One element of President Barack Obama’s Africa policy is to encourage a free press, although he offered repeated reminders for U.S. reporters traveling with him on the continent to be on their best behavior.
“Americans, behave yourselves,” he needled Saturday as a contingent of U.S. and South African media was pulled from a quick photo op with President Jacob Zuma.
Obama spoke just before their joint news conference and may have been trying to suggest his press corps keep its questions tight.
On Saturday, both U.S. and South African reporters asked multi-part questions. Obama didn’t try to cut anyone off, but instead said the U.S. press corps must be happy the news conference was taking place in a wood-paneled chamber inside Pretoria’s grand Union Buildings.
“This is much more elegant than the White House press room,” Obama said, referring to the more cramped media quarters in the West Wing. “It’s a big improvement.”
He kept up the theme of a long-winded U.S. press at the start of his meeting with African Union Commission Chairwoman Dlamini-Zuma.
“I might take some questions, except earlier in the press conference you guys asked 4-in-1 questions,” a grinning Obama teased.
At his earlier stop in Senegal, Obama apologized to host President Macky Sall on behalf the American media.
“Sometimes my press – I notice yours just ask one question,” Obama said. “We try to fit in three or four or five questions in there.”
Minutes before that comment, Obama had praised democratic progress in Senegal, specifically mentioning “a strong press” as part of that movement. However, the first Senegalese reporter to be called on lobbed a softball, simply asking Sall to describe the visit and any new prospects it posed for Africa.
Questioned about foreign policy, Obama said more than the security issues that “take up a lot of my time,” he gets great satisfaction from listening to regular people talk about building their businesses.
A top priority is the war that’s drawing to a close in Afghanistan, with U.S. combat troops scheduled to return home by the end of next year.
Another is keeping the U.S. public safe. “I can’t deviate from that too much,” Obama said before also mentioning the need to focus on turmoil across the Middle East.
But “as much as the security issues in my foreign policy take up a lot of my time, I get a lot more pleasure from listening to a small farmer say that she went from one hectare to 16 hectares and has doubled her income,” Obama said. “That’s a lot more satisfying and that’s the future.”