When Barack Obama stepped off Air Force One in Kenya it felt like a moment of affirmation and an opportunity to use the US president’s words to “call on the world to change its approach to Africa”.
As a continent, it depends less on aid now than it did in the past. Instead many countries which make up Africa are increasingly being seen as a global partner, not a minority shareholder in generating wealth, fighting terrorism and climate change.
Mr Obama made it clear that such a partnership demanded recognition, dignity and respect.
He argued that, in return, African nations needed to embrace the principles of equality, meritocracy and opportunity for all. Even if at times it grated with “the old ways of doing things” or challenged traditional beliefs.
But the US president also used the Africa tour as an opportunity to deliver some uncomfortable messages. Conspicuous by their absence were many heads of state at the Chinese built African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa – maybe that was just as well.
In what was the strongest performance on tour, the president seemed like a man with nothing to lose. With just a little over a year in office to go he knew he could perhaps be more bold, despite diplomatic difficulties he would have to navigate carefully.
Mr Obama made it clear that America would not be a lone voice rebuking its African friends when they strayed from the path of democracy.
He said he expected African leaders to do the same, through the African Union. For many years it’s been slammed by critics as being nothing more than a “talking shop”.
Perhaps the test of its mettle will be how it responds to the pressing troubles in South Sudan.
Diplomatic mastery in Iran: Obama’s Nobel worthy achievement?
There are powerful forces in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Gulf States and inside the US itself which remain desperate to halt reconciliation between the West and Iran. They remain determined to keep Iran in the cold. It would have been so easy for President Obama to give in to their pressure. It is to the president’s huge credit that he has resisted. In Iran, the same applies to Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani. There are deep forces inside the Iranian state who depend on a state of cold war with the West. It has required enormous courage and statesmanship from Rouhani, backed by Khamenei, to face them down.
It would have been so easy for the dispute with Iran to have degenerated into military conflict. On many occasions it nearly did so. There is always an alternative to war. It is called diplomacy. The tools of diplomacy are not glamorous. Diplomacy is about talking. Cultivating relationships, developing friendships, endless patience and time. This announcement above all is a triumph for diplomacy. Perhaps it is not coincidence that the Secretary of State, John Kerry, unlike George W Bush, actually saw armed combat as a decorated US navy lieutenant in the Vietnam War. Unlike Bush, John Kerry had experienced war and knows what it means.
It is ‘probably’ impossible to win the Nobel Peace Prize twice, so Barack Obama may miss out. There is no question that Kerry, who has been the finest US secretary of state since James Baker 25 years ago, and Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, would be very worthy winners.
Its worth remembering that there would have been no need for and Iranian nuclear deal had George W Bush and Tony Blair not vetoed Zarif’s offer made to the West at the Quai d’Orsay in the spring of 2005.
In recent years western leaders, influenced by neo-conservatism, have too often chosen to resolve conflict through war. What a marvelous signal it sends to the world that the potentially calamitous conflict over Iranian nuclear ambitions has been resolved without resort to force. This is a glorious moment for the world.