WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Friday that the developing famine in eastern Africa hasn't gotten enough attention from the U.S. and needs an international response in which Africa must be a partner.
He spoke after a White House meeting with the presidents of Benin, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Niger.
"We discussed how we can partner together to avert the looming humanitarian crisis in eastern African," Obama said. "I think it hasn't gotten as much attention here in the United States as it deserves."
"But we're starting to see famine developing in, along the Horn of Africa, in areas like Somalia in particular. And that's going to require an international response. And Africa will have to be a partner in making sure that tens of thousands of people do not starve to death."
A drought and famine in Somalia have affected more than 11 million people, including 2.2 million Somalis who live in an area controlled by the militant group, al-Shabab, where aid groups can't deliver food.
The United Nations and the World Food Program delivered more than 50 tons of ready-to-use food and nutritional supplements to the capital of Mogadishu on Friday.
Obama said the four leaders are models for Africa because they have shown "extraordinary persistence" in promoting democracy despite great personal risk and enormous challenges, as in Ivory Coast.
Alassane Ouattara was elected president in Ivory Coast in November 2010 but had to sit on the sidelines for six months because Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office. U.N. and French troops ultimately helped force Gbagbo from power, clearing the way for Ouattara to become president in April.
The three other leaders Obama met with are: Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin, Alpha Conde of Guinea and Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger.
Obama noted that the former French colonies have been independent for more than 50 years, a period that he said was marked by extraordinary progress and missed opportunities.
He said the leaders are committed to bringing democratic practices and economic prosperity and security to their people, and pledged that the "United States will stand with you every step of the way."
Darlene Superville can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap