President Obama is convening a first-ever, three-day conference in August with more than 100 young leaders from a cross section of African life to examine how they see Africa’s future over the next half century, and to help craft innovative solutions to regional challenges.
“Together with American counterparts and U.S. government officials, the participants will share their insights on key themes of youth empowerment, good governance, and economic opportunity,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement July 21.
The President’s Forum with Young African Leaders will be held at the White House and State Department August 3–5, as well as at a variety of locations in the Washington area with American business leaders and nongovernmental organizations. Delegates are coming from 45 countries and represent an array of political, economic, cultural and social arenas in their African homes.
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.”
More than 100 delegates will meet at the White House on the afternoon of August 3 for a town hall meeting with the president “to discuss their vision for transforming their societies over the next 50 years,” Gibbs’ statement said. The delegates will hear from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and senior leaders at the State Department earlier on August 3.
The delegates are also scheduled to meet with under secretaries of state Judith McHale and Maria Otero on the future of Africa and how they will translate ideas into actions, the State Department said.
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.