President Barack Obama showered praise Thursday on leaders of Sierra Leone, Malawi, Senegal and Cape Verde, calling them symbols of democratic success that could lead an emerging continent.
Obama met the leaders at the White House as part of an effort to promote nations in sub-Saharan Africa that can serve as exemplars for democratic development across the region.
"The reason that I am meeting with these four is they exemplify the progress that we are seeing in Africa," said Obama, noting that all of his guests had faced tough political challenges.
He noted Sierra Leone's civil war, Malawi's recent constitutional crisis, political turmoil in Senegal and formerly low-level growth in Cape Verde that have given way to stability and encouraging economic signs.
"They exemplify the progress that we are seeing in Africa," Obama said, adding that the discussions had focused on building on new democratic governments and political transparency and accountability to citizens.
"They recognize there is still more work to be done," said Obama, the son of a Kenyan father, offering to partner with African nations to improve transportation and economic infrastructure.
"No continent has a greater potential, greater upside than the continent of Africa," Obama said, though warning that problems still lingered, as violent extremists and drug cartels eye a foothold in the region.
"Economic prosperity doesn't happen if you have constant conflict."
Leaders in the meeting include President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Joyce Banda of Malawi and Prime Minister Jose Maria Pereira Neves of Cape Verde.
Obama hosted a similar meeting in 2011 with leaders of Benin, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Niger.
The US president released a new Africa strategy in June, declaring a continent torn by poverty, corruption and discord could be the world's next big economic success story.
The blueprint seeks to boost trade, strengthen peace, security and good governance and bolster democratic institutions, and is designed to help Africa's increasingly youthful population lead its own development.
Washington, tooling a regional policy toward trade and development, also views Africa's intractable conflicts with concern, including areas vulnerable to extremists such as in Somalia and Mali.