Obama to host four African leaders
US President Barack Obama will hold talks with four African leaders on Friday, including Ivory Coast's new President Alassane Ouattara, an unprecedented meeting for a president with close ties to the continent.
In a rare foray in foreign policy during a month of July largely devoted to the still-unresolved debt debate in Congress, Obama will welcome Ouattara along with Benin's President Boni Yayi, President Alpha Conde of Guinea and President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger.
The White House said in the president's official schedule: "The meeting provides an opportunity to underscore the (Obama) administration's support for emerging democracies, to highlight our partnerships with these countries and to discuss the building of strong democratic institutions, economic development and a range of regional issues."
Obama plans to deliver a statement to the press after the discussions in the White House's Cabinet Room, usually reserved for meetings of US cabinet secretaries and advisors.
The talks come three months after the end of a violent post-electoral crisis that shook Ivory Coast. They will mark the first meeting between Obama and Ouattara since the latter took power.
An estimated 3, 000 people died in the standoff after Ouattara's toppled predecessor Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power following November elections won by Ouattara, who was finally inaugurated on May 21.
The United States had unabashedly thrown its support behind Ouattara after the vote and Obama had personally contacted Gbagbo in early December to urge him to leave power, even offering to host him in the United States.
The Obama administration was then quick to recognise Ouattara as Ivory Coast's new and legitimate leader. Obama welcomed the April 11 arrest of Gbagbo in an underground Abidjan bunker by forces loyal to Ouattara, but also called for the perpetrators of the post-electoral violence to be punished.
In Ivory Coast, pro-Ouattara media, including the Nord-Sud newspaper, welcomed a "major meeting to close a historic visit" that serves as an "omen for a glorious future in light of the many expected investments."
Le Patriote, for its part, noted that the meeting marked the first time since John F. Kennedy hosted president Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1962 that an Ivory Coast leader was welcomed at the White House.
In Niger, ruling party spokesman Iro Sani also expressed enthusiasm about the meeting.
"The United States are champions of democracy. If they consider that a president can be frequented, then that means they approve of his commitment to democracy," he added.
Activist Ali Idrissa pointed to the international community's "positive outlook" on Niger, also pointing to the interest in the country's mining potential, namely oil and uranium.
Born in the United States to a Kenyan father and a white American mother, Obama has visited sub-Saharan Africa once since he began his term two and a half years ago -- in Ghana in July 2009.
During his visit, he had urged the continent to take its destiny into its own hands and fight undemocratic practices.
First Lady Michelle Obama also focused on democratic progress during her June visit to South Africa and Botswana, saying the two countries could serve as models to their neighbours.
In early June, President Obama received the leaders of oil-rich Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, and Gabon, Ali Bongo, calling on them to fight corruption.