President Barack Obama joined Pentagon officials on Thursday in welcoming the leaders of four African countries to the White House, where they discussed strengthening democracy among emerging African nations and deepening the U.S.'s partnership with them through the promotion of economic growth and investments.
The visiting dignitaries included President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Joyce Banda of Malawi, and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves of Cape Verde.
"The reason that I'm meeting with these four is [that] they exemplify the progress we're seeing in Africa. All of them have had to deal with some extraordinary challenges," President Obama said during the gathering. "Sierra Leone just 10 years ago was in the midst of as brutal a civil war as we've ever seen. And yet, now we've seen consecutive fair and free elections. And under President Koroma's leadership, we've seen not only good governance, but also significant economic growth."
Referring to President Banda, Obama said there was a constitutional crisis in her country just last year.
"And yet, President Banda has not only been able to be in office and make sure that constitutional order was restored, but has also made significant progress on behalf of her people," he said. "And her personal story of overcoming a history of abuse and leading women throughout her country I think indicates the kind of progress that can be made when you've got strong leadership."
Obama further stated that the same was true for President Sall.
"There were some bumps in the road in terms of transition from the previous president," Obama said, "and yet, the Senegalese rose up at the grassroots level and sustained their democracy."
He said that Cape Verde is a real success story.
"We were hearing from Prime Minister Neves about the fact that just in a few decades they have moved from a per capita income of maybe $200 a year to now $4,000 a year," Obama said. [They] are now moving into the middle of the pack in terms of development levels because of good governance and management."
During the meeting, Obama also turned his attention to former South Africa President Nelson Mandela, 94, who was recently re-admitted to a hospital for a lung infection. Reports stated early Thursday that he was responding well to treatment.
"We all recognize that he has given everything to his people, the people of South Africa, to the people of the continent, and he's ended up being an inspiration to all of us," Obama said. "When you think of a single individual that embodies the kind of leadership qualities that I think we all aspire to, the first name that comes up is Nelson Mandela. And so we wish him all the very best."