Mandela's Condition Clouds Obama's S. Africa Visit

Jun 29, 2013



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary. President Obama is in Johannesburg, South Africa this morning. It's his second stop on a three-country tour of Africa. NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the president. He joins us now. Good morning, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Good morning, Lynn.

NEARY: The president held a press conference with the current South African president Jacob Zuma this morning. Tell us about that.

SHAPIRO: Well, there was lots of talk about the changing role of Africa on the world. On the U.N. Security Council, for example, South Africa wants a permanent seat and President Obama stopped short of endorsing that, but he said the security council has to be updated and an expansion of the Security Council that did not include the continent of Africa would be odd, as Obama put it.

They also talked business with African - trade, especially. You know, China, Brazil, Turkey and India have been very invested in the continent, and President Obama had this warning for the people of Africa.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Make sure it's a good deal for Africa. Somebody says they want to come build something here, are they hiring African workers? Somebody says that they want to help you develop your natural resources, how much of the money is staying in Africa?

SHAPIRO: So you can hear there he's really making a pitch for American investment in the continent, which has been one big theme of this trip all along.

NEARY: Well, of course, Ari, also, the entire world now is focusing on Nelson Mandela. He's in the hospital in critical condition, reported to be stable. But how much is talk of Mandela now dominating the visit?

SHAPIRO: It permeates everything. The president decided not to visit Nelson Mandela in the hospital. That was out of deference to his peace and comfort and the family's wishes, according to the White House. Instead, the president and first lady decided to visit the Mandela family. The White House says that's to offer their thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.

The president has talked about Mandela a lot on this visit. He's described his first act of political activism - President Obama's, that is - fighting apartheid when he was in college. Obama has talked about reading Mandela's writings and about meeting him as a senator. And he said today that Mandela's lessons about peaceful protest and fighting for change over decades are lessons that still apply today, not just in Africa but around the world.

NEARY: And broadly speaking, what does the president hope to get out of this trip?

SHAPIRO: He's talked about a shift from the old model of aid and handouts to African to a new model of what he describes is sort of mutually beneficial business relationships. Now, partly, that's just because there's not the money there once was for big aid programs, handing out food and medicine. But President Obama also theorizes that if Africa enters the global marketplace it will help everyone.

He keeps saying that half of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa. So you have lots of American CEOs on this trip. You know, at the hotel this morning I spotted presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett and U.S. trade representative Mike Froman meeting with a bunch of American and African business leaders. The president himself has a similar meeting at his next stop in Tanzania.

And then another big theme is youth. Here in South Africa a third of the population is under age 15. That's a trend you see across the continent. And so President Obama is speaking a lot to youth specifically about opportunities for entering the workforce and being productive.

NEARY: So what's next on the agenda, Ari?

SHAPIRO: Well, tomorrow the president heads to Cape Town, South Africa for a speech to the continent, which is sort of the keynote speech of this trip. And then he heads to Eastern Africa for the final stop in Tanzania. Of course, that's right next to Kenya, the country where his father was born, and Kenyans are pretty disappointed that the president is not visiting his father's homeland.

But last year, Kenya elected a new president who is in trouble with the International Criminal Court and today President Obama said: The timing was not right for me as president to be visiting Kenya when those issues are still being worked on. But he said: My personal ties to the people of Kenya by definition are going to be strong.

NEARY: NPR's Ari Shapiro with President Obama in South Africa. Thanks so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.