Obama also offered prayers for former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is gravely ill, ahead of Obama's planned visit to his country this weekend. Obama said he was inspired to become political active by Mandela's example in the anti-apartheid movement of being willing to sacrifice his life for a belief in equal treatment.
"I think he's a hero for the world," Obama said. "And if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we'll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages."
Later Obama plans to reflect on the ties many African-Americans share with the continent as he takes a tour of Goree Island, Africa's westernmost point. Africans reportedly were shipped off into slavery across the Atlantic Ocean through the island's "Door of No Return."
Thousands of boisterous revelers welcomed Obama's motorcade Thursday morning in Dakar, cheering and waving homemade signs as the first African-American president made his way to the presidential palace. A large sign outside his hotel gate had pictures of smiling Obama and Sall that read, "Welcome home, President Obama." Some in the crowd drummed, danced and sang, and many wore white as a symbol for peace.
Obama's focus in Senegal is on the modern-day achievements of the former French colony after half a century of independence. Sall ousted an incumbent who attempted to change the constitution to make it easier for him to be re-elected and pave the way for his son to succeed him. The power grab sparked protests, fueled by hip-hop music and social media, that led to Sall's election.
"Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa and one of the strongest partners that we have in the region," Obama said. "It's moving in the right direction with reforms to deepen democratic institutions."