L’AQUILA, Italy — President Obama called on African countries to do more to tackle corruption even as he unveiled a $20 billion international program to help the developing world grow more food to feed its hungry people.
Just hours before his scheduled departure for his first trip as president to sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Obama made a personal appeal to other leaders of the Group of 8 powers to donate more money to the effort, citing his own family’s experiences in Kenya. As a result, the initiative grew from $15 billion over three years that was pledged coming into the summit meeting to $20 billion.
At a news conference afterward, Mr. Obama repeated some of the arguments he used in a private session on the initiative, noting that when his father came to the United States, his home country of Kenya had an economy as large as that of South Korea per capita. Today, he noted, Kenya remains impoverished, undeveloped and politically unstable, while South Korea has become an economic powerhouse.
“There’s no reason African countries could not do the same,” the president said. “And yet in many African countries, if you want to start a business or get a job, you have to pay a bribe.” While wealthier nations have an obligation to help Africa, he said, African nations “have a responsibility” to build transparent and efficient institutions.
“They are not going hungry, but they live in villages where hunger is real,” he said referring to his family members still living in Kenya. “This is something I understand in very personal terms.”
At his news conference, the president effectively set September as a deadline for Iran to negotiate about its nuclear development program and if it does not, declared without elaborating that “we need to take further steps.” He also indicated support for rethinking the way the G-8 and other international organizations are structured to reflect the geopolitical changes of the last three decades and also ensure that there would be “fewer summit meetings.”
But as he again hailed the progress he said he made with Russia during a stop in Moscow earlier in the week, President Dmitri A. Medvedev returned to sharper rhetoric about American missile defense plans. He repeated a past threat to order the placing of short-range missiles in the western enclave of Kaliningrad if Mr. Obama proceeds with an anti-missile project in Poland and the Czech Republic.
“If we don’t manage to agree on the issues, you know the consequences,” Mr. Medvedev told reporters here, according to the Reuters news agency. “What I said during my state of the nation address has not been revoked.”
Moreover, just four days after he said at Mr. Obama’s side that “no one is saying that missile defense is harmful in itself or that it poses a threat to someone,” Mr. Medvedev said Friday that missile defense is “harmful” and “threatening to Russia.”
Mr. Obama’s comments on Africa may carry special resonance as the son of a Kenyan father. Other presidents have called on African countries to take more responsibility or fight corruption before, but Mr. Obama’s background gives him a connection and credibility that none of his predecessors could command. Just one generation removed from Africa himself, Mr. Obama occupies a powerful place in the African consciousness and he has chosen to use his first trip in office there to push a dual message aimed at rich and poor.
Mr. Obama planned to fly to Ghana on Friday night after completing the G-8 meetings and stopping by the Vatican to meet with Pope Benedict XVI. During a quick, one-day visit, he will address Ghana’s parliament, visit a hospital and, weather permitting, fly by helicopter to the coast to tour a notorious slave embarkation point.
The White House chose Ghana because it has become a model of democratic development and rule of law in a region that struggles with both. Both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush also visited Ghana.
Mr. Obama and the other G-8 leaders started their day at breakfast with counterparts from Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, who sought commitment from the rich nations to live up to their past pledges of doubling development assistance. The United States under Mr. Bush and now Mr. Obama has poured more money into development aid, but Italy and France have not fulfilled their vows.
The new food security initiative is designed to transform the traditional aid to poorer countries beyond simply donated produce, grains and meats to assistance in building infrastructure and training farmers to grow their own food and get it to market more efficiently.
The $20 billion pledged by the G-8 countries and several others represented here amounts to a substantial commitment if carried out, but it remains unclear how much of it is actually new money. The American share of $3.5 billion over three years represents a doubling of previous spending levels.
Advocacy groups responded cautiously, praising the spirit behind the commitment but raising doubts about how much of the money is genuinely new and how much will actually be delivered.
“The sums just aren’t adding up,” said Otive Igbuaor, head of ActionAid’s hunger campaign. “Is this all really new money? Given the G-8’s record on delivery, this is still very much a work in progress. So far they have been counting not just apples and oranges but more like apples, oranges, cauliflowers and beets.”
Oliver Buston, the Europe director for One, the advocacy group co-founded by the singer Bono, said the G-8 must do more than make promises. “All governments should now come forward and prove the amounts they pledged here are new. They need to make clear what they will do, by when. Some countries have done this; others have not.”
Daniel M. Price, who was Mr. Bush’s chief G-8 negotiator, said the Obama food initiative builds on the progress made in recent years but faces some of the same challenges.
“Two significant obstacles are Congressional resistance to local purchases for food aid and European resistance to opening their markets to the products of biotechnology,” said Mr. Price, now a partner at the law firm of Sidley Austin. “Both local purchase and biotech will be key drivers in boosting agricultural productivity in the developing world.”