September 22, 2013

White House expresses condolences for Kenya attack

President Obama today called Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya today to express condolences to the government and people of Kenya for the terrorist attack carried out by al-Shabaab yesterday on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi.

The White House said "reiterated U.S. support for Kenya's efforts to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice" and "reaffirmed the strong and historic partnership between the United States and Kenya as well as our shared commitment to combating terrorism and promoting peace and prosperity in East Africa and around the world."

The White House on Saturday condemned "in the strongest terms the despicable terrorist attack on innocent civilians."

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the administration extended condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed or injured, including American citizens who were injured and the staff of the embassy, "who were tragically affected by this attack." She said the U.S. commended the "courageous response by Kenyan security personnel and first responders, including the Kenyan Red Cross, who stepped forward to help their fellow citizens."

She said the U.S. had offered its full support to the Kenyan Government to bring those responsible to justice: "We will continue to stand with the Kenyan people in their efforts to confront terrorism in all its forms, including the threat posed by al-Shabaab. This cowardly act against innocent civilians will not shake our resolve."

August 07, 2013

White House notes 15th anniversary of African embassy attacks

President Obama today marked the 15th anniversary of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, saying the U.S. continues "to stand with our East African partners to bring terrorists to justice and will carry on our efforts to prevent these attacks in the future."

In a statement, Obama said the U.S. honors "the families of the 12 Americans who lost their lives, and we join with the people and governments of Kenya and Tanzania honoring the sacrifices of the African victims of this heinous act which killed over 200 and wounded over 5,000

Obama noted that he last month paid tribute to the victims and met with some of the survivors at a memorial to the fallen in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

"The United States is steadfast in our commitment to protect the American men and women who dutifully serve our nation overseas, and we will remain resolute in working with our partners to combat violent extremism  in East Africa, across the region, and around the world," Obama said in a statement that comes as the U.S. has shuttered nearly two dozen diplomatic posts under a terrorist alert.

The anniversary has been floated as one possible factor in the terrorist threat, though neither of the two targeted embassies is closed this time.

July 02, 2013

In Africa, Bush appears on CNN to talk about his humanitarian efforts

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, will join President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at appear of events today in Tanzania.

CNN talked to the Bushes about their efforts to refurbish a clinic in Africa as well as his thoughts on Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden and privacy.

“Ultimately, history will judge the decisions I made," he said. "I won’t be around because it’s going to take a while for the objective historians to show up. And so I’m pretty comfortable with it. I did what I did. I know the spirit in which I did it.”

Check out the interview here. Our story today on Obama following in Bush's footsteps in Africa here.

July 01, 2013

White House announces new support to Africa to combat animal poaching

President Obama today will announce a $10 million program to aid African countries in their efforts to prevent illegal animal poaching -- particularly elephants and rhinoceroses. 

The illegal trade of the animals worldwide is between $7 billion to $10 billion a year and "decimating the populations for some of Africa's iconic animals," said Grant Harris, the senior director for African Affairs at the National Security Council. Rhino horns are now selling on the black market for $30,000 a pound -- "literally worth greater than their weight in gold," Harris said. Ivory from elephant tusks are selling for $1,000 a pound.

He said the US has been raising the global profile how bad the situation is, including a diplomatic campaign. White House officials said the issue has been raised at the presidential and secretary of state level with China where many of the illegal poaching syndicates are based.

More details on the plan after the jump.

Continue reading "White House announces new support to Africa to combat animal poaching" »

June 30, 2013

Obama "humbled" by visit to Robben Island prison

America’s first family toured Robben Island, where Mandela was held in a small cell for 18 of his 27 years in prison as a political prisoner under the white leaders who ruled the nation. Obama has been before but it’s his family’s first visit.

They were taken to a bleak lime quarry, where 34 ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela were prisoners, enduring hours of backbreaking and futile work.

In the bushes, a small, wooden bench next to a wooden lattice could be seen. That's where Mandela hid the manuscript for A Long Walk to Freedom as he he wrote it. 

A cement watchtower with rusting shutters stood above the quarry. A cave cut into the wall was where the prisoners had lunch and used a toilet bucket.

Along one wall are 17 cells, each with one window that is covered by vertical, white bars. The cells are tiny, barely wide enough for someone to lay down. In Mandela's cell, there was a stall with a toilet bucket on top, and a mattress low to the floor with pillows and a brown blanket. 

Former prisoner Ahmed Kathrada, who served his 18 years alongside Mandela, was the Obama's guide.

The President and First Lady walked into the courtyard where a visitors book was waiting on a simple desk. He wrote for about three minutes.

"On behalf of our family we're deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit."

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama

30 June 2013

First Family tours Robben Island prison

America's First Family walked together into a bleak lime quarry in Cape Town, South Africa, where 34 ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela were prisoners, enduring hours of backbreaking and futile work.

In the bushes, a small, wooden bench next to a wooden lattice could be seen. That's where Mandela hid the manuscript for A Long Walk to Freedom as he he wrote it. 

A cement watchtower with rusting shutters stood above the quarry. A cave cut into the wall was where the prisoners had lunch and used a toilet bucket.

Along one wall are 17 cells, each with one window that is covered by vertical, white bars. The cells are tiny, barely wide enough for someone to lay down. In Mandela's cell, there was a stall with a toilet bucket on top, and a mattress low to the floor with pillows and a brown blanket. 

Former prisoner Ahmed Kathrada, who served his 18 years alongside Mandela, was the Obama's guide.

The President and First Lady walked into the courtyard where a visitors book was waiting on a simple desk. He wrote for about three minutes.

"On behalf of our family we're deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit."

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama

 

30 June 2013

Obama to unveil new program to double electricity in sub-Saharan Africa

President Barack Obama  will unevil a new $7 billion program to double electricity in sub-Africa.

Six nations -- Tanzania, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia -- will kick off the program with the goals of providing power to 20 million homes.

Roughly two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t have access to electricity. It’s 85 percent in some rural areas.

The $7 billion in money and resources will come from USAID, which will provide technical assistance and grants, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Export-Import Bank.

“I think the way to think about this is that we’re not looking to provide assistance so that we can pay for everybody to turn the lights on,” said Gayle Smith, senior director for development and democracy at the National Security Council. “We’re looking to provide support and partnership so the lights can turn on and stay on.”

Already, several companies, including GE and Symbium, have made commitments worth $9 billion.

Obama and Bush both pay Africa a visit at the same time

President Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, will be in Tanzania Monday.

It's unclear whether the two of them will see each other. But their wives will.

First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush will appear at a first ladies forum sponsored by the George W. Bush Institue to empower women. "It’s an important forum that lifts up the role of women in Africa," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser. 

Rhodes said their schedules are still being developed and it's possible the presidents will see each other.

"And I think the presence of the Bushes is something that marks I think the bipartisan support for Africa that exists in the United States, and it’s a very welcome symbol that they can be there at the same time," he said. "We think it sends a very positive message that both political parties in the United States share a commitment to this continent."

June 29, 2013

Biden called Ecuadorean president about Snowden

Vice President Joe Biden called Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa about the case of fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, according to the White House.

Correa told reporters in Ecuador that Biden asked that a request for asylum by Snowden be rejected, but the White House did not confirm that report.

"The Vice President spoke with President Correa on June 28," said Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokesperson. "They engaged in a broad conversation regarding the bilateral relationship. They did discuss Mr. Snowden, but we are not going to provide details on their discussion."

President Barack Obama said Thursday while in South Africa that he has not spoken to his Russian and Chinese counterparts about Snowden because he does not want to damage larger relationships with the nations.

Obama said his administration is trying to return Snowden to the United States through the regular and appropriate legal mechanisms. But he said he is more concerned about trying to prevent more classified information from being leaked.

Snowden, 30, is the former CIA employee and National Security Administration contractor who revealed himself to be the leaker of classified documents about surveillance programs. The U.S. government has charged him with various crimes under the espionage act. He remains in Russia, according to the White House.

White House launches mentoring program for young Africans

President Barack Obama on Friday at a townhall meeting in South Africa will launch a program next year that will bring more than 500 young African leaders to the United States each year for leadership training and mentoring. 

Washington Fellows will primarily be between 25 and 35 years old and have a leadership role in a public, private, or civic organization.

They will spend six weeks at American colleges. Formal training will be augmented by workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities with leaders in each field, as well as internships across the United States.

The fellows will have the chance to interact with Obama during an annual summit in Washington, D.C., along with other senior U.S. government, business and civic leaders.

More than $5 million in small grants will be awarded in the first three years by the U.S. African Development Foundation to the program to start their own businesses or social enterprises. The U.S. Department of State will invest an additional $5 million over the course of the program to help alumni establish or grow non-governmental organizations, undertake a project to improve their community, or work collaboratively to build the network of young African leaders. USAID will establish regional hubs and coordinators to connect Washington Fellows to these opportunities and leverage over $200 million in ongoing youth programs and initiatives on the continent. 

Within the next five years, the program will  grow to 1,000 young leaders each year.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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