President Barack Obama stressed the importance of the free flow of information and fair governance as a key to the continent of Africa’s success at the U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.
“The reason the Internet is so powerful is because it is open,” Obama said during a dialogue with 21-year-old Zimbabwean entrepreneur Takunda Ralph Michael Chingonzo.
“It is very important, I think, that we maintain that. I know there is a tension in some countries – their attitude is, ‘We don’t necessarily want this information flowing because it can end up also being used as a tool for political organizing, it can be used as a tool to criticize the government, and so maybe we would prefer a system that is more closed.’ I think that is a self-defeating attitude,” Obama said.
According to President Obama, in the long view, transparency and information flow “is inevitable.”
He said the goal should be to keep the Internet open and free but noted that there will be instances when activity will be monitored.
“There are going to be tensions involved in terms of us monitoring the use of the Internet for terrorist networks, or criminal enterprises, or human trafficking. But we can do that in ways that are compatible with maintaining an open Internet,” Obama explained.
He added that while there are many things the continent of Africa needs, a focus on more widespread empowerment will be vital.
“Perhaps the biggest thing that Africa is going to need to unleash the potential that is already there and the growth that has already taken place is laws and regulations and structures that empower individuals and are not simply designed to control or empower those at the very top. And the Internet is one example,” he continued.
In his address before the question-and-answer portion of the session, Obama called for a partnership with Africa and announced $33 billion in new U.S. commitments to the continent, including $14 billion in private investments to Africa.
“Bottom line is the United States is making a major and long-term investment in Africa’s progress,” he said, adding that tens of thousands Americans jobs “are supported every time we expand trade with Africa.”
He noted that progress will need to happen within Africa and stressed the importance of the rule of law, good governance, agriculture, and a good health system.
“Those things matter even more, because people should be able to start a business and ship their goods without having to pay a bribe or hire someone’s cousin,” he said, noting that conflict is also an impediment to progress.