homes, their sense of security. But we have fought back. We have got back off our feet, we have dusted ourselves off. Today, our businesses have added nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months. (Applause.) Construction is up. Manufacturing is back. Our energy, our technology, our auto industries, they’re all booming.
The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September of 2008. (Applause.) It's dropped faster than any time in 30 years. This morning, we found out that in the second quarter of this year our economy grew at a strong pace, and businesses are investing, workers are building new homes, consumers are spending, America is exporting goods around the world.
So the decisions that we made -- to rescue our economy, to rescue the auto industry, to rebuild the economy on a new foundation, to invest in research and infrastructure, education -- all those things are starting to pay off.
The world’s number-one oil and gas producer -- that's not Saudi Arabia; that's not Russia -- it's the United States of America. (Applause.) We've tripled the amount of electricity we get from wind. (Applause.) We've increased by 10 times the amount of electricity we get from the sun. And all that is creating tens of thousands of jobs across the country.
Our high school graduation rate is at a record high. More young people are earning their college degrees than ever before. (Applause.) 401(k)s have recovered their value. Home prices are rising. And, yes, millions of families now have the peace of mind, just like Victor’s family does, of getting quality, affordable health care when you need it. It makes a difference in people’s lives. (Applause.)
And, look, Kansas City, none of this is an accident. It’s thanks to the resilience and resolve of the American people. It's also thanks to some decisions that we made early on. And now America has recovered faster and come farther than just about any other advanced country on Earth. And for the first time in more than a decade, if you ask business leaders around the world what’s the number-one place to invest, they don't say China anymore. They say the United States of America. (Applause.) And our lead is growing.
So sometimes you wouldn’t know it if you were watching the news, but there are a lot of good reasons to be optimistic about America. We hold the best cards. Things are getting better. The decisions we make now can make things even better than that. In fact, the decisions we make now will determine whether the economic gains that we’re generating are broad based, whether they just go to a few at the top or whether we got an economy in which the middle class is growing and folks who are trying to get into the middle class have more rungs on the ladder; whether ordinary folks are benefiting from growth.
And that’s what’s at stake right now -- making sure our economy works for every American. See, I’m glad that GDP is growing, and I’m glad that corporate profits are high, and I’m glad that the stock market is booming. But what really I want to see is a guy working nine to five, and then working some overtime, I want that guy making more than the minimum wage. (Applause.)
And what I really want is somebody who has worked for 20, 30 years being able to retire with some dignity and some respect. (Applause.) What I really want is a family that they have the capacity to save so that when their child is ready to go to college, they know they can help and that it’s affordable, and that that child is not going to be burdened down with debt. That’s the measure of whether the economy is working; not just how well it’s doing overall, but is it doing well for ordinary folks who are working hard every single day and aren’t always getting a fair shot. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s why I ran for President. That’s what I’m focused on every day. (Applause.)
And that’s what sometimes Washington forgets. Your lives and what you’re going through day to day -- the struggles, but also the opportunities and the hopes and the good things, but sometimes the rough things that happen -- that’s more important than some of the phony scandals or the fleeting stories that you see. This is the challenge of our time -- how do we make sure we’ve got an economy that is working for everybody?
Now, all of you are doing your part to help bring America back. You’re doing your job. Imagine how much further along we’d be, how much stronger our economy would be, if Congress was doing its job, too. (Applause.) We’d be doing great. Every time I meet some of these folks who have written me letters, we sit down and talk, and they say, what’s going on in Washington? Why --
What they tell me is, if Congress had the same priorities that ordinary families did, if they felt the same sense of urgency about things like the cost of college or the need for increases in the minimum wage, or how we’re making child care more affordable and improving early childhood education -- if that’s what they were thinking about, we could help a lot more families. A lot more people would be getting ahead. The economy would be doing better. We could help a lot more families, and we should.
We should be relentlessly focused on what I call an opportunity agenda, one that creates more jobs by investing in what’s always made our economy strong: making sure that we’re on the cutting edge when it comes to clean energy; making sure that we’re rebuilding our infrastructure -- our roads, our bridges, our ports, our airports, our locks, our dams. (Applause.) Making sure that advanced manufacturing is happening right here in the United States so we can start bringing manufacturing jobs back to the Midwest and all across the country, jobs that pay a good wage. (Applause.) Investing in research and science that leads to new American industries. Training our workers -- really making a job-training program and using our community colleges in ways that allow people to constantly retrain for the new opportunities that are out there and to prepare our kids for the global competition that they’re going to face. Making sure that hard work pays off with higher wages and higher incomes.
If we do all these things, we’re going to strengthen the middle class, we’ll help more people get into the middle class. Businesses, by the way, will do better. If folks have more money in their pocket, then businesses have more customers. (Applause.) If businesses have more customers, they hire more workers. If you hire more workers, they spend more money. You spend more money, businesses have more customers -- they hire even more workers. You start moving in the right direction. (Applause.) But it starts not from the top down, it starts from the middle out, the bottom up.
Now, so far this year, Republicans in Congress keep blocking or voting down just about every idea that would have some of the biggest impact on middle-class and working-class families. They’ve said no to raising the minimum wage. They’ve said no to fair pay, making sure that women have the ability to make sure that they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job. They’ve said no for fixing our broken immigration system. Rather than investing in education, they actually voted to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. And they’ve been pushing to gut the rules that we put in place after the financial crisis to make sure big banks and credit card companies wouldn’t take advantage of consumers or cause another crisis. So they haven’t been that helpful. (Laughter.) They have not been as constructive as I would have hoped. (Laughter.)
And these actions, they come with a cost. When you block policies that would help millions of Americans right now, not only are those families hurt, but the whole economy is hurt. So that’s why this year, my administration, what we’ve said was we want to work with Congress, we want to work with Republicans and Democrats to get things going, but we can’t wait. So if they’re not going to do anything, we’ll do what we can on our own. And we’ve taken more than 40 actions aimed at helping hardworking families like yours. (Applause.) That’s when we act -- when your Congress won’t.
So when Congress failed to pass equal pay legislation, I made sure that women got more protection in their fight for fair pay in the workplace, because I think that when women succeed, everybody succeeds. (Applause.) I want my daughters paid the same as your sons for doing the same job. (Applause.)
Congress had the chance to pass a law that would help lower interest rates on student loans. They didn’t pass it. I acted on my own to give millions of Americans a chance to cap their payments, the program that Victor has taken advantage of. I don’t want our young people just saddled with debt before they’ve even gotten started in life. (Applause.)
When it comes to the minimum wage, last week marked five years since the last time the minimum wage went up. Now, you know the cost of living went up. The minimum wage didn’t go up. So I went ahead on my own. When it came to federal contractors, I said, if you want to get a federal contract, you’ve got to pay your workers at least $10.10 an hour. (Applause.) And I’ve been trying to work with governors and mayors, and in some cases with business owners, just calling them up directly. How about giving your folks a raise? And some of them have done it.
And since I had first asked Congress to raise the minimum wage, businesses like the Gap -- you’ve got 13 states and D.C. -- they’ve gone ahead and raised their minimum wage. It makes a difference in people’s lives. (Applause.) And, by the way, here’s something interesting: The states that have increased their minimum wages this year, they’ve seen higher job growth than the states that didn’t increase their minimum wage. (Applause.) So remember, you give them a little bit more money, businesses have more customers. They got more customers, they make more profit. They make more profit, what do they do? They hire more workers. America deserves a raise, and it’s good for everybody.
So some of the things we’re doing without Congress are making a difference, but we could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit. (Applause.) Just come on. Come on and help out a little bit. Stop being mad all the time. (Applause.) Stop just hating all the time. Come on. (Applause.) Let’s get some work done together. (Applause.)
They did pass this workforce training act, and it was bipartisan. There were Republicans and Democrats, and everybody was all pleased. They came, we had a bill signing, and they were all in their suits. I said, doesn’t this feel good? (Laughter.) We’re doing something. It’s like, useful. Nobody is shouting at each other. (Laughter.) It was really nice. I said, let’s do this again. Let’s do it more often. (Applause.)
I know they’re not that happy that I’m President, but that’s okay. (Laughter.) Come on. I’ve only got a couple of years left. Come on, let’s get some work done. Then you can be mad at the next President.
Look, we’ve got just today and tomorrow until Congress leaves town for a month. And we’ve still got some serious work to do. We’ve still got a chance to -- we got to put people to work rebuilding roads and bridges. And the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money; we got to get that done. We’ve got to get some resources to fight wildfires out West. That’s a serious situation. We need more resources to deal with the situation in the southern part of the border with some of those kids. We got to be able to deal with that in a proper way. (Applause.)
So there’s a bunch of stuff that needs to get done. Unfortunately, I think the main vote -- correct me if I’m wrong here, Congressman -- the main vote that they’ve scheduled for today is whether or not they decide to sue me for doing my job.
AUDIENCE: Booo --
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no -- first of all, here’s something I always say -- do not boo, vote. Booing doesn’t help. Voting helps. (Applause.)
But think about this -- they have announced that they’re going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So they’re mad because I’m doing my job. And, by the way, I’ve told them -- I said, I’d be happy to do it with you. So the only reason I’m doing it on my own is because you don’t do anything. (Applause.) But if you want, let’s work together.
I mean, everybody recognizes this is a political stunt, but it’s worse than that, because every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you. When they have taken 50 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was time that could have been spent working constructively to help you on some things. (Applause.) And, by the way, you know who is paying for this suit they’re going to file? You.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: No!
THE PRESIDENT: No, no -- you’re paying for it. And it’s estimated that by the time the thing was done, I would have already left office. So it’s not a productive thing to do.
But here’s what I want people to remember. Every single day, as depressing sometimes as what goes on in Washington may be, I see the inherent goodness and generosity of the American people. I see it every day. I see it in all of you. I saw it in the four people that I had dinner with last night.
In addition to Victor, one guy who joined us was a guy named Mark Turner. He works with high schools dropouts to help get them back on track. He used to be a successful corporate executive, decided he wanted to give something back. (Applause.) You got Valerie McCaw. Valerie is a single mom, engineer, owns a small business. She’s doing great things. Even though sometimes it’s a struggle making sure she keeps her business afloat, she’s persevered and is helping her son get his college education. Then you got Becky Forrest. She’s a fireplug. She’s president of the Town Fork Creek Neighborhood Association. She’s got so many things going on -- after-school programs and mentoring programs, and basketball leagues, and all kinds of things at a community center -- I couldn’t keep track of all of them. (Laughter.)
And to listen to them talk, it made you optimistic. It reminded you there are good people out here. Everybody is out there trying to do their best, trying to look after their families, trying to raise their kids, trying to give something back -- working with their church, working with their synagogues, working with their places of faith. Just trying to give something back and give some meaning to their lives. And they’re responsible. And we all make mistakes and we all have regrets, but generally speaking, people are decent.
And so the question is, how can we do a better job at capturing that spirit in Washington, in our government? The American people are working harder than ever to support families, to strengthen communities. And so instead of suing me for doing my job, let’s -- I want Congress to do its job and make life a little better for the Americans who sent them there in the first place. (Applause.) Stop posturing.
And, by the way, there’s one place to start. I talked about this last week, but I want to talk about this a little more. Right now, there’s a loophole in the tax code that lets a small but growing group of corporations leave the country; they declare themselves no longer American companies just to get out of paying their fair share of taxes -- even though most of their operations are here, they’ve always been American companies, they took advantage of all the benefits of being an American company, but now their accountant has convinced them maybe they can get out of paying some taxes.
They’re renouncing their citizenship even though they’re keeping most of their business here. I mean, it’s just an accounting trick, but it hurts our country’s finances, and it adds to the deficit and sticks you with the tab -- because if they’re not paying their share and stashing their money offshore, you don’t have that option. It ain’t right. Not only is it not right, it ain’t right. (Laughter and applause.) It ain’t right. I hope everybody is clear on the distinction. There are some things are not right. And then there’s some things that just ain’t right. (Laughter and applause.) And this ain’t right. (Laughter.)
I mean, you don’t have accountants figuring all this stuff out for you, trying to game the system. These companies shouldn’t either. And they shouldn’t turn their back on the country that made their success possible. And, by the way, this can be fixed. For the last two years I’ve put forward plans to cut corporate taxes, close loopholes, make it more reliable, make it clearer. And to Republicans, I say, join with me. Let’s work to close this unpatriotic tax loophole for good. Let’s use the savings that we get from closing the loophole to invest in things like education that are good for everybody.
Don’t double down on top-down economics. Let’s really fight to make sure that everybody gets a chance and, by the way, that everybody plays by the same rules. (Applause.) We could do so much more if we got that kind of economic patriotism that says we rise or fall as one nation and as one people. And that’s what Victor believes.
When Victor wrote me his letter, he said, “I believe, regardless of political party, we can all do something to help our citizens to have a chance at a job, have food in their stomachs, have access to great education and health care.” That’s what economic patriotism is. (Applause.) That’s what we should all be working on.
Instead of tax breaks for folks who don’t need them, let’s give tax breaks to working families to help them pay for child care and college. Don't reward companies shipping jobs overseas; let’s give tax breaks to companies investing right here in Missouri, right here in the Midwest. (Applause.) Let’s give every citizen access to preschool and college and affordable health care. And let’s make sure women get a fair wage. (Applause.) Let’s make sure anybody who is working full-time isn't living in poverty. (Applause.)
These are not un-American ideas; these are patriotic ideas. This is how we built America. (Applause.)
So just remember this: The hardest thing to do is to bring about real change. It's hard. You’ve got a stubborn status quo. And folks in Washington, sometimes they’re focused on everything but your concerns. And there are special interests and there are lobbyists, and they’re paid to maintain the status quo that's working for somebody. And they’re counting on you getting cynical, so you don’t vote and you don’t get involved, and people just say, you know what, none of this is going to make a difference. And the more you do that, then the more power the special interests have, and the more entrenched the status quo becomes.
You can't afford to be cynical. Cynicism is fashionable sometimes. You see it all over our culture, all over TV; everybody likes just putting stuff down and being cynical and being negative, and that shows somehow that you're sophisticated and you're cool. You know what -- cynicism didn’t put a man on the moon. Cynicism didn’t win women the right to vote. Cynicism did not get a Civil Rights Act signed. Cynicism has never won a war. Cynicism has never cured a disease. Cynicism has never started a business. Cynicism has never fed a young mind. (Applause.)
I do not believe in a cynical America; I believe in an optimistic America that is making progress. (Applause.) And I believe despite unyielding opposition, there are workers right now who have jobs who didn’t have them before because of what we've done; and folks who got health care who didn’t have it because of the work that we've done; and students who are going to college who couldn’t afford it before; and troops who’ve come home after tour after tour of duty because of what we've done. (Applause.)
You don't have time to be cynical. Hope is a better choice. (Applause.) That's what I need you for.
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.)
11:39 A.M. CDT
G-7 Leaders Statement on Ukraine
We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the President of the European Council, and the President of the European Commission, join in expressing our grave concern about Russia’s continued actions to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. We once again condemn Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and actions to de-stabilize eastern Ukraine. Those actions are unacceptable and violate international law.
We condemn the tragic downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the deaths of 298 innocent civilians. We demand a prompt, full, unimpeded, and transparent international investigation. We call upon all sides to establish, maintain, and fully respect a cease-fire at and around the crash site, as demanded by UN Security Council resolution 2166, so that the investigators can take up their work and to recover the remains of all victims and their personal possessions.
This terrible event should have marked a watershed in this conflict, causing Russia to suspend its support for illegal armed groups in Ukraine, secure its border with Ukraine, and stop the increasing flow of weapons, equipment, and militants across the border in order to achieve rapid and tangible results in de-escalation.
Regrettably, however, Russia has not changed course. This week, we have all announced additional coordinated sanctions on Russia, including sanctions on specific companies operating in key sectors of the Russian economy. We believe it is essential to demonstrate to the Russian leadership that it must stop its support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine and tangibly participate in creating the necessary conditions for the political process.
We remain convinced that there must be a political solution to the current conflict, which is causing rising numbers of civilian casualties. We call for a peaceful settlement of the crisis in Ukraine and underline the need to implement President Poroshenko’s peace plan without any further delay. To this end, we urge all parties to establish a swift, genuine, and sustainable general cease-fire on the basis of the Berlin Declaration of 2 July with the aim of maintaining Ukraine’s territorial integrity. We call upon Russia to use its influence with the separatist groups and ensure effective border control, including through OSCE observers. We support the OSCE and the Trilateral Contact Group as central players in creating the conditions for a ceasefire.
Russia still has the opportunity to choose the path of de-escalation, which would lead to the removal of these sanctions. If it does not do so, however, we remain ready to further intensify the costs of its adverse actions.
Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice “Africa and America: Partners in a Shared Future”
Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice
“Africa and America: Partners in a Shared Future”
at the United State Institute of Peace, Washington, DC
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Good morning, everyone. Thank you Kristin for that very generous introduction. And thank you all for being here. In particular I want to acknowledge and thank members of the African diplomatic corps for being here. And it’s wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues and folks that I’ve been honored to work with over many years. I want to thank the team—everyone here—at USIP, not only Kristin, but David Smock, so many of my friends and former colleagues in government, including Johnnie Carson, Princeton Lyman, George Moose, for all you have contributed to making this Africa Leaders Summit next week the historic event that we look forward to. Kristin, as you said, we’re at t-minus five days, and we’re all working flat out to make this Summit a great success.
As you know, these days there’s no shortage of demands on President Obama and our national security team. We’re addressing complex challenges from Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine, and the conflict in Gaza, to the violence in Iraq and Syria. In every instance, the United States is at the center of international coalitions that are working to advance peace and security. But we are acting with equal energy and determination to seize opportunities for progress—including in Africa.
There’s long-standing, bipartisan support for strengthening America’s partnership with Africa. Africa is a region where we can improve lives and raise incomes for Americans and Africans alike—if we commit to working together. So, as we look ahead to the Summit next week, and to the future of our partnership with Africa, I want to highlight what we’re working to accomplish.
Let me begin by underscoring, as many of you know well, that today’s Africa is not at all the same place it was when I served as Assistant Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration. In less than 20 years, in the space of one generation—even as major challenges remain—Africa has witnessed remarkable change.
Back then, Sierra Leone was locked in a decade-long civil war with rebels hacking off limbs and abducting UN peacekeepers. Today, Sierra Leone still faces great challenges, not least Ebola, but it is also contributing, now, peacekeepers to missions of the United Nations and the African Union. And, last March, President Koroma decided Sierra Leone would join the Open Government Partnership. That’s one generation of change.
Back then, close to 60 percent of Africa’s population lived on less than $1.25 a day. Too many still live in poverty, but that number has now dropped below 50 percent. And, Africa is home to 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, an emergent middle class, and robust markets for foreign direct investment. That’s one generation of change.
In 2000, AIDS was ravaging Africa, and every projection showed the disease growing and spreading exponentially. But through PEPFAR—where President Obama has been able to build on an historic foundation laid by President Bush—the United States and our partners, together have broken that curve. We modernized our approach to match Africa’s progress, and today, we’re setting our sights on ending the scourge of AIDS. That’s one generation of change.
We can measure Africa’s progress along any number of dimensions, but one of my favorites is the attitudes and ambition of the young Africans who grew up in this era of transformation. I’m very much looking forward to meeting with many of them later today: 500 young public servants, entrepreneurs, and activists from across Africa, every African country, who are part of the inaugural class of Mandela Washington Fellows—the exchange program that President Obama launched last year in Soweto. For my money, the commitment of these young people is the best indicator of Africa’s progress and the most reliable predictor of Africa’s success.
The United States has enduring connections to people and partners across Africa, earned through decades of friendship and investment in one another. Africa also has strong ties with other regions and nations, but America’s engagement with Africa is fundamentally different. We don’t see Africa as a pipeline to extract vital resources, nor as a funnel for charity. The continent is a dynamic region of boundless possibility and, as President Obama said in Cape Town last year, we’re building “a partnership of equals that focuses on your capacity to solve problems, and your capacity to grow.”
Those are two important ideas—capacity and equality. By capacity, we mean Africa’s ability to ultimately provide fully for its own needs, without being dependent on assistance. We want Africa to create its own jobs, to feed itself, to care for the health of its people, and to prevent and resolve conflicts. Above all, we want to help Africa build the human capital that is so crucial to its future—and that’s what our young leaders initiative is all about. That benefits us all. When one billion Africans can live in greater prosperity, security, freedom, and dignity, America is better off.
The second key is equality. Obviously there are differences of resources and strengths both among African countries and between Africa and the United States, but an equal partnership means we deal with one another with mutual respect. We meet our commitments to one another. We work through differences together. Most importantly, equal partners tell each other the truth, even when we may not want to hear it.
So, as long-standing friends, it’s important that we speak to one another candidly. For all that Africa has achieved, progress has not come fast enough nor spread far enough. Discrimination and habits of corruption still undermine many countries’ ability to govern effectively. Some nations hold themselves up as global leaders on certain issues while insisting on lower expectations for Africa on other issues. But, leaders can’t pick and choose among the responsibilities that come with being full players in the community of nations. Leaders must lead—especially on difficult issues—and protecting the human rights of all their people—regardless of religion, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation—is a government’s first duty.
Of course, this truth-telling goes both ways. The United States can also do better. We have much more work to do to change outdated mindsets in which Africa is often marginalized. Too many Americans still only see conflict, disease and poverty, and not the extraordinarily diverse Africa, brimming with innovation that’s driving its own development. We need to acknowledge that African economies are already taking off, and that the United States can do more to compete to be a full partner in Africa’s success.
So, this is the moment to take our partnership to the next level.
And that’s why President Obama is hosting this historic Summit. Nearly 50 African Presidents and Prime Ministers are scheduled to attend. We’ll be joined by leaders from civil society, faith communities, and the private sector.
We’ve deliberately focused the summit beyond the crises of the moment to envision the future we want and how we can work together to achieve critical goals—10 and 15 years from now. We’re focused on three major priorities: investing in Africa’s future, advancing peace and stability, and governing for the next generation.
First, President Obama and African leaders will expand the trade and commerce that creates jobs in all our countries. That’s what the President’s Doing Business in Africa campaign is all about—making it easier for American companies to invest in African businesses. It’s why President Obama launched our Trade Africa initiative to boost regional trade within Africa while expanding Africa’s economic ties with the rest of the world. That’s why Secretary Penny Pritzker led a delegation of American companies to Ghana and Nigeria in May. And, that’s why we’re dedicating a full day of the Summit to the U.S.-Africa Business Forum. These efforts will lead to concrete progress – increased trade, more investment, deals that will support African growth and American and African jobs.
With our partners in every region, we’re building broad-based economic capacity. As part of this, President Obama will work with Congress to achieve a seamless, long-term renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and to make it more effective.
Sometimes it’s easier for African nations to trade with Europe or even the United States than with their nearest neighbors, so we want to break down barriers that stymie regional trade. Since 2009, we’ve worked with public and private sector partners in Africa to reduce long wait times at their borders and to coordinate customs procedures. It used to take three days for goods to cross the border between Kenya and Uganda. Now it takes three hours—a time savings worth about $70 million a year. We’re utilizing Trade Hubs to improve border management and to help African firms compete in the international market.
And one of the best ways we can support business across Africa is by expanding access to electricity. That is the impetus behind President Obama’s signature Power Africa initiative, which is working with partners to double access to electricity and bring at least 20 million more households on to the grid across sub-Saharan Africa. With more than $9 billion in initial commitments from the private sector—and much more coming—we’re developing new sources of energy and enabling rural communities to plug into the global economy. And at the Summit, we will build on that progress, so that Power Africa becomes a lasting legacy for the United States on the African continent.
Of course, it’s hard to build a business if you’re struggling to feed your family or if you’re too sick to work. While Africa is no longer home to the majority of the world’s poor, economic privation is still deeply entrenched. And, critical to building Africa’s capacity for trade is investment in Africa’s development.
Rather than dictating outcomes, we recognize that Africa’s future will be determined by its own people. So, we’ve built our development programs around African leadership. Our focus on agricultural development stems from the African Union’s commitment to make food security a continent-wide priority. It’s not enough to react to crises—the latest drought or famine. We must break the cycle of hunger and poverty. And that’s why Feed the Future works directly with smallholder farmers to make sure people can feed themselves, by increasing crop yields and raising incomes. In the past two years, the New Alliance for Food Security and the Grow Africa partnership have helped more than 2.5 million farmers in ten African countries.
We’re taking the same approach to global health. We’re not just distributing medications and administering vaccines; together, we’re developing comprehensive health systems and strengthening nations’ ability to care for their own people. We’re reducing deaths from preventable diseases and improving outcomes, particularly in maternal health and child health. And, thanks to the historic commitments we continue to make, we are approaching the day when we can herald an AIDS-free generation.
The second key issue on the Summit agenda next week is how we can advance peace and regional stability. Here, progress has been particularly uneven. We’ve seen significant improvements in places like Liberia and Angola, but in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Sudan and South Sudan, violence and conflict have become entrenched. In Somalia and Mali, weak governance and extremism have enabled terrorist groups to take root.
Contrary to some claims, the United States is not looking to militarize Africa or maintain a permanent military presence. But we are committed to helping our partners confront transnational threats to our shared security. I say this as the person who got the 4 am phone call 16 years ago when al-Qaeda bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Today, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is controlling parts of Mali, Boko Haram bombs markets and kidnaps young girls, and al-Shabaab terrorizes a shopping mall in Nairobi. That is why we are stepping up our efforts to train peacekeepers who are professional and effective forces who can secure the region, and by extension the global community, against terrorist threats, and against threats that derive from conflict.
For example, the African Union Mission in Somalia has weakened al-Shabaab and created the conditions for Somalia’s nascent government to operate. African nations provide AMISOM’s troops, while the United States and other international partners help with training, equipment, and salaries. We’re also supporting African Union forces working to root out the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Central Africa. Between 2010 and 2013, our cooperation has brought about a 75 percent drop in the number of deaths caused by the LRA and a 50 percent drop in abductions.
Since President Obama took office, the United States has contributed close to $9 billion to United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa. Since 2005, the United States has trained almost a quarter of a million peacekeepers from 25 different African countries. More capable peacekeepers are now deployed across the continent. Rwandans, for example, who 20 years ago suffered a terrible failure of UN peacekeeping, are today among the largest and most respected contributors. And, we’re committed to making sure that African peacekeepers have the capacity to deploy quickly when conflict erupts in order to save lives and help avoid costlier international interventions down the line. And that will be a major focus of our discussions next week – an area where America will continue to increase our commitment in the months and years ahead.
Of course, true peace and security stem from a deeper place. People need to feel safe in their homes, confident that they won’t be targeted or victimized by corrupt systems. And that’s why we’re also partnering with African courts and legal systems and police departments to strengthen the rule of law and ensure justice is available for all.
And that brings me to the third major issue on next week’s Summit agenda: governing for the next generation. In the past ten years, 15 new democracies in every region have taken root in Africa. Earlier this year, Tunisia, for example, adopted a new constitution that enshrines core rights for women and upholds an inclusive political process. But, we’ve also seen countries backslide towards autocracy. The United States cannot and does not try to dictate the choices of other nations, but we are unabashed in our support for democracy and human rights. We will continue to invest in promoting democracy in Africa, as elsewhere, because, over the long-term, democracies are more stable, more peaceful, and they’re better able to provide for their citizens.
But the reality is, in President Obama’s words, “across Africa, the same institutions that should be the backbone of democracy can all too often be infected with the rot of corruption.” This is something the people of Africa know they must tackle head on—calling their governments to account and refusing to tolerate kleptocrats. And, wherever Africans stand up to demand change, the United States will be there, backing their efforts.
We’re supporting strong institutions that facilitate the peaceful transfer of power. So far, eight African nations have joined the Open Government Partnership, pledging to promote greater transparency and accountability. We are developing strategies to support civil society, particularly in areas where the space is closing for citizens to take action. We’re working with partners across the continent to strengthen protections for women, minorities, and members of the LGBT community, because countries do better when they protect human rights and harness the talents of all their people.
A major manifestation of our long-term commitment to Africa’s future is the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative.
This initiative has struck a chord in Africa, which is home to some of the largest “youth bulges” in the world, and is brimming with talented young people. Building on the success of this initiative to date, President Obama announced earlier this week that we’re creating four new Regional Leadership Centers to provide training, support for entrepreneurs, and regional networking opportunities in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.
Through the YALI Network, we’re connecting young leaders with one another and with opportunities here in the United States. And, over the next two years, we’re going to double the size of the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program so that 1,000 young leaders every year can come to the United States, develop their skills, build networks, and then return home and contribute their talents to moving Africa forward.
Leaders like James Makini of Kenya. James is with us here today. Let me tell you his story.
When he was just 8 years old, James’ grandmother gave him a chicken. Pretty soon, he was selling the eggs, earning money to pay for school uniforms and help rebuild his family’s hut. That’s how he got the idea for the One Hen Campaign—if he could do it, he thought, so could other rural Kenyans. In the past three years, James has helped provide 50,000 women with chickens, generating more than $3 million for those women and their families.
But James isn’t stopping there. As a Mandela Washington Fellow, he’s gaining tools and a network that will help him take his work to the next level and expand the One Hen Campaign across Africa. James you and your colleagues in the Mandela Washington Fellows Program make us proud—and they inspire us to nurture and deepen the commitment between the United States and Africa. I want to thank all of you. Just one generation of change can mean so much. We’ve seen it. But, like James, we can’t rest on what we’ve achieved. We’ve got to keep working for progress, shaping change in the right direction.
And that’s what the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is all about—an opportunity to recommit to ending extreme poverty and reaching the day when families don’t worry about where their next meal is coming from; it’s a chance to boost ties of trade and investment, even as we ensure the benefits are more broadly shared; it’s a moment to redouble our joint efforts to end violence where it has haunted Africa for too long.
That’s what America is all about – we’re about an equal partnership with Africa; one that builds African capacity, because we understand that Africa’s success is in our common interest. And 10 or 15 years from now, I’m confident that we’ll be able to look back on this Summit as a pivotal point.
Across a vast and energetic continent—from the northern sands of Morocco to the Maasai Mara in the east to the tropical forests of Madagascar—Africans are already seizing historic opportunities. So, as we prepare to host this unprecedented gathering of leaders, we want the people of Africa to know that the United States stands ready to join with you. We share your vision of a future that is more prosperous, more equal, and more free—a future that can be defined by the limitless potential of what Africa and America can achieve together, as equal partners.
Thank you all very very much.
Remarks by the First Lady at the Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders
The Omni Shoreham Hotel
11:01 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. Look at you all! (Applause.) Oh, please sit, sit. Rest. (Laughter.) How has everything been? Exciting? So you’ve talked to a lot of important people -- my husband, he was here. (Applause.) That’s good. And a few other people? You’ve been traveling around the country doing great things. It is such a pleasure, and such an honor and a joy to join you here today for this wonderful summit.
Let me start by thanking John for that beautiful introduction, but more importantly, for his outstanding leadership for young people -- in particular, young girls -- in Uganda. And I want to take a moment to thank all of you for being part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Yes. (Applause.) We have been so excited about your presence here in this country. We have been so excited.
Now, I’ve had the opportunity to read through your bios, and I have to tell you that I am truly in awe of what you all have achieved. Many of you are barely half my age, yet you already have founded businesses and NGOs, you’ve served as leaders in your government, you’ve earned countless degrees, you know dozens of languages. So you all truly represent the talent, the energy and the diversity that is Africa’s lifeblood, and it is an honor to host you here in the United States. (Applause.) We’re so proud.
Now, from what I’ve heard, you all have been making good use of this time here. You’ve been learning new skills, questioning old assumptions, and having some frank conversations with experts and with each other about the challenges and opportunities in your countries. And I want to use our time together today to continue that dialogue. Today, I want us to talk -– and I mean really talk. I want to speak as openly and honestly as possible about the issues we care about and what it means to be a leader not just in Africa but in the world today.
Now, one of the issues that I care deeply about is, as John alluded to, girls’ education. And across the globe, the statistic on this issue are heartbreaking. Right now, 62 million girls worldwide are not in school, including nearly 30 million girls in Sub-Saharan Africa. And as we saw in Pakistan, where Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen, and in Nigeria where more than 200 girls were kidnapped from their school dormitory by Boko Haram terrorists, even when girls do attend school, they often do so at great risk.
And as my husband said earlier this week, we know that when girls aren’t educated, that doesn’t just limit their prospects, leaving them more vulnerable to poverty, violence and disease, it limits the prospects of their families and their countries as well.
Now, in recent years, there’s been a lot of talk about how to address this issue, and how we need more schools and teachers, more money for toilets and uniforms, transportation, school fees. And of course, all of these issues are critically important, and I could give a perfectly fine speech today about increasing investments in girls’ education around the world.
But I said I wanted to be honest. And if I do that, we all know that the problem here isn’t only about resources, it’s also about attitudes and beliefs. It’s about whether fathers and mothers think their daughters are as worthy of an education as their sons. It’s about whether societies cling to outdated laws and traditions that oppress and exclude women, or whether they view women as full citizens entitled to fundamental rights.
So the truth is, I don’t think it’s really productive to talk about issues like girls’ education unless we’re willing to have a much bigger, bolder conversation about how women are viewed and treated in the world today. (Applause.) And we need to be having this conversation on every continent and in every country on this planet. And that’s what I want to do today with all of you, because so many of you are already leading the charge for progress in Africa.
Now, as an African American woman, this conversation is deeply personal to me. The roots of my family tree are in Africa. As you know, my husband’s father was born and raised in Kenya -- (applause) -- and members of our extended family still live there. I have had the pleasure of traveling to Africa a number of times over the years, including four trips as First Lady, and I have brought my mother and my daughters along with me whenever I can. So believe me, the blood of Africa runs through my veins, and I care deeply about Africa’s future. (Applause.)
Now, the status of women in Africa is also personal to me as a woman. See, what I want you all to understand is that I am who I am today because of the people in my family -– particularly the men in my family -– who valued me and invested in me from the day I was born. I had a father, a brother, uncles, grandfathers who encouraged me and challenged me, protected me, and told me that I was smart and strong and beautiful. (Applause.)
And as I grew up, the men who raised me set a high bar for the type of men I’d allow into my life -- (applause) -- which is why I went on to marry a man who had the good sense to fall in love with a woman who was his equal -- (applause) -- and to treat me as such; a man who supports and reveres me, and who supports and reveres our daughters, as well. (Applause.)
And throughout my life -- understand this -- every opportunity I’ve had, every achievement I’m proud of has stemmed from this solid foundation of love and respect. So given these experiences, it saddens and confuses me to see that too often, women in some parts of Africa are still denied the rights and opportunities they deserve to realize their potential.
Now, let’s be very clear: In many countries in Africa, women have made tremendous strides. More girls are attending school. More women are starting businesses. Maternal mortality has plummeted. And more women are serving in parliaments than ever before. In fact, in some countries, more than 30 percent of legislators are women. In Rwanda, it’s over 50 percent -- which, by the way, is more than double the percentage of women in the U.S. Congress. Yes. (Applause.)
Now, these achievements represent remarkable progress. But at the same time, when girls in some places are still being married off as children, sometimes before they even reach puberty; when female genital mutilation still continues in some countries; when human trafficking, rape and domestic abuse are still too common, and perpetrators are often facing no consequences for their crimes -- then we still have some serious work to do in Africa and across the globe.
And while I have great respect for cultural differences, I think we can all agree that practices like genital cutting, forced child marriage, domestic violence are not legitimate cultural practices, they are serious human rights violations and have no place in any country on this Earth. (Applause.) These practices have no place in our shared future, because we all know that our future lies in our people -– in their talent, their ambition, their drive. And no country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.
And I know this firsthand from the history of my own country. A century ago, women in America weren’t allowed to vote. Decades ago, it was perfectly legal for employers to refuse to hire women. Domestic violence was viewed not as a crime, but as a private family matter between a man and his wife.
But in each generation, people of conscience stood up and rejected these unjust practices. They chained themselves to the White House gates, waged hunger strikes in prison to win the right to vote. They took their bosses to court. They spoke out about rape and fought to prosecute rapists, despite the stigma and shame. They left their abusive husbands, even when that meant winding up on the streets with their children. (Applause.)
And today in America, we see the results of those hard-fought battles: 60 percent of college students today are women. Women are now more than half the workforce. And in recent decades, women’s employment has added nearly $2 trillion to the U.S. economy -– yes, trillion. (Applause.)
Now, are we anywhere near full economic, political, and domestic equality in the United States? Absolutely not. We still struggle every day with serious issues like violence against women, unequal pay. Women are still woefully underrepresented in our government and in the senior ranks of our corporations.
But slowly, generation after generation, we’ve been moving in the right direction because of brave individuals who were willing to risk their jobs, their reputations, and even their lives to achieve equality. And it wasn’t just brave women who made these sacrifices. It was also brave men, too -- (applause) -- men who hired women, men who passed laws to empower women, men who prosecuted other men who abused women.
So to all the men, my brothers here today, I have a simple message: We need you to shake things up. (Applause.) Too often, women are fighting these battles alone, but men like you, progressive men who are already ahead of the curve on women’s issues, you all are critically important to solving this problem.
And that starts by doing a little introspection. And I say this not just to the 250 of you who are in the room today, but to men around the world. Men in every country need to look into their hearts and souls and ask themselves whether they truly view and treat women as their equals. (Applause.) And then when you all encounter men in your lives who answer no to that question, then you need to take them to task. You need to tell them that any man who uses his strength to oppress women is a coward, and he is holding back the progress of his family and his country. (Applause.)
Tell them that a truly strong, powerful man isn’t threatened by a strong, powerful woman. (Applause.) Instead, he is challenged by her, he is inspired by her, he is pleased to relate to her as an equal. And I want you to keep modeling that behavior yourselves by promoting women in your companies, passing laws to empower women in your countries, and holding the same ambitious dreams for your daughters as you do for your sons.
And to the women here, my sisters --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
MRS. OBAMA: And I love you. I do. (Applause.) Which is why I want us as women to understand that oppression is not a one-way street.
See, too often, without even realizing it, we as women internalize the oppression we face in our societies by believing harmful messages about how we should look and act, particularly as women of color –- messages that tell us that we’re ugly or irrelevant, that we don’t deserve full control over our bodies, that we should keep our mouths shut and just do as we’re told. And then, too often, we turn around and impose those same beliefs on other women and girls in our lives, including our own daughters.
For example, in countries across the globe, there are women who still support and carry out the practice of genital cutting. There are women who are still insisting on marrying off their young daughters or keeping them home from school to help with the housework.
And then there are the more subtle harms that we afflict -- inflict on each other -- the harm of spurning our sisters who don’t conform to traditions because we’re jealous or suspicious of their courage and their freedom; the harm of turning a blind eye when a woman in our community is being abused because we don’t want to cause conflict with our neighbors by speaking up.
And I imagine that for some of you here today, getting your degree might have meant disobeying or disappointing your families. Maybe while you’ve been acing your studies and thriving in your career, you have a grandmother who has been wringing her hands because you’re not yet married. (Laughter and applause.) But, my sisters, you all are here today because you have found a way to overcome these challenges, and you have blossomed into powerful, accomplished women. And we need you all to help others do the same.
All of us, men and women on every continent, we all need to identify these problems in ourselves and in our communities, and then commit to solving them. And I say this to you not just as lawyers and activists and business leaders, but as current and future parents. Because as a mother myself, I can tell you that this is where change truly happens. With the behavior we model, with our actions and inactions, every day, we as parents shape the values of the next generation.
For example, my parents never had the chance to attend university, but they had the courage and foresight to push me to get the best education I could. And they weren’t threatened by the prospect of me having more opportunities than they had -- just the opposite. They were thrilled.
And that’s what should drive us all: The hope of raising the next generation to be stronger, smarter and bolder than our generation. (Applause.) And that is exactly the kind of work that so many of you are already doing in your families and your communities, which is why I’m so proud of you.
I could name all of you, but there are a few of you that I will remark on. Mahamadou Camara from Mali. (Applause.) He is working to educate women about micro-credit and accounting so that they can run their own businesses and build better lives for their children. In Liberia, Patrice Juah. (Applause.) She founded Miss Education Awareness Pageant to inspire girls to pursue higher education and have opportunities their parents never dreamed of. And in Burundi, Fikiri Nzoyisenga. (Applause.) He created a youth coalition to fight violence against women because he doesn’t want anything to hold them back from pursuing their dreams.
This is where Africa’s future lies –- with those women-run businesses, with those girls attending university, and with leaders like you who are making those dreams possible. And the question today is how all of you and young people like you will steer Africa’s course to embrace that future. Because ultimately, that’s what leadership is really about. It’s not just about holding degrees or holding elected office. And it’s not about preserving our own power or continuing traditions that oppress and exclude.
Leadership is about creating new traditions that honor the dignity and humanity of every individual. Leadership is about empowering all of our people –- men, women, boys and girls –- to fulfill every last bit of their God-given potential. And when we commit to that kind of leadership across the globe, that is when we truly start making progress on girls’ education. Because that’s when families in small villages around the world will demand equal opportunities for their daughters. They won’t wait. That’s when countries will willingly and generously invest in sending their girls to school, because they’ll know how important it is.
And we all know the ripple effects we can have when we give our girls a chance to learn. We all know that girls who are educated earn higher wages. They’re more likely to stand up to discrimination and abuse. They have healthier children who are more likely to attend school themselves.
So no matter where you all work, no matter what issue you focus on -- whether it’s health or microfinance, human rights or clean energy -- women’s equality must be a central part of your work. It must. (Applause.) Because make no mistake about it, the work of transforming attitudes about women, it now falls on your shoulders. And it’s up to you all to embrace the future, and then drag your parents and grandparents along with you. (Laughter.)
And I know this won’t be easy. I know that you will face all kinds of obstacles and resistance -- you already have. But when you get tired or frustrated, when things seem hopeless and you start thinking about giving up, I want you to remember the words of the man whom your fellowship is now named -- and I know these words have been spoken many times. As Madiba once said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” And I, oh, I know the truth of those words from my own history and from the history of my country.
My ancestors came here in chains. My parents and grandparents knew the sting of segregation and discrimination. Yet I attended some of the best universities in this country. I had career opportunities beyond my wildest dreams. And today, I live in the White House, a building -- (applause) -- but we must remember, we live in a home that was constructed by slaves.
Today, I watch my daughters –- two beautiful African American girls -– walking our dogs in the shadow of the Oval Office. And today, I have the privilege of serving and representing the United States of America across the globe.
So my story and the story of my country is the story of the impossible getting done. And I know that can be your story and that can be Africa’s story too. (Applause.) But it will take new energy, it will take new ideas, new leadership from young people like you. That is why we brought you here today.
We’ve done this because we believe in Africa, and we believe in all of you. And understand we are filled with so much hope and so many expectations for what you will achieve. You hold the future of your continent in your hands, and I cannot wait to see everything you will continue to accomplish in the years ahead.
Thank you. God bless. (Applause.)
11:26 A.M. EDT