On the eve of President Barack Obama’s 55th birthday, he was greeted in song with “Happy Birthday” Wednesday by about a thousand participants at this year’s Young African Leaders summit in Washington.
Obama launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) six years ago to support an emerging generation of young African entrepreneurs, activists and public officials. Its flagship program, the Mandela Washington Fellowship, began two years ago with the goal of empowering young Africans through academic coursework, leadership training and networking.
“Today’s Africa is a place of unprecedented prosperity and opportunities,” Obama told the excited crowd, noting that he’d visited sub-Saharan Africa four times, more than any other U.S. president.
During his time as president, Obama said, “I’ve worked to transform America’s relationship with Africa by working to boost exports with Africa, promote good governance and human rights, advance security and help feed families.
“We’ve done this not just because we love the people of Africa. … It’s because the world won’t be able to deal with climate change or terrorism or expanding women’s rights — all the issues we face globally — without a rising and dynamic and self-reliant Africa. And that, more importantly than anything else, is dependent on a rising generation of new leaders.”
Both sides learning
The president said the U.S. partnership with Africa is a two-way street: “For all the experiences you are gaining here in America, we are learning from you. We are energized by your passion and learning from your perspectives. And this year, for the first time, Americans traveled to Africa to visit Mandela fellows in their home communities, so that Americans can learn about community building and more from Africans.”
More than 40,000 people applied to join the Mandela Washington Fellowship program this year. It was the largest number yet, more than double the size of previous years.
The three-day summit, which began Monday, featured a congressional forum, an expo with more than 100 organizations engaged in Africa, and Wednesday’s town-hall meeting with Obama.
The president announced new support from the Millenium Challenge Corporation, the U.S.-African Development Foundation and the Citi Foundation to provide Africans with grants and professional opportunities.
Starting next summer, African youth can gain technical and leadership skills through a new MCC program for interns, “Africa’s Promise,” supporting large-scale development projects that make up MCC-funded compact programs. The youth will learn the best practices on project management — including financial and public sector management — in the local country context.
“For Africa to reach its full potential, it will need experienced public sector leaders who can write the next chapter in Africa’s story,” MCC Chief Executive Officer Dana J. Hyde said.
Obama takes questions
Questions at the town hall touched on sanctions in Sudan, conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, leaders’ accountability in their public life, and Obama’s plans to continue the initiatives he’s developed after he leaves office. He also was asked what issues he faced during his time in office were the toughest.
“I’ve had my share of tough issues,” he told fellows at the young leaders summit. “The issue that had the greatest magnitude was the issue I faced when I first came into office, and that was that the world economy was in the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis that was then spilling over into the broader economy.”
Obama said daily sources of frustration for him have been the inability to stop world conflicts, such as in Syria and South Sudan, and the challenge of terrorism.
He addressed with a smile the ups and downs of the U.S. election year, saying, “You’ve also gotten a front-row seat for the fascinating, roller-coaster process of American democracy, being here during election season. I hope you’ve buckled your seat belts.”
“Democracy is hard everywhere,” Obama said, “even in the world’s oldest continuous democracy. It’s always challenging and it’s always messy. But as you watch our elections, I want you to know that one of the things that leaders in Washington agree on — both sides of the political aisle — is the importance of a strong American partnership with the nations and the people of Africa.”
Source: VOA NEWS