President Obama hosts forum with young African leaders

Last week was a remarkable week. Known as “Africa week”,  three major Africa-related programs were held: The President’s Forum with Young African Leaders, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act Forum, and the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program.

I will first cover the President’s forum.  It was a town hall style event with 115 young leaders from across Africa.  The president addressed the questions and concerns of young people from across the continent.

President Obama spent an hour talking with some of the young leaders of African civil society, in an unprecedented forum in the East Room of the White House.

He called Africa “the youngest continent,” and said that because a large percentage of Africans are under 30-years-old, his administration especially needs to reach the continent’s young people.

“If all you are doing is talking to old men like me, then you are not reaching the people who are going to be providing the energy, the new initiatives, the new ideas,” said President Obama. “And so we thought that it would be very important for us to bring the next generation of leaders together.”

The talks come as civil society and private sector leaders from more than 40 sub-Saharan countries had three days of talks in Washington, with 17 of these countries celebrating 50 years of independence in 2010.

Michelle Gavin, the senior director of African affairs at the US National Security Council, said the meetings are in keeping with the spirit of Obama’s remarks when he visited Ghana, west Africa last year.

“We’re partners, but we’re not the drivers,” Gavin told reporters at the State Department, recalling Obama said the future of Africa is up to Africans themselves.

“And the real drivers are African youth. It’s the lion’s share of the society. And they’re going to determine what the next 50 years will bring,” Gavin said.

The president encouraged the young leaders to stand up for democracy.

“If you are part of an organization where you have professed democracy, but women do not have an equal voice in your organization, then you are a hypocrite,” said Mr. Obama.

President Obama addressed questions about Africa’s most troubled countries – Zimbabwe and Somalia.
Sidney Chisi, who founded the Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe, raised a concern about abuses committed by his country’s president.

“Robert Mugabe is still using the rhetoric of sanctions, racism, property rights abuse and human rights abuse, in violation of the rule of law,” said Sidney Chisi.  Mr. Obama said he is “heartbroken” by the situation in Zimbabwe – a country, he said, that should be the “breadbasket of Africa.”

“I think Mugabe is an example of a leader who came in as a liberation fighter, and – I am just going to be very blunt – I do not see him serving his people well,” said President Obama.  The president said he would like to increase diplomatic and economic ties with Zimbabwe.  But he said he fears that doing so would entrench Mr. Mugabe’s rule.

The leader of the Somali Youth Leadership Forum, Abdi Najma Ahmed, then asked whether Americans are prepared to give financial and moral support to those working for democracy in Somalia.

“And being part of the diaspora that went back to risk our lives in order to make Somalia a better place – especially with what we are going through right now – how much support do we expect from the U.S.,” asked Abdi Najma Ahmed.
Mr. Obama responded by saying that Americans and the U.S. government desperately want Somalia to succeed.

“I think you will have enormous support from the people of the United States when it comes to trying to create a structure and framework in Somalia that works for the Somali people,” said Mr. Obama.  He said American and Somali interests intersect, which he also said is true of other African nations.

Shamima Muslim, who hosts a radio program in Ghana, said her listeners sometimes question the U.S. commitment to its relationships in Africa.  “Is America committed to ensuring a partnership that might not necessarily be beneficial to America, but [is] truly beneficial to the sovereign interests of the countries that we represent,” asked Shamima Muslim.

Mr. Obama replied that the interests of the United States and Africa often overlap, and that America has a huge interest in seeing development across Africa.

“We are a more mature economy and Africa is a young and growing economy,” he said. “And if you can buy more iPods and buy more products and buy more services and buy more tractors from us, that we can sell to a fast-growing continent, that creates jobs here in the United States of America.”

The president also took questions from young leaders from Mali, Liberia, Mozambique and Malawi.

He said that while corruption is still widespread in some African countries, the continent is on the move, thanks to its inspiring young people.

In his speech in Accra, Ghana, last year, Obama told African audiences of the need to advance entrepreneurship, education and the use of technology to help integrate Africa more fully into the global economy. Africa’s share of world trade is less than 2 percent, and Africa’s tremendous wealth in natural resources has not translated into greater prosperity for its people.

The Obama administration is dedicating significant resources to address some of these challenges. The $3.5 billion food-security initiative called Feed the Future helps 12 African-focus countries in modernizing their farm sectors. And the United States is working with African partners to maximize economic development and trade through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which is holding its annual meeting at the same time as the young leaders’ forum.

“These steps are about more than growth numbers on a balance sheet. They’re about whether a young person with an education can get a job that supports a family; a farmer can transfer their goods to market; an entrepreneur with a good idea can start a business,” Obama said. “It’s about the dignity of work; it’s about the opportunity that must exist for Africans in the 21st century.”

The United States has helped foster Africa’s trading capacity through AGOA. U.S. imports and exports from the 38 AGOA-eligible nations totaled $104.52 billion in 2008, a 28 percent increase from the previous year. Complete trade figures for 2009 are being compiled, but give an indication of another good year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

But Obama also said in Accra that the future of Africa is up to Africans. “The U.S. government’s role in [the young leaders’ forum] is as a convener, encouraging networks between young American and African leaders, and pursuing lasting partnerships on behalf of our common security and prosperity,” the White House said. “This dialogue and follow-up events in Africa will help the U.S. government better assess how to support Africa’s own aspirations going forward.”

In Ghana, Obama told Africans that “in the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges; an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives.”

This year 17 nations across sub-Saharan Africa are celebrating 50 years of independence. Since the early 1990s, democracy has made significant strides. Democratic elections have been held recently in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius and Ghana, which illustrates the importance that Africans have placed on democracy and democratic values, the White House said.

The young African leaders also met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, other government officials and civil society leaders.  This is what Secretary Clinton said about the importance of Africa.

I see Africa as a continent brimming with potential, a place that has so much just waiting to be grasped. Sixty percent of the population of Africa is under the age of 25. And that means that there’s a lot of work to be done to make sure that those young people are educated, are healthy, are motivated, are given the tools of opportunity. But it also means that Africa has not just the potential, but the promise of becoming a leader in innovation, in design, in creativity of all that you, your families, communities, and countries can become.”

The Secretary continued, “Across Africa, more citizens believe they now have the power and the duty to shape their own lives, to help their communities, to hold their governments accountable. So for all of the challenges, which we hear much about, I want to focus on these gains, because it is through this positive progress that we can motivate and incentivize even more to take place. And ultimately, it is up to you. The President and I very much believe in Africa’s promise and we can do what’s possible from afar to assist and to be front-row cheerleaders, if you will. But ultimately, it is up to you, and to citizens like you to make sure that we sustain and deepen the progress.

This event comes at a time when Africa has seen its relationship enhanced both strategically and economically by Washington.

“We feel when you look at the continent of Africa and the strategic significance on a go-forward basis, in terms of resources and frankly from trade and other relationships, we see this as a great opportunity to reach out to young leaders from across the continent,” McHale told reporters.

I think it is a great opportunity where African Young leader would be inspired with the sublime democracy spirit from Washington that African needs to build their future to the coming generations, to defeat diseases, to fight terror & conflicts and wars a great move toward peace building eradicating Disease such as HIV/AIDS, Malira , USA always stands with other nations. The White House & the Department of State are playing a great role in bringing nations together into a great Human Harmony.

Here is video of the event.

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  1. I love this Conference because as an African Professional in diaspora, my vision for my motherland is huge in many ways and i’m already working hard to make them come through. its just a pain that i was not there anyway, Thanks To God Almighty.

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