News Column

Obama, Bush Honor Embassy Bombing Victims

July 2, 2013
President Obama (file photo)

President Obama ended his African tour Tuesday with a ceremony honoring victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings and voiced confidence about Africa's future.

Obama and former U.S. President George W. Bush stood side by side at the wreath of red, white and blue flowers at the 1998 Embassy Bombing Memorial in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, heads bowed for a moment of silence before greeting some of the guests.

Several family members of victims and embassy staff who survived the bombings stood next to the memorial during the 10-minute ceremony.

On Aug. 7, 1998, al-Qaida conducted simultaneous terrorist attacks at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam. In Dar es Salaam, 10 Tanzanians were killed and more than 85 Americans and Tanzanians were injured. The blast in at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi killed at least 212 people and wounded an estimated 4,000.

Fifteen Tanzanian embassy staff who survived the attack still work at the embassy. The bombing occurred at the old embassy compound about 1 1/2 miles away at a site now home to a bank.

During remarks at the Ubungo Plaza of the Symbion power plant in Dar es Salaam, Obama reflected on his three-country African tour.

"I think about the farmers in Senegal who are harnessing new technologies," he said. "I think about the amazing young Africans I saw at the town hall down in Soweto [South Africa]."

"I think about the visit here to Tanzania," Obama said, mentioning programs to reduce malaria, tuberculosis and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS; progress made in education and agricultural improvements and progress as represented by the power plant.

"I'm inspired because I'm absolutely convinced [that Africa] will unleash a new era of prosperity," Obama said.

The plant had been shuttered but was revitalized through joint Tanzanian-U.S. efforts, highlighting Obama's new initiative to double access to electricity in Africa, and reflects his approach of combining public and private resources to help drive economic progress.

"The first step that we're going to take is to try to bring electricity to 20 million homes and business," he said. "This is just the beginning. We look forward to even more companies joining this effort."

"That is what all our efforts are going to be about, is making sure that Africans have the tools to create a better life for their people and that the United States is a partner in that process," Obama said. "It's going to good for Africa, it's going to be good for the United States and it's going to be good for the world."

While touring the facility, Obama and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete saw a demonstration of the "SOCCKET" ball by Unchartered Play Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Jessica Matthews and Unchartered Play Vice President Victor Angel. A SOCCKET ball is an energy-generating soccer ball that captures the kinetic energy generated during play to provide a renewable, off-grid power source.

Commenting on the ball during his speech, Obama said, "I don't want to get too technical, but I thought it was pretty cool. You can imagine this in villages all across the continent."

But for such an idea to work, "all of us have to feel a sense of urgency," Obama said. "If we are going to electrify Africa, we've got to do it with more speed."

"We want to focus on speed but we also want to do it right," he said. "The United States intends to be a partner."

Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, were in Dar es Salaam for a conference on African women sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute. While he and Obama attended the ceremony at the U.S. embassy memorial, their wives participated in the African First Ladies Summit.

"As you might guess, our overriding theme is freedom, freedom from ignorance -- our education initiative, freedom from disease -- our local health initiative, promoting free enterprise in the free market -- our economic initiative. And of course freedom from tyranny," Laura Bush said.

Bush, first lady Michelle Obama and other first ladies from across Africa discussed their role in promoting health, economic empowerment, and education for women.

Tanzanian first lady Salma Kikwete said the summit will consider "things that are of much significance to the well-being of women in Africa, namely education, entrepreneurship, and innovation."

Bush and Obama discussed some of the pressures that come with being first ladies and the importance of being strong role models for young girls.

"But being able to pursue our passions and do things that not only help our country and connect us with the rest of the world, it's a great privilege," Obama said. "So while people are sort of sorting through our shoes and our hair -- and whether we cut it or not ... we take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see. And eventually, people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what we're standing in front of."

Bush said she wanted to encourage "every first lady to speak out and speak up and let people know, because people are watching and they are listening. And you can be so constructive for your country if you speak up about issues that you think are important."




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