President Obama on Saturday said the U.S. government wasn’t threatened by its growing competition with China for untapped goods and resources in Africa.
“I don’t feel threatened by it; I think it’s a good thing,” Obama said during a press conference with South African President Jacob Zuma on Saturday. “Our only advice is make sure it’s a good deal for Africa.”
Taking questions from reporters for 80 minutes, the two leaders touched on topics ranging from unrest in Egypt and the Middle East, to the legacy of ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela, the push for immigration reform back in the United States and Obama’s decision not to visit Kenya — his father’s homeland.
However, the core mission behind Obama’s transatlantic trip is to increase trade partnerships throughout Africa. And China has stepped up its presence in the region of late, attempting to cultivate some of the newly stabilized and underdeveloped areas of the continent.
While welcoming China’s growing focus on Africa, Obama advised area leaders not to let other countries mine their extensive natural resources without first securing jobs and favorable terms for Africans.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will meet with Mandela’s family later Saturday, but not the icon of the anti-apartheid movement himself. Mandela is fighting a lung infection in a South African hospital, where he remains in critical but stable condition.
However, Obama spoke to Mandela’s broader legacy, saying his accomplishments are all the more resonant in light of the many leaders who try to cling to power regardless of the will of their people.
“We as leaders occupy these spaces temporarily and we don’t get so deluded that we think the fate of our country doesn’t depend on how long we stay in office,” Obama said, comparing Mandela to America’s first president, George Washington.
And the president defended his decision not to visit Kenya, a country with deep ties to his past but one where the leader was recently charged with war crimes.
“The timing was not right for me as the president of the United States to be visiting Kenya when those issues are still being worked on, and hopefully at some point resolved,” the president said.
Though Obama mostly fielded questions related to foreign affairs and his goals in Africa, he did press the House to vote before its August recess on an immigration bill that cleared the Senate on Thursday.
“It’s not the perfect bill but it’s consistent with the principles I laid out,” Obama said. “Now the ball is in the House’s court … The time is right.”
However, House Speaker John Boehner has shown no eagerness to meet the president’s ambitious timeline, meaning the process will likely drag on through the coming months. And the House could break the Senate bill into separate pieces rather than voting on a comprehensive measure.
Later Saturday, Obama will host a town hall for students at the University of Johannesburg, where he will focus on youth engagement and the country’s break from the apartheid era.