From: THE NEW YORK TIMES
Michael Jackson, Pop Icon, Is Dead at 50.
LOS ANGELES — For his legions of fans, he was the Peter Pan of pop music: the little boy who refused to grow up. But on the verge of another attempted comeback, he is suddenly gone, this time for good.
Michael Jackson, whose quintessentially American tale of celebrity and excess took him from musical boy wonder to global pop superstar to sad figure haunted by lawsuits, paparazzi and failed plastic surgery, was pronounced dead on Thursday afternoon at U.C.L.A. Medical Center after arriving in a coma, a city official said. Mr. Jackson was 50, having spent 40 of those years in the public eye he loved.
The singer was rushed to the hospital, a six-minute drive from the rented Bel-Air home in which he was living, shortly after noon by paramedics for the Los Angeles Fire Department. A hospital spokesman would not confirm reports of cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at 2:26 pm.
As with Elvis Presley or the Beatles, it is impossible to calculate the full effect Mr. Jackson had on the world of music. At the height of his career, he was indisputably the biggest star in the world; he has sold more than 750 million albums. Radio stations across the country reacted to his death with marathon sessions of his songs. MTV, which grew successful in part as a result of Mr. Jackson’s groundbreaking videos, reprised its early days as a music channel by showing his biggest hits.
From his days as the youngest brother in the Jackson 5 to his solo career in the 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Jackson was responsible for a string of hits like “I Want You Back,” “I’ll Be There” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” “Billie Jean” and “Black and White” that exploited his high voice, infectious energy and ear for irresistible hooks.
As a solo performer, Mr. Jackson ushered in the age of pop as a global product — not to mention an age of spectacle and pop culture celebrity. He became more character than singer: his sequined glove, his whitened face, his moonwalk dance move became embedded in the cultural firmament.
His entertainment career hit high-water marks with the release of “Thriller,” from 1982, which has been certified 28 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, and with the “Victory” world tour that reunited him with his brothers in 1984.
But soon afterward, his career started a bizarre disintegration. His darkest moment undoubtedly came in 2003, when he was indicted on child molesting charges. A young cancer patient claimed the singer had befriended him and then groped him at his Neverland estate near Santa Barbara, Calif., but Mr. Jackson was acquitted on all charges.
Reaction to his death started trickling in from the entertainment community late Thursday.
“I am absolutely devastated at this tragic and unexpected news,” the music producer Quincy Jones said in a statement. “I’ve lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him.”
Berry Gordy, the Motown founder who helped develop the Jackson 5, told CNN that Mr. Jackson, as a boy, “always wanted to be the best, and he was willing to work as hard as it took to be that. And we could all see that he was a winner at that age.
Tommy Mottola, a former head of Sony Music, called Mr. Jackson “the cornerstone to the entire music business.”
“He bridged the gap between rhythm and blues and pop music and made it into a global culture,” said Mr. Mottola, who worked with Mr. Jackson until the singer cut his ties with Sony in 2001.
Impromptu vigils broke out around the world, from Portland, Ore., where fans organized a one-gloved bike ride (“glittery costumes strongly encouraged”) to Hong Kong, where fans gathered with candles and sang his songs.
In Los Angeles, hundreds of fans — some chanting Mr. Jackson’s name, some doing the “Thriller” dance — descended on the hospital and on the hillside house where he was staying.
Jeremy Vargas, 38, hoisted his wife, Erica Renaud, 38, on his shoulders and they danced and bopped to “Man in the Mirror” playing from an onlooker’s iPod connected to external speakers — the boom boxes of Mr. Jackson’s heyday long past their day.
“I am in shock and awe,” said Ms. Renaud, who was visiting from Red Hook, Brooklyn, with her family. “He was like a family member to me.”
Dreams of a Comeback
Mr. Jackson was an object of fascination for the news media since the Jackson 5’s first hit, “I Want You Back,” in 1969. His public image wavered between that of the musical naif, who wanted only to recapture his youth by riding on roller-coasters and having sleepovers with his friends, to the calculated mogul who carefully constructed his persona around his often-baffling public behavior.
Mr. Jackson had been scheduled to perform 50 concerts at the O2 arena in London beginning next month and continuing into 2010. The shows, which quickly sold out, were positioned as a comeback, with the potential to earn him up to $50 million, according to some reports.
But there had also been worry and speculation that Mr. Jackson was not physically ready for such an arduous run of concerts, and his postponement of the first of those shows to July 13 from July 8 fueled new rounds of gossip about his health.
Nevertheless, he was rehearsing Wednesday night at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. “The primary reason for the concerts wasn’t so much that he was wanting to generate money as much as it was that he wanted to perform for his kids,” said J. Randy Taraborrelli, whose biography, “Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness,” was first published by Citadel in 1991. “They had never seen him perform before.”
Mr. Jackson’s brothers, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Randy, have all had performing careers, with varying success, since they stopped performing together. (Randy, the youngest, replaced Jermaine when the Jackson 5 left Motown.) His sisters, Rebbie, La Toya and Janet, are also singers, and Janet Jackson has been a major star in her own right for two decades. They all survive him, as do his parents, Joseph and Katherine Jackson, of Las Vegas, and three children: Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, born to Mr. Jackson’s second wife, Deborah Jeanne Rowe, and Prince Michael Jackson II, the son of a surrogate mother. Mr. Jackson was also briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department said the department assigned its robbery and homicide division to investigate the death, but the spokesman said that was because of Mr. Jackson’s celebrity.
“Don’t read into anything,” the spokesman told reporters gathered outside the Bel-Air house. He said the coroner had taken possession of the body and would conduct an investigation.
At a news conference at the hospital, Jermaine Jackson spoke to reporters about his brother. “It is believed he suffered cardiac arrest at his home,” he said softly. A personal physician first tried to resuscitate Michael Jackson at his home before paramedics arrived. A team of doctors then tried to resuscitate him for more than an hour, his brother said.
“May our love be with you always,” Jermaine Jackson concluded, his gaze aloft.
In Gary, Ind., hundreds of people descended upon the squat clapboard house were Mr. Jackson spent his earliest years. There were tears, loud wails, and quiet prayers as old neighbors joined hands with people who had driven in from Chicago and other nearby towns to pay their respects.
“Just continue to glorify the man, Lord,” said Ida Boyd-King, a local pastor who led the crowd in prayer. “Let’s give God praise for Michael.”
Shelletta Hinton, 40, drove to Gary from Chicago with her two young children. She said they had met Mr. Jackson in Gary a couple of years ago when he received a key to the city. “We felt like we were close to Michael,” she said. “This is a sad day.”
As dusk set in, mourners lighted candles and placed them on the concrete doorstep. Some left teddy bears and personal notes. Doris Darrington, 77, said she remembered seeing the Jackson 5 so many times around Gary that she got sick of them. But she, too, was feeling hurt by the sudden news of Mr. Jackson’s death.
“He has always been a source of pride for Gary, even though he wasn’t around much,” she said. “The older person, that’s not the Michael we knew. We knew the little bitty boy with the big Afro and the brown skin. That’s how I’ll always remember Michael.”
Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary on Aug. 29, 1958. The second youngest of six brothers, he began performing professionally with four of them at the age of 5 in a group that their father, Joe, a steelworker, had organized the previous year. In 1968, the group, originally called the Jackson Brothers, was signed by Motown Records. The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon. The group’s first four singles —
“I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” — all reached No. 1 on the pop charts in 1970, a feat no group had accomplished before. And young Michael was the center of attention: he handled virtually all the lead vocals, danced with energy and finesse, and displayed a degree of showmanship rare in a performer of any age.
In 1971, Mr. Jackson began recording under his own name, while continuing to perform with his brothers. His recording of “Ben,” the title song from a movie about a boy and his homicidal pet rat, was a No. 1 hit in 1972.
The brothers (minus Michael’s older brother Jermaine, who was married to the daughter of Berry Gordy, Motown’s founder and chief executive) left Motown in 1975 and, rechristened the Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. Three years later, Michael made his movie debut as the Scarecrow in the screen version of the hit Broadway musical “The Wiz.” But movie stardom proved not to be his destiny.
A Solo Sensation
Music stardom on an unprecedented level, however, was. Mr. Jackson’s first solo album for Epic, “Off the Wall,” released in 1979, yielded four No. 1 singles and sold seven million copies, but it was a mere prologue to what came next. His follow-up, “Thriller,” released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age. The video for title track, directed by John Landis, was an elaborate horror-movie pastiche that was more of a mini-movie than a promotional clip.
Seven of the nine tracks on “Thriller” were released as singles and reached the Top 10. The album spent two years on the Billboard album chart and sold an estimated 100 million copies worldwide. It also won eight Grammy Awards.
The choreographer and director Vincent Paterson, who directed Mr. Jackson in several videos, recalled watching him rehearse a dance sequence for four hours in front of a mirror until it felt like second nature.
“That’s how he developed the moonwalk, working on it for days if not weeks until it was organic,” he said. “He took an idea that he had seen some street kids doing and perfected it.”
Mr. Jackson’s next album, “Bad,” released in 1987, sold eight million copies and produced five No. 1 singles and another state-of-the-art video, this one directed by Martin Scorsese. It was a huge hit by almost anyone else’s standards, but an inevitable letdown after “Thriller.”
It was at this point that Mr. Jackson’s bizarre private life began to overshadow his music. He would go on to release several more albums and, from time to time, to stage elaborate concert tours. And he would never be too far from the public eye. But it would never again be his music that kept him there.
Even with the millions Mr. Jackson earned, his eccentric lifestyle took a severe financial toll. In 1988 Mr. Jackson paid about $17 million for a 2,600-acre ranch in Los Olivos, Calif., 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Calling it Neverland after the mythical island of Peter Pan, he outfitted the property with amusement-park rides, a zoo and a 50-seat theater, at a cost of $35 million, according to reports, and the ranch became his sanctum.
But Neverland, and Mr. Jackson’s lifestyle, were expensive to maintain. A forensic accountant who testified at Mr. Jackson’s molesting trial in 2005 said Mr. Jackson’s annual budget in 1999 included $7.5 million for personal expenses and $5 million to maintain Neverland. By at least the late 1990s, he began to take out huge loans to support himself and pay debts. In 1998, he took out a loan for $140 million from Bank of America, which two years later was increased to $200 million. Further loans of hundreds of millions followed.
The collateral for the loans was Mr. Jackson’s 50 percent share in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a portfolio of thousands of songs, including rights to 259 songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, considered some of the most valuable properties in music.
In 1985, Mr. Jackson paid $47.5 million for ATV, which included the Beatles songs — a move that estranged him from Mr. McCartney, who had advised him to invest in music rights — and 10 years later, Mr. Jackson sold 50 percent of his interest to Sony for $90 million, creating a joint venture, Sony/ATV. Estimates of the catalog’s value exceed $1 billion.
Last year, Neverland narrowly escaped foreclosure after Mr. Jackson defaulted on $24.5 million he owed on the property. A Los Angeles real estate investment company, Colony Capital L.L.C., bought the note, and put the title for the property into a joint venture with Mr. Jackson.
A Scandal’s Heavy Toll
In many ways, Mr. Jackson never recovered from the child molesting trial, a lurid affair that attracted media from around the world to watch as Mr. Jackson, wearing a different costume each day, appeared in a small courtroom in Santa Maria, Calif., to listen as a parade of witnesses spun a sometimes-incredible tale.
The case ultimately turned on the credibility of Mr. Jackson’s accuser, a 15-year-old cancer survivor who said the defendant had gotten him drunk and molested him several times. The boy’s younger brother testified that he had seen Mr. Jackson groping his brother on two other occasions.
After 14 weeks of such testimony and seven days of deliberations, the jury returned not-guilty verdicts on all 14 counts against Mr. Jackson: four charges of child molesting, one charge of attempted child molesting, one conspiracy charge and eight possible counts of providing alcohol to minors. Conviction could have brought Mr. Jackson 20 years in prison. Instead, he walked away a free man to try to reclaim a career that at the time had already been in decline for years.
After his trial, Mr. Jackson largely left the United States for Bahrain, the island nation in the Persian Gulf, where he was the guest of Sheik Abdullah, a son of the ruler of the country, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Mr. Jackson would never return to live at his ranch. Instead he remained in Bahrain, Dubai and Ireland for the next several years, managing his increasingly unstable finances. He remained an avid shopper, however, and was spotted at shopping malls in the black robes and veils traditionally worn by Bahraini women.
Despite the public relations blow of his trial, Mr. Jackson and his ever-changing retinue of managers, lawyers and advisers never stopped plotting his return.
By early this year, Mr. Jackson was living in a $100,000-a-month mansion in Bel-Air, to be closer to “where all the action is” in the entertainment business, his manager at the time, Tohme Tohme, told The Los Angeles Times. He was also preparing for his upcoming London shows.” He was just so excited about having an opportunity to come back,” said Mr. Paterson, the director and choreographer.
Despite his troubles, the press and the public never abandoned the star. A crowd of paparazzi and onlookers lined the street outside Mr. Jackson’s home as the ambulance took him to the hospital.
Reporting was contributed by John M. Broder from Washington; Randal C. Archibold from Los Angeles; Susan Saulny from Gary, Ind.; and Melena Ryzik, Ben Sisario, Brian Stelter and Peter Keepnews from New York.
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Friday, June 26, 2009
From: THE NEW YORK TIMES
Friday, June 12, 2009
TRANSCRIPT: KENYA BUDGET 2009/2010 DELIVERED ON 11TH JUNE, 2009, BY FINANCE MINISTER UHURU KENYATTA
Theme: Overcoming Today’s Challenges for A Better Kenya Tomorrow
Mr. Speaker, the 2009 Budget is premised on the need to urgently overcome the immediate socio-economic challenges that we face today. This we must do in order to restore the confidence of Kenyans in their country and its institutions. As part of these initiatives we must strive to return the economy back to our long term growth path, while at the same time, providing impetus for building a cohesive and prosperous Kenya that we all desire. This Budget that I have the honour to table in this August House today, therefore, marks the first and bold step towards progressively building a better future for our people, consistent with our Vision 2030.
The objective of the 2009 Budget, Mr. Speaker, therefore, is to stimulate growth and protect jobs, reduce poverty, enhance food security and protect the poor. In framing this Budget, I have been guided by five underpinning principles, namely:
First, maintaining a stable macroeconomic environment and creating an enabling environment for business
Second, developing key infrastructure facilities and public works countrywide to stimulate growth, create employment and reduce poverty
Third, promoting equitable regional and social development for stability
Fourth, investing in environment and food security; and
Fifth, strengthening governance not because we have to, but rather, because it is the way forward in improving public service delivery.
Mr. Speaker, in response to the current challenges, and to avert a further slide in the expansion of our national cake, we plan to implement a fiscal stimulus package that focuses on sectors that will generate maximum benefit. Mr. Speaker, to address the existing imbalances in regional development, which have been a real source of social discontent, the stimulus programme is deliberately designed to cover all parts of the country. The programme has projects intended to expand irrigation-based agriculture with a view to ensure food security. We will, as part of this programme, construct wholesale and fresh-produce markets countrywide for the purpose of improving marketing and distribution of agricultural produce.
PRIORITY PRO-GROWTH AND PRO-POOR POLICY MEASURES
Mr. Speaker, underlying these principles is a two-pronged strategy that aims at focusing expenditures on priority areas that have higher impact on growth, such as infrastructure and public works, while at the same time, ensuring sufficient expenditures to cushion the poor and vulnerable. Mr. Speaker, the rest of my speech now elaborates specific policy measures I intend to take within the framework of the five principles I have outlined above to overcome the challenges we face today and build a stronger and prosperous Kenya.
Maintaining a Stable Macroeconomic Environment
Mr. Speaker, at this time of crisis, it is more critical that we uphold our commitment to maintaining a stable macroeconomic environment. In this regard, we will continue to pursue fiscal policy and structural reforms aimed at restoring our economy back to a high growth path but without undermining the objective of monetary policy to bring inflation down to the 5 percent target we have set for ourselves. In managing monetary policy, the Central Bank will strive to ensure availability of sufficient liquidity to support economic activity while also allowing for gradual rebuilding of official foreign exchange reserves, which have been eroded by the adverse impact of the exogenous shocks mentioned earlier.
Mr. Speaker, with respect to fiscal policy, let me say at the outset that it has not been easy to find room in the Budget for our commitments to national development objectives as outlined in Vision 2030, and to deal with the current challenges affecting the welfare of our people. As such, we have had to strike a balance between supporting growth and maintaining medium-term debt sustainability. Mr. Speaker, budgets are about priorities given the reality that financial resources are limited.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, faced with the current economic challenges and bearing in mind that raising taxes is not a prudent option under the current circumstances, we as a Government, chose to partly accommodate the temporary financing shortfalls with savings arising from rationalization of government expenditures to remove waste and non-priority expenditure. I will shortly elaborate on the expenditures that we have rationalised. For the balance of the financing shortfall, we have adopted a programme of responsible borrowing.
Hon. Members, we consider the approach we have taken in terms of raising additional resources beyond the tax we expect to collect, not only appropriate but also prudent. This is a must if we have to safeguard jobs and bolster economic recovery. I am aware of the concerns that have been raised regarding the amount of money we intend to borrow from the domestic sources to finance the budget. I want, Mr. Speaker, to allay any fears Kenyans may have on this proposed borrowing. Our debt in relation to gross domestic product (GDP) is currently below 40 percent; thanks to the prudent manner in which we have managed our public debt in the past.
Moreover, debt sustainability analysis done taking into account the planned new borrowing demonstrates that we face a low risk of debt distress. Therefore, we are in a position to comfortably borrow in the short term to finance the proposed fiscal stimulus package without compromising our macroeconomic objectives.
Mr. Speaker, under the proposed fiscal framework, our total public debt is projected to peak to 44.5 percent of GDP in 2009/10 before declining thereafter. It is, however, instructive to note that even at this level our debt position remains within tolerable levels and is much lower than that for some of the large industrial countries. Nonetheless, over the medium term, we intend to bring down the budget deficits in order to commensurately reduce the debt ratio. We are also seeking for additional concessional assistance from our development partners, which we intend to use to pay off part of the domestic borrowing that will be applied to finance the fiscal stimulus package.
Creating Fiscal Space Through Expenditure Rationalisation, Strengthened Tax Administration and Enhanced Absorption of External Resources.
Mr. Speaker, as I have already indicated, a major policy challenge we face today is how to push the frontiers of economic growth to a sustained higher level, create economic opportunities and reduce poverty. Implementing measures to achieve these objectives means the government budget for 2009/2010 will be expansionary. The overall balance is expected to be in deficit by about 6.6% of GDP.
Mr. Speaker, as I have already mentioned, we plan to accommodate our financing shortfall partly by rationalizing expenditures to remove waste and generate savings. As Hon. Members will recall, in the Supplementary Budget for 2008/09, I took measures to streamline government expenditures to generate savings without compromising delivery of public services.
But Mr. Speaker, let me remind Hon. Members that these are difficult times. And difficult times require bold decisions. Indeed, this is what Kenyans expect of us. For this reason I am going a step further to institute more bold measures so that I can raise the resources we require to finance the priority pro-growth and pro-poor expenditures planned in this Budget.
To this end, Mr. Speaker, I have reduced from the ceilings of all ministries; the following non-priority expenditures that I believe will have no material impact on service delivery. These entail reductions as follows:
80 percent on furniture and fittings;
60 percent on advertisement and publicity;
40 percent on telephone expenses;
20 percent on hospitality supplies and services, which include, and I emphasize, include payments to various taskforces appointed by the government 5.10 percent on domestic and foreign travel and subsistence.
Mr. Speaker, government expenditure on transport has increased substantially over the years and unless checked, it will soon become unsustainable. In this regard, I will be requesting the cabinet to approve a new Transport Policy to address this problem early in this financial year.
With this in mind, I have put a moratorium on purchase of new motor vehicles, except for security purposes. Any purchase of new vehicles will be allowed only under very exceptional circumstances. Mr. Speaker, we will also introduce use of fuel cards for the purchase of fuel for government vehicles because we believe this measure will significantly reduce the amount of money the government is spending on fuel.
Mr. Speaker, in the face of the difficult economic times we find ourselves today, and responding to the call by Kenyans to contain non-priority expenditures, it is about time we demonstrated in concrete terms that we are a government that listens to its people. In this regard and after consulting with The President and The Prime Minister, I am directing that all Cabinet Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Provincial Commissioners and other senior public officials who are entitled to official vehicles, shall henceforth be allowed only one vehicle whose engine capacity should not exceed 1,800 cc.
Mr. Speaker, once the new vehicles are in place, I am also directing all Accounting Officers to ensure that vehicles at the disposal of public officials that exceed the engine capacity I have just specified, are withdrawn and surrendered to the Chief Mechanical and Transport Engineer who will arrange for their sale by end of September 2009. Proceeds thereof will be used to finance priority areas such as resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons.
Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, no public official will be exempted from this policy.
Therefore, I expect all Accounting Officers to strictly implement this measure to the letter. In this regard, I am pleased to report to this House that the Treasury, under my leadership, has fully complied with this directive starting today. Mr. Speaker, I have decided to lead by example.
Therefore, effective from today, I am now using an official car that is compliant with this requirement.
Mr. Speaker, the austerity measures we have undertaken are only the first step toward rationalizing our budget going forward. We shall continue to scrutinize all votes of ministries in the course of this fiscal year with a view to identifying further areas of savings. To this end, I have instructed the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury to launch a comprehensive audit of the payrolls of all organization paid through the Exchequer. I expect the report of this audit to be ready by the end of October 2009.
Mr. Speaker, our utilization of donor funds has been low and this is unacceptable because it delays the development benefits to our people. In a sense, development delayed is development denied and Kenyans cannot afford this especially during these difficult times when it is not easy to obtain additional external financing. In this regard, part of the fiscal space will come from enhanced absorption of external funds from the current rate of about 50 percent to about 80 percent in FY 2009/10. I will establish a Unit at the Treasury to work with line ministries in monitoring project performance in order to unlock the constraints that are responsible for implementation delays. In due course I will be outlining guidelines specifying how these targets will be achieved.
We will also be introducing an Electronic Project Monitoring Information System (e-Promis) before the end of this year. Once operational, this system will enable Treasury to continuously monitor project performance at every stage. In order to ensure transparency and encourage public participation, the e-PromisPromis portal will also be open to the public to enable wananchi to monitor the performance of projects of their interest. When fully operational, it will be possible to monitor all government projects including those funded through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
Mr. Speaker, on enhancing revenue collection, we recognize the need to further deepen the reforms, including implementing measures targeted at enhancing the operational efficiency of the Kenya Revenue Authority. Achieving these goals requires strengthening the institutional arrangements of KRA and holding all the officers to the highest standards of ethical and integrity behaviour in the conduct of business, while at the same time creating incentives for performance.
In addition, sanctions for under-performance or actions leading to loss of revenue must be enforced across the entire spectrum of the organization.
FURTHER DEVELOPING KEY INFRASTRUCTURE FACILITIES AND PUBLIC WORKS COUNTRYWIDE TO STIMULATE GROWTH, CREATE EMPLOYMENT AND REDUCE POVERTY
Supporting Businesses and Enhancing Competitiveness Promoting Conducive Business Environment
Mr. Speaker, the Government recognizes the important contribution the private sector has made in the process of building our economy over the years. For this reason we have been instituting a number of reforms to ensure they even play a greater role. We have in this regard come along way in terms of improving the business environment, but, as we continue to be reminded by our private sector partners, these are not enough. In this regard, I will elaborate on some of the measures we are proposing to address some of these challenges while presenting the tax policy measures planned for FY 2009/10 later.
Mr. Speaker, for now I will address myself to the regulatory challenges that arise mainly from the failure to appreciate the cost of regulation to businesses. This is compounded by lack of an appropriate framework for consulting with other public entities and more important the private sector itself when introducing new regulatory procedures or levies. To address these challenges, we will in the course of this fiscal year: (i) submit to this House the Business Regulation Bill that will empower the Business Regulatory Unit legal power to vet and recommend to the Minister for Finance any proposed new levies; and (ii) make operational the e-Registry for business licences; and (iii) fast-track implementation of ongoing licensing reforms.
Reforms under Agenda Four
Mr. Speaker, under the National Accord, the Grand Coalition Government committed itself to facilitate far reaching and coherent reforms in order to create the environment for a stable democratic and prosperous country, popularly as known Agenda IV. We recognize that without focusing on these reforms, our efforts to build a prosperous Kenya may not be realized. In this regard, the Treasury has allocated Ksh. 2 billion toward implementation of reforms under Agenda Four, in addition to specific monies provided for under respective ministries and agencies.
Mr. Speaker, through this Budget, we are also fast-tracking reforms in the Judiciary to expedite service delivery and in particular to ensure faster disposal of commercial and civil cases in order to reduce the cost of doing business as well as congestion in our corrective facilities and Courts. To this end, I have provided the Judiciary Kshs.3.1 billion, of which Ksh 250 million will be used to fund the pilot phase of the automation and modernization of our courts and employ 20 additional Commissioners of Assis. On successful completion of the first pilot phase, we will build on this experience and roll this program countrywide. We remain fully committed to adequately supporting the Judiciary in order to ensure prompt justice so that no more Kenyans languish in our corrective and remand facilities due to avoidable delays in our courts.
Maintaining Law and Order and Providing Security
Mr. Speaker, we all know that adequate security is essential to achieving the objectives of our Vision 2030. For this reason, the Government will continue to fully support our security agencies in order to ensure that individuals, communities and investors are well secured. In this regard, the Government has decided to enhance community policing by engaging our youth to work under the guidance of the regular police force in collaboration with the chiefs to strengthen security at the constituency level. In this regard, I have allocated funds to support this initiative, including funds to purchase motorised bicycles for use by the local chiefs and youths engaged in community policing. We expect this initiative will inculcate a sense of responsibility and discipline in our youth, and as an incentive for those who are successful, the government encourages the recruitment units of our disciplined forces to give priority to these young men and women.
Accelerating Infrastructure Investment
Mr. Speaker, over the last six years or so, we have invested heavily in infrastructure. The ongoing construction works throughout the country clearly attest to this. We must thank our development partners, particularly the EU, the World Bank, the AfDB and China for the valuable support in the road and energy sector. As part of the Government's fiscal stimulus program, we will continue to allocate substantial amounts of financial resources to infrastructure projects in order to enhance competitiveness and stimulate higher growth for employment and wealth creation. In this Budget therefore, Mr. Speaker, I have allocated Kshs.140 billion for infrastructure spending and this will cover roads, rail, ports, broadband and energy.
Mr Speaker, while we have made significant progress in expanding the road net work in the rural areas, we still face serious challenges with respect to timely routine maintenance to ensure they are functional throughout the year. This is despite the fact that part of the fuel levy fund is available for this purpose. After consulting with my parliamentary colleagues, I propose to this House that the portion of the fuel levy meant for the rural roads be channeled through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) for the maintenance of rural roads at the constituency level. I am confident that CDF mechanism will ensure timely and efficient utilization of these funds for the intended purposes.
Positioning the Port of Mombasa as Regional Service Hub
Mr. Speaker, the port of Mombasa plays an important and strategic role not only to Kenya’s development but also to the development of the hinterland countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Southern Sudan, that it serves. However, the current clearing system for cargo faces a number of challenges that compromise our country’s ability to maximise on the benefits that accrue from international trade. Indeed, documentation procedures are largely manual, resource intensive and expensive. To position the port to continue playing its strategic role more effectively in an increasingly competitive environment, there is need to urgently address these challenges. In this regard, the Government will establish in the course of the year a single window port community based system to facilitate faster, efficient and competitive clearance of cargo at the port of Mombasa. In addition, plans are underway to dredge the port and make it accessible for bigger ships, while the on-going work on the construction of a second container terminal will be accelerated.
Mr. Speaker, concurrent with the initiative we are taking to improve the efficiency of the port of Mombasa, we are also attending to the challenges in the railway system. In this regard, the Government of Kenya, working jointly with the Government of Uganda, has made decision to construct a new standard gauge railway line from Mombasa to Western Kenya and to Kampala in Uganda. The new railway line will not only reduce the cost of transport but also facilitate faster movement of freight and passengers, thereby enhancing competitiveness and improving the welfare of our people.
Mr. Speaker, considering that construction of the new railway will significantly reduce the maintenance costs of the Northern Corridor roads, it makes economic sense to use part of the road maintenance fund to invest in this railway. In this context, I will, in consultation with the Minister for Roads, be proposing an amendment to the Roads Maintenance Levy Act and the Kenya Roads Board Act to make road-bed for railway line development and maintenance eligible for funding. Meanwhile, I have allocated Ksh. 3 billion to initiate this important project. I expect the Ministries and Agencies responsible to expedite the process with a view to commencing construction by the last quarter of this financial year.
Mr. Speaker, the development of infrastructure in Nairobi Metropolitan Area is equally crucial to making Nairobi a competitive service hub. Apart from improving provision of water and security services, we are fast tracking the development of a light rail system in Nairobi and its suburbs, and construction of bypasses and modern interchanges to solve current traffic congestion. As a first decisive step, and in partnership with an infrastructure development company called InFraCo (a Private Infrastructure Development Group comprising of the World Bank, SIDA, DFID, Governments of Switzerland and Netherlands), we have commenced work toward the upgrade of the Nairobi Commuter railway system serving the heavily populated parts of Nairobi in order to reduce traffic jams and transport related costs currently hurting businesses as well as the poor urban dwellers.
Expanding Access to Affordable Energy Supplies for all Kenyans
Mr. Speaker, to enhance supply of environmentally friendly and affordable energy to our economy, the focus of our investments will be on development of renewable energy such as geothermal, wind, bio-fuel, biomas and use of solid waste. The Government will also continue to scale up investment in transmission while at the same time upgrading existing ones in order to stem systemic transmission loses that partly contribute to the high cost of energy. The Government will also continue to expand the rural electricity program covering all major trading centres countrywide. Toward this end, I have allocated Kshs 7 billion. In addition, the Government will encourage private sector participation in electric power generation from wind, biomass, and recycled waste within the Public Private Partnership (PPP) framework.
Leveraging Emerging ICT Opportunities
Mr. Speaker, after three years of heavy investments in ICT infrastructure, our economy is about to be hooked onto the global digital grid through the undersea fibre optic cables. We must leverage on this affordable broadband connectivity to accelerate economic growth, expand economic opportunities so as to reduce poverty among our people. Appropriate utilization of this infrastructure would yield some savings as well as create efficiencies for a better and more productive economy thereby creating jobs and moving our economy up the value chain and reducing the cost of doing business.
Mr. Speaker, to further expand access to benefits presented and to ensure no Kenyan is left behind by the ICT revolution, I propose the following investments as part of the stimulus package:
First, I have allocated Ksh1.3 billion to purchase Mobile Computer Laboratories for each constituency for use by our high schools. This initiative will serve as a pilot project since in the coming years we intend to expand the scope of the project to include primary schools.
Second, we intend to support the roll out of the Digital Villages in partnership with the World Bank. These centres will create business hubs and expand economic opportunities in rural areas.
Third, immediately launch a one million laptop/computer campaign countrywide in conjunction with Broadband providers by undertaking to underwrite part of the interest payments on funds borrowed to purchase these laptops and computers. Mr. Speaker, I trust that this campaign would benefit University Students, public servants as well as ordinary wananchi, thereby enabling them to take advantage of the cheaper broadband now available in our country.
Promoting Regional Development for Equity and Social Stability
Mr. Speaker, the promotion of equitable regional and social development is a central objective of the Grand Coalition Government. The thrust of this Budget therefore is to ensure that the budgetary resources reach the people at the constituency level. . Since, our focus will be to stimulate economic activity at the constituency level, we will channel these resources as conditional grants through the respective ministries, using the existing Constituency Development Fund framework. This will facilitate local accountability, strengthen oversight to ensure all the funds allocated are strictly used for the planned purposes.
Mr. Speaker, during the ERS period, the Government established the Constituency Development Fund, and as a result, we have achieved tremendous progress in taking development to the people. To scale up the good work and ensure wananchi continues to benefit from this Fund, I am this year allocating Ksh.12 billion. With this amount, each constituency will now receive on average KShs.60 million to finance its various development projects. In addition, as I said earlier, I will be proposing amendments to the Roads Maintenance Levy Act and Kenya Roads Board Act to allow for 22 percent of the Road Maintenance fund to be used for the maintenance of constituency roads. I have also proposed appropriate amendments to allow this amount totaling Ksh. 4.7 billion to be channeled directly to constituencies through the Constituency Fund Board. With these amendments, I have increased significantly resources channeled through CDF for development and road maintenance from KShs.10 billion in 2008/09 to about Kshs 18 billion or an average of Kshs 86 million per constituency, representing 80 percent increase over the year ending June 2009. I expect these bold and historical measures will go a long way to measurably improve the conditions of our rural roads, promote commerce and consequently improve the welfare of our people.
Mr. Speaker, even after allocating about Kshs 90 million to each constituency for development, we are going a step further through this budget to make it possible for every Kenyan to participate in restoring their economy back on to a higher growth path, working together to expand economic opportunities and creating employment. In this regard, I have allocated additional Kshs 22 billion, an equivalent of Ksh. 105 million per constituency as conditional Economic Stimulus or Resilience Package toward financing infrastructure development covering education and healthcare, and other development projects. The funding for these interventions is provided under the respective ministry’s votes and will be released through the CDF Framework to those specific projects under strict guidelines to be developed by the Treasury.
Public Procurement to Promote disadvantaged Groups, micro, small and medium enterprises
Mr Speaker, in an effort to boost the welfare of disadvantaged groups, micro, small and medium enterprises, I direct the Public Procurement Oversight Authority to make appropriate regulations that will enable these groups to participate effectively in Government tenders. These regulations should ensure that contracts awarded through the CDF, LATF and other development funds are reserved for tenderers who are located and operate in those regions except where such local capacity is not available.
This initiative, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to local-level budgeting, marks a departure from the past, and building on the experience of this first piloting phase, it will be scaled up to ensure we ultimately achieve in a constructive manner equitable development in our country. And through these initiatives Hon Members, Kenyans will emerge with strength when the global economy recovers, and enhance their capabilities and competitiveness for the long term.
Expanding Economic Opportunities in Rural Areas for Employment Creation
Mr. Speaker, as a decisive step toward equitable regional development, this year’s budget also focuses on rural development by creating income and employment opportunities to our people. In this regard, I have proposed a number of local-level initiatives.
First, I have allocated a total of Ksh 1.8 billion or Kshs 10 million per constituency for the construction of fresh-produce and wholesale markets in countrywide to address the missing markets and facilitate commerce, trade and rural enterprise development.
Second, I have also allocated Ksh. 1.1 billion or Kshs 8 million per constituency for the construction of 200 fish-farming ponds covering 140 constituencies countrywide to improve nutrition and create over 120,000 employment and income opportunities to our people.
Third, I have allocated Ksh. 525 million or Ksh. 2.5 million per constituency for the construction of jua-kali sheds and another Ksh 210 million or Ksh. 1 million per constituency to equip these sheds with appropriate tools and equipment in order to empower our youth directly benefit from the massive construction works we have initiated at the local levels.
Fourth, I have further allocated additional Ksh. 500 million to Youth Development Fund and another Ksh. 500 to boost the Women Enterprise Fund kitty in order to extend credit for business start-up and expansion throughout the country. Going forward, I expect these Funds will also be devolved to equitably benefit youth and women at the constituency level.
Resettlement of IDPs
Mr. Speaker, the post election crisis displaced many people from their homes. While resettlement efforts have progressed well, a number of the IDPs continue to live in makeshift camps. To deal with the problem once and for all, I have allocated KShs. 2.2 billion to support the resettlement of IDPs. A further KShs. 500 million has been set aside to assist them rebuild their destroyed businesses. In addition to this, Mr. Speaker, through the assistance from the African Development Bank, the Ministry of State for Special Progammes will be implementing “The Restoration of Farm Infrastructure and Rural Livelihoods” project intended to resettle and empower communities affected by post election violence in the two Districts of Uasin Gishu and Molo. The project components will include reconstruction of 19,000 low-cost, 3-room farm houses, including produce storage space for returning farm households, with priority given to female headed households; and the Purchase of Agricultural inputs comprising of maize seeds and fertilizer through the National Accelerated Agricultural Input Access Programme (NAAIAP).
Northern Kenya and Arid and Semi Arid Lands
Mr Speaker, with regard to the development of Northern Kenya and other Arid lands, we plan to undertake numerous interventions in the region. Key projects include the Isiolo–Modagashe–Garrisa–Wajir road at a cost of 1.2 billion; development of water infrastructure at KShs 4.4 billion; installation of solar panels in secondary schools in ASAL areas at KShs 200 million; and construction of abattoirs costing Kshs 130 million in isiolo and Garissa. In addition, resources for Arid Lands Resource Management Programme will be enhanced to KShs 2.5 billion in 2009/10.
Promoting Growth of Tourism and Export Sector
Mr. Speaker, following the post election violence, our tourism sector suffered major losses with a decline of about 60 percent in the first quarter. With the sector expected to play a key role in achievement of Vision 2030 objectives, strong actions are required to be taken for the sector to withstand the current challenges and return to its impressive performance that was witnessed prior to post election disturbances. As a step towards this direction, I have allocated Ksh 800 million to be channelled through the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation (KTDC) to be lent to business enterprises in this sector in order to protect jobs. In addition, Mr. Speaker, I have allocated another KSh 400 million for tourism marketing, targeting the high-end market.
Mr. Speaker, as I have already alluded, the current global economic recession has adversely affected our export sector, especially the horticulture industry. In order to cushion this vital sector and enable players to continue employing our people, I will be outlining later in my speech tax proposals to improve cash flow.
Mr. Speaker, we recognize that these measures may not be enough to fully mitigate the challenges facing these sectors. In this regard, we are planning to introduce additional measures in the course of this fiscal year to further safeguard and stabilize our exports and tourism against exogenous shocks. But in these challenges, we see opportunities. In this regard, I want to encourage sector players to now focus on value addition and diversification of their products to reduce possible risks in the future.
Making Quality Healthcare Accessible to all Kenyans
Mr. Speaker, as we strive to overcome the current challenges, we must recognize that building a better Kenya requires a healthy population. To achieve this objective, we plan to provide an efficient health infrastructure covering all parts of our country, and raise the quality of health care to our people. In this regard, we are initiating a comprehensive program of healthcare reforms covering infrastructure development, promotion of preventive healthcare and devolved management of facilities.
Mr. Speaker, in addition to direct funding to the two ministries of Health to finance ongoing programs, I have allocated a total of Ksh 4 billion or Kshs 20 million per constituency under the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation for the construction and equipping of a health centre in every constituency. This is the first step in our 3-year journey towards achieving a countrywide healthcare facility upgrade programme. Mr. Speaker, as a Government that cares and listens to its people, we are going a step further, consistent with our policy to promote preventive healthcare, to employ on contract terms and at the local level, additional 4,200 nurses or 20 nurses per constituency countrywide. To this end, I have allocated a total of Kshs.655 million, which translates to Kshs 3.1 million for each constituency.
Mr. Speaker, to ensure effective delivery of both preventive and curative healthcare in our health facilities countrywide, I have allocated additional KShs.500,000 for the purchase of 5 motor cycles for health workers and another 30 bicycles for community health workers in every constituency. I have also allocated Kshs 5 million as additional funding toward constituency medical supplies kit. This is in addition to the funding I have allocated through the two ministries of Health to KEMSA for the purchase of medicine and other medical supplies. And to ensure efficiency in drug supply chain, storage and inventory control, I expect the two Ministries of Health, through KEMSA, to ensure an appropriate procurement system is put in place.
Improving Infrastructure and Quality Education Countrywide
Mr. Speaker, having put pupils back to class through Free Primary education and Free Tuition in Secondary Schools, our focus is now on how to improve quality of education throughout the country. In addition to the annual allocation towards payment of teachers and running of schools, I have allocated an additional KShs.1 billion each to Free Primary and Free Secondary Tuition to take care of increased cost of goods and services.
Mr. Speaker, through this budget, we are also initiating a countrywide program to upgrade infrastructure and quality of education in order to give our children a better foundation consistent with the requirements of the modern labour market. To this end, I propose to:
Allocate Ksh 1.5 billion or Kshs 7 million per constituency for the up grading of two primary schools, and equipping them with water harvesting and under ground water storage facilities; For far too long, we have made reference to a few schools as centres of excellence. Time has now come when such schools should be available in all parts of our country. I have therefore allocated Ksh 6 billion or Kshs 30 million per constituency for the construction of one secondary school as a centre of excellence. I expect the completion of this school upgrade program will provide equal life-long opportunities to all our pupils throughout the country;
Allocate Ksh 1.3 billion or Kshs 6 million per constituency for recruiting additional 10,500 primary school teachers on contract or 50 primary school teachers per constituency to improve the quality of educational service. I also propose to allocate Ksh 353 million or about Ksh 2 million per constituency to recruit additional 2,100 secondary school teachers on contract terms, or 10 teachers per constituency as a first step; and Recognizing the need to hook our schools to the ICT grid and promote e-learning, I propose to allocate Ksh 1.3 billion or Kshs 6 million per constituency toward the purchase of a digital laboratory bus.
Investing in Environment and Food Security
Mr. Speaker, the extreme floods and droughts, incidences of vector and water-borne diseases, famine and malnutrition are some of the indicators of climate change.
Recognizing the importance of our environment for sustainable development, the Government remains fully committed to addressing the deterioration in the forest cover and quality of the urban environment. Efforts to rehabilitate the five water towers have been initiated, while a master plan for the restoration and rehabilitation of Nairobi River Basin has been developed to guide our conservation efforts. We are doing this because we want to ensure we do not bequeath our mistakes to the next generation.
Mr. Speaker, our children should know and appreciate the value of a clean environment and learn how to protect mother-nature. In this regard, I have allocated Kshs 1.2 million for tree planting programs in 20 primary schools in each constituency. This program is expected to contribute toward conservation of our environment and give our children a practical opportunity to participate in the conservation of their environment.
Mr. Speaker, countries are going green in their quest to generate clean energy and Kenya must not be left behind. In order to move forward in transforming Kenya into a green economy, we will establish a Green Energy Facility to offer interest free long-term loans to firms that opt to replace conventional high cost energy generation with low cost green energy alternatives. The facility will be funded by the government and managed by a consortium of selected banks. This is aimed at lowering energy costs and reducing consumption of power from the national grid. The government will also adopt energy saving methods including replacement of all conventional bulbs with energy saving bulbs produced locally. As part of this greening programme, we shall also fast track completion of five power generation projects that have been identified.
Mr. Speaker, to operationalise this initiative, I have earmarked, as government contribution, Kshs 500 million. I expect to elicit donor support through this initiative to scale up its operation. In addition, Mr. Speaker, I have allocated an addition Kshs 400 million for the installation of solar technologies in the Arid and Semi-Arid regions.
Ensuring Food Security
Mr. Speaker, agriculture remains the mainstay of our economy. However, our dependence on rain-fed agriculture has continued to expose our nation to famine. Through this budget we are initiating a programme intended to reduce our reliance on rain-fed agriculture and thereby substantially enhance our food production. This, we are committed to do in order to ensure that we begin our journey to a food-secure Kenya so that Kenyans never go hungry again.
To this end, the government through the coordination of relevant ministries and departments is working out an implementation strategy over the medium term focusing on mechanization, irrigation, use of hybrid seeds, water harvesting, providing mixture of chemical and green crop nutrients, efficient storage and marketing systems and application of scientific farming methods.
As a first step to ensuring our country is food secure in the medium term, I have allocated substantial resources to respective ministries responsible for agriculture and irrigation and regional development. In addition we have allocated Ksh. 3 billion toward rehabilitation and expansion of irrigable land under Bura, Hola, Tarda, Wei Wei and Kerio Valley. From these investments we expect to harvest about 1 million bags of rice and maize by the end of December 2009. As we scale up resources toward irrigable agriculture, we are confident that this great Nation will emerge as a net exporter of food by 2012.
Taking Care of the Vulnerable Members of Our Society
Mr. Speaker, with the current economic challenges, the need to protect the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable groups in our society has become even more urgent. While some existing programmes have worked well, their coverage is limited. In particular, the urban poor have not been reached. It is for this reason that the government is in the process of developing a national social protection policy, aimed at target in all the deserving members of our society. In this regard, the Government has formed a Taskforce to spearhead the development of a well targeted food subsidy scheme to ensure food security and improve the welfare of the vulnerable groups. To support this programme and to ensure its roll-out in the course of the year, I have earmarked KSh 1 billion out of the KSh 2 billion set aside for drought relief in the budget.
Mr. Speaker, this social protection programme will supplement the initiatives I have outlined under the economic stimulus package, which are aimed at expanding economic opportunities in both rural and urban areas for employment creation, social stability and equitable development.
Mr. Speaker, as a society we must care for those amongst us who are either elderly, physically or mentally challenged, recognising that disability is not inability. In this budget, I have allocated Kshs 200 million interest-free revolving fund toward financing business ventures by our brothers and sisters who are physically challenged. Through this budget, Mr. Speaker, I am going a step further to gazette regulations allowing disabled persons, employed or self-employed tax free income up to Kshs 150,000 per month, and further allow for additional deduction to their taxable income of up to Kshs 50, 000 to cushion them against expenses on drugs, purchase of disability related devises, home care services and treatment.
Mr Speaker, We have in the past taken steps to improve the welfare of our senior citizens through our tax system. This time round, I have allocated Kshs 200 million as a cash transfer to elderly persons of over 65 years and those mentally challenged. Modalities for ensuring effective and timely transfer of such funds on a monthly basis will be developed before the end of this year. Mr. Speaker, we recognize that such a program is not complete without taking into account those physically and mentally challenged in special institutions of learning and care. To this end, I have also allocated Kshs 100 million for purchasing specialized equipments and other requirements to meet the needs of these members our society.
Strengthening Governance for Sustainable Development
Mr. Speaker, we recognize the importance of good governance for sustainable development and, in this context, the government is committed to enhancing its governance programme for better service delivery. This will ensure an efficient and effective public service that will provide an enabling environment for sustainable business growth and development.
Mr. Speaker, the Treasury on its part, will continue to strive to ensure that public resources are used efficiently and effectively for their intended purposes. We will intensify our commitment to working with other Ministries, Departments and Agencies in the government, to enhance financial integrity, and advance good governance.
Mr. Speaker, to ensure value for money to taxpayers and enhance accountability, the
Government will in the first quarter of fiscal year 2009/10 develop and enforce sector specific public work benchmarks covering such areas as the construction of roads, bridges, dams and boreholes.
Mr. Speaker, it has become clear that public entities are paying extremely highly inflated prices for items that are easily available in the market. Going forward, procurement for all common user items shall only be allowed within the established price reference. To address the problems encountered in procurement including urgent purchases at the closure of the financial year, we shall also henceforth ensure that proper annual procurement plans are prepared and all procurements are implemented within the agreed plans. We will also introduce strict ethical and integrity code of behaviour for all officers working on public financial management – procurement officers, finance officers, accountants, CDF officers, budget supplies officers and internal auditors
Mr. Speaker, we are optimistic that these measures implemented within the framework of the Governance Strategy for Equity and Poverty Reduction will enhance Financial Integrity in the Public Service by making the misuse of public resources difficult to commit, likely to be detected, and, certain to be punished. We reaffirm our full commitment to restoring the much needed trust, and the confidence of the Kenyan people in the Government, and that of investors in the Kenyan economy.
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Excerpts from the press on Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University. The read whole articles directly from source, click on the title links.
Related Post: [click here to READ Barack Obama's SPEECH TRANSCRIPT at Cairo University]
The New York Times
On one level, President Obama’s speech succeeded in reaching out to Muslims across the Middle East, winning widespread praise for his respectful approach, his quotations from the Koran and his forthright references to highly fraught political conflicts.
For a president who proclaimed a goal of asking people to listen to uncomfortable truths, it was clear that parts of his speech resonated deeply with his intended audience and others fell on deaf ears, in Israel as well as the Muslim world.
Again and again, Muslim listeners said they were struck by how skillfully Mr. Obama appropriated religious, cultural and historical references in ways other American presidents had not.
[click here to READ SPEECH TRANSCRIPT]
The Financial Times
For years the likes of Osama bin Laden have claimed to speak on behalf of oppressed Muslim communities as they perverted the message of Islam and exploited the conflicts in the Middle East to stoke fear and violence. But Mr Obama took them on, not with threats to “smoke them out” or warnings that “you are with us or against us”, but with eloquence, authority, a deep grasp of Muslim history and an understanding of Muslim grievances.
However, he urged Muslims all over the world to embrace Mr Obama’s gesture and work towards a harmonious existence between Muslims and other religions. “He has opened the doors for dialogue and I hope the Muslim world will give him the benefit of the doubt and work towards better relations with the US.”
Daily Nation – Nairobi
But the executive coordinator of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, Mr Al-Amin Kimathi, dismissed Mr Obama’s calls as “hot air”. “There was clearly no policy pronouncements in President Obama’s speech, which renders it meaningless. We had hoped he would denounce Israeli occupation of Palestinian land because it is at the heart of the bad blood between America and the Muslim world,” he said.
He also challenged the Kenyan Government to uphold the rights of Muslims instead of acting to “please the US.” Speaking to the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims from Cairo, Obama pledged to pursue Palestinian statehood and said US troops did not want to stay in Iraq or Afghanistan forever. He also offered mutual respect in dealings with America’s long-time foe, Iran.
But the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem) deputy national chairman, Mr Abdullahi Kiptanui, asked Mr Obama to back his words with actions.
“He should lead by example by removing American forces from Iraq so that Iraqi people can determine their own destiny without US interference,” Mr Kiptanui said and challenged Mr Obama to denounce America’s support for Israeli’s occupation of Palestinian land, saying it was a major cause of the bad blood and mutual suspicion between Washington and Muslims worldwide.
“For as long as America continues taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Muslims across the world will never take them seriously,” he said. The national coordinator of the National Muslim Leaders Forum, Mr Abdullahi Abdi, also welcomed the American leader’s overtures to the Muslim world.
Amen, Mr. President....From beginning to end, President Obama's speech was a concert of enlightenment compared to President George W. Bush's famous farewell news conference in the Muslim world (which resulted in two Iraqi size-10 shoes being boomeranged toward his head).
The main themes of the address resonated well with Palestinian and Israeli officials, while a Jewish settlers' group -- upset that Obama spoke against settlement activity -- found problems with the speech, and others, like a Hamas official, expressed mixed or negative views.
Wow, that is quite a change from your past political interactions with Muslims, Mr. President. As most Muslim-Americans vividly remember, during the 2008 presidential election, when certain nasty and xenophobic right-wing elements in America tried to paint Obama as some kind of "crypto-Muslim" Manchurian candidate, we did not see then-candidate Obama go, even once, within 12 feet of an American mosque entrance or Muslim political campaign event.
The Guardian UK
Obama's messages on the hot-button issues of Israel, the Palestinians and Iran did not break new ground, while passages on Afghanistan, Iraq and fighting violent extremism also replayed familiar themes. Still, some of his strongest words were reserved for the ever-contentious issue of Israel and the Palestinians, whose life under occupation was "intolerable".
He referred to his decision to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and did not use the Bush-era phrase "war on terror". Religious freedom and women's rights were also emphasised – a challenge to intolerance and bigotry.
The Standard – Nairobi
Obama’s speech was an effort to restore the tarnished US image among many of the more than one billion Muslims around the world, damaged by former President George W Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the treatment of US military detainees.
The choice of Cairo for the speech underscored Obama’s focus on the Middle East, where he faces huge foreign policy challenges, from trying to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to curbing Iran’s nuclear programme.
Obama, who is hoping to build a coalition of Muslim governments to back his diplomatic moves, offered no new proposals to advance the Middle East peace process, saying Palestinians "must abandon violence" and urging them to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.
Easier said then done, of course. The notion of "turning the page" comes easily to many Americans, but is odd and unsettling to cultures still living with the results of historic wrongs.
Another thing struck me as distinctly political: Obama's constant references to his Muslim background, boyhood days in Indonesia, and frequent citations from the Quran sounded a bit odd coming from a man who made strenuous efforts to ignore those aspects of his autobiography in the 2008 campaign for the White House.
In fact, Obama's campaign attacked critics who insisted on using his middle name; now, here was Barack Hussein Obama on stage in Cairo dropping a "shukran" (Arabic for "thank you" here) and an "assalaamu alaikum" (peace be unto you) there.
[click here to READ SPEECH TRANSCRIPT]
1.President Barack Obama's visit - What's in for Africa?
2.Obama cracks the code to reach Islam
3.Excerpts from the press on Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University
4.Obama’s Egypt Tour: Its Historical Significance
By Roula Khalaf | From The Financial Times
No wonder extremist leaders were nervous ahead of Barack Obama’s landmark address in Cairo, frantically firing off warnings to Muslims not to fall for his words.
For years the likes of Osama bin Laden have claimed to speak on behalf of oppressed Muslim communities as they perverted the message of Islam and exploited the conflicts in the Middle East to stoke fear and violence.
But Mr Obama took them on, not with threats to “smoke them out” or warnings that “you are with us or against us”, but with eloquence, authority, a deep grasp of Muslim history and an understanding of Muslim grievances.
[CLICK READ TRANSCRIPT]
Opening with a broad smile and the Muslim greeting of “Assalum Alaykum” (peace be upon you), Mr Obama drew on his family ties to Islam (mentioning his middle name Hussein) and his respect for Islamic civilisation to present himself as a credible interlocutor eager to end the “cycle of suspicion and discord”.
Rarely, if ever, has an American leader drawn so much applause from an audience in the Muslim world, or dared to quote the Koran so often (the only glitch in Mr Obama’s speech, and it was minor, was to refer to the Muslim headscarf, which he defended, as a hajib, rather than a hijab). The audience, selected by the US to include friends and foes of America, gave Mr Obama a standing ovation.
Throughout the speech his message was the US was neither weak nor looking to appease its enemies but would act with fairness and on the basis of mutual respect.
Yes, the US has made mistakes, he said, acknowledging it had played a role in the 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew a democratically elected government. But he insisted that “we must not be prisoners” of the past.
If there was a magic list of words his audience wanted to hear, he delivered it. He spoke of the pain of colonialism, the suffering of Palestinians under occupation (their situation was “intolerable”), and the need for Israel to stop expanding settlements.
He underlined the US’s resolve to withdraw from Iraq and, eventually Afghanistan, without leaving “military bases”, countering deeply held suspicions in the region. And he highlighted a continued commitment to “democracy” and the rule of law, even as he warned that no country should impose its model of governance on another.
But he stated bluntly the US bond with Israel was “unbreakable” and called on Palestinians and Arab governments to contribute to the search for peace and choose “progress” over the “self-defeating” policies of the past.
With the change of tone from the Bush years, and the gracious delivery – the word “terrorism” did not even feature – Mr Obama has started turning the page on eight years in which the “war on terror” was perceived by Muslims as an attack on Islam.
Even before the speech, there were signs that thanks to his personal appeal, the US’s battered image in the Arab world was starting to improve. There were also hints that in Iran, for example, Mr Obama was perceived by the regime as more threatening than George W. Bush because of his ability to present a more moderate face of America.
But the speech also poses risks for Mr Obama. While he addressed masterfully the conflicting pressures the US faces in the region, he will find translating them into coherent policies far more challenging, if not impossible.
Mr Obama called for a joint effort to create a world where extremists no longer threatened Americans, US troops returned home, Israelis and Palestinians lived in secure states of their own, and nuclear energy was used only for peaceful purposes. It is an ambitious vision that would transform the Middle East, but it raises expectations far beyond the US’s ability to deliver.
[CLICK READ TRANSCRIPT]
1.President Barack Obama's visit - What's in for Africa?
2.Obama cracks the code to reach Islam
3.Excerpts from the press on Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University
4.Obama’s Egypt Tour: Its Historical Significance
A transcript of the U.S. president's speech, A New Beginning, as released by the White House. The speech was delivered on June 4, 2009.
Thank you very much. Good afternoon. I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I'm grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I'm also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: Assalaamu alaykum. continues below.....
1.President Barack Obama's visit - What's in for Africa?
2.Obama cracks the code to reach Islam
3.Excerpts from the press on Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University
4.Obama’s Egypt Tour: Its Historical Significance
We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.
Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.
So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.
I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there's been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." (Applause.) That is what I will try to do today -- to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.
Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I'm a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.
As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam -- at places like Al-Azhar -- that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities -- (applause) -- it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality. (Applause.)
I also know that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they've excelled in our sports arenas, they've won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson -- kept in his personal library. (Applause.)
So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. (Applause.)
But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (Applause.) Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one."
Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. (Applause.) But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores -- and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. (Applause.)
Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. (Applause.)
So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.
Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.
For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. (Applause.) That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.
And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared. (Applause.)
Now, that does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: We must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.
The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.
In Ankara, I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. (Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.
The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I'm aware that there's still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.
Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military -- we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.
And that's why we're partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths -- but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as -- it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace.
Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who've been displaced. That's why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.
Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. (Applause.) Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."
Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future -- and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people -- (applause) -- I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. And that's why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.
And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)
So America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.
America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)
For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Applause.)
That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations -- the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them -- and all of us -- to live up to our responsibilities.
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered.
Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.
At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.)
And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.
And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.
America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.
Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)
The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.
This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.
I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude, and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It's about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.
I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) And any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I'm hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.
The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)
I know -- I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)
Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Barack Obama, we love you!
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.
Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it's being challenged in many different ways.
Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.) And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.
Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.
Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.
In fact, faith should bring us together. And that's why we're forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action -- whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.
The sixth issue -- the sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights. (Applause.) I know –- I know -- and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. (Applause.) And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.
Now, let me be clear: Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.
I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. (Applause.) Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity -- men and women -- to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams. (Applause.)
Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.
I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and change in communities. In all nations -- including America -- this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we lose control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities -- those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.
But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradictions between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies enormously while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.
And this is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf states have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century -- (applause) -- and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas. I'm emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.
On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America. (Applause.) At the same time, we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.
On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.
On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We'll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops. Today I'm announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.
All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.
The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek -- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.
I know there are many -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort -- that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country -- you, more than anyone, have the ability to re-imagine the world, to remake this world.
All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort -- a sustained effort -- to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.
It's easier to start wars than to end them. It's easier to blame others than to look inward. It's easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There's one rule that lies at the heart of every religion -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples -- a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.
We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.
The Holy Koran tells us: "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."
The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."
The Holy Bible tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Applause.)
The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.
Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
2:05 P.M. (Local)