“We addressed good governance, which is a foundation of economic growth and free societies,” he said during the press conference at the State Department where the gathering took place. “Some African nations are making impressive progress. But we see troubling restrictions on universal rights. So today was an opportunity to highlight the importance of rule of law, open and accountable institutions, strong civil societies, and protection of human rights for all citizens and all communities. And I made the point during our discussion that nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful.”
Obama again addressed the issue in response to a question from David Ohito of the Standard, a Kenyan newspaper, about freedom of the press in Kenya and other African countries.
“As is true on a whole range of issues — and I’ve said this in the past — many times we will work with countries even though they’re not perfect on every issue,” said Obama. “We find that in some cases engaging a country that generally is a good partner but is not performing optimally when it comes to all of the various categories of human rights, that we can be effective by working with them on certain areas, and criticizing them and trying to elicit improvements in other areas. And even among countries that generally have strong human rights records, there are areas where there are problems. That’s true of the United States, by the way.”
The press conference took place against the backdrop of criticism from advocates and groups, such as Human Rights First, over the lack of public discussion about LGBT rights in Africa during the three-day summit that largely focused on investment and economic development on the continent.
Obama on Tuesday referred to the need to treat “people of different races and faiths and sexual orientations fairly and equally” during a business forum that Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg co-hosted at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest Washington. The president said at a White House dinner later in the day that African health workers “saving lives from HIV/AIDS” and “advocates standing up for justice and the rule of law” are among those who have inspired him and his family.
Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday specifically applauded Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, during a forum at the National Academy of Sciences in Northwest D.C.
“We will continue to stand up and speak for the rights of all persons with disabilities, and we will continue to stand up and speak out for LGBT activists who are working for the day when tolerance and understanding really do conquer hate,” said Kerry.
Homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda and more than 30 other African countries.
Those convicted of consensual same-sex sexual acts in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of Nigeria and Somalia face the death penalty.
The White House earlier this year cut aid to Uganda that funded HIV/AIDS programs and other initiatives after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill under which those convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts face life in prison. The Obama administration in June announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.
The Ugandan Constitutional Court on August 1 struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but parliamentarians appear poised to reintroduce the measure.
In spite of these sanctions, Obama during Wednesday’s press conference announced Uganda is among the six African countries with which the U.S. will partner to improve and expand peacekeeping efforts on the continent.
“We’re going to invite countries beyond Africa to join us in supporting this effort, because the entire world has a stake in the success of peacekeeping in Africa,” he said.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who in January signed a draconian bill into law that, among other things, punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison, is among the other African leaders who attended the summit.
Jonathan and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who described gay men as “vermin” in a speech earlier this year, are among the African heads of state who posed for pictures with Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as they arrived at the White House dinner.