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Presidents Discuss Countries' Successes and Africa's Future

4/3/2013, 9:58 a.m.

It is customary for the evening news and other media outlets to characterize Africa in the most negative and derisive manner. Droughts, coups, famine, civil unrest and poverty often take center stage while any number of success stories and the many positive developments occurring among the continent's 54 nations are often ignored.

So last Friday's panel discussion with three presidents and a prime minister at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) was a breath of fresh air because an audience of several hundred heard the leaders talk about their efforts to institute and strengthen good governance, the rule of law, and transparency. The leaders took part in a wide-ranging discussion entitled, "Consolidating Democratic Gains, Promoting African Prosperity" at USIP in Northwest, at a function that was televised live and on Twitter.

"The Africa of today is far from the cliches of war, famines and coups," said Senegalese President Macky Sall. "We're moving toward democracy and growth. We're the cradle of mankind, a magical continent with diversity and resources. Africa today is a continent on the march."

Sall was joined by Presidents Ernest Bai Koroma and Joyce Banda and Prime Minister Jose Maria Pereira Neves. Each detailed their governments' roles in fostering the social and economic upswings of their respective countries, the seemingly intractable challenges and their vision of an independent, self-sufficient and transformed Africa during what moderator Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnny Carson called "a very stimulating and delightful" conversation.

"They're here because of the contributions they've made to strengthen democratic institutions in their countries," said Carson, who retired from the State Department on Friday, March 29. "They have developed independent judiciaries, free press and vibrant economies to protect their democracies. Sierra Leone held free, fair and credible elections where 90 percent of the citizens participated peacefully."

"This was the second term for President Koroma to continue his agenda for prosperity. The economy is expanding rapidly."

The quartet was invited to the White House by President Barack Obama on Thursday, March 28 because of what Obama said was recognition of the fact that each leader had "undertaken significant efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, protect and expand human rights and civil liberties, and increase economic opportunities for their people."

Carson spoke of Sall's election a year ago, and the instability and economic contraction surrounding his predecessor's attempts to secure a controversial third term. Since then, Sall has instituted economic reforms, worked to reduce conflict, unrest and tension in the southern Casamance region. In fact, Carson said, Senegal's economy is expected to grow by five percent this year.

Sall prompted laughter when he said he was putting one of the two presidential jets up for sale but with no takers, may have to offer it to a museum. Both he and Banda said they have scaled back on ministerial perks and she has gotten rid of fleets of vehicles as well.

Banda was the vice president in President Binguwa Mutharika's government until he died suddenly in April 2012. Mutharika dismissed Banda and attempted to appoint his brother leader of his political party and Malawi's next president. When he died, some in the cabinet, his wife and others questioned Banda's legitimacy to succeed Mutharika even though the constitution was clear on succession. Banda is said to have called Malawi's army commander who agreed to support her and stationed troops around her home. She also acknowledged America's role behind the scenes in ensuring her ascension to the presidency.