DAKAR: United States (US) President Barack Obama hit out at discrimination against gays in Africa and hailed the continent’s “amazing” progress and potential on Thursday (Friday in Manila) on the first leg of a three-country tour.
But Obama had to struggle to keep his message of economic development and democratization to the fore in Senegal, as Nelson Mandela’s fading health and a spy standoff with Moscow stole attention.
Crowds lined Dakar’s streets to see Obama’s motorcade and drummers heralded Obama at the presidential palace, suggesting locals, unlike many Americans, still cling to the “Yes We Can” optimism of his first term.
But controversies gripping Washington followed Obama to Africa and drew him onto delicate ground when he was asked by reporters about a US Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage in a country where homosexuality is a crime.
Obama, the son of a Kenyan, said he understood different religions and cultures prized distinct beliefs and traditions, but that the simple principle of equality should be the guide for states and governments.
“I want the African people to just hear what I believe,” Obama said.
“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you . . . people should be treated equally.”
Senegalese President Macky Sall replied that though Senegal was a “very tolerant country, which does not discriminate in terms of inalienable rights of the human being,” it was not ready yet to decriminalize homosexuality.
“But of course this does not mean that we are all homophobic,” he added.