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Obama Met Young African Leaders – What You Missed!

Pres. Obama speaking to Young African Leaders

Obama’s choice of celebrating Africa’s next 50 years with tomorrow’s leaders has been interpreted by some as a snub to the continent’s current heads of state. I have to disagree. The continent will not achieve success without young African leadership at the helm.
Obama’s forum simply says what needs to be said:

“No one can do it for Africa but Africa itself. Not even Obama.”

In case you missed it, on August 3rd – 5th, 2010; President Obama convened a three-day conference 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.
Seventeen African nations mark 50 years of independence this year and we can all agree 1960 was a radical, exciting time for just about anyone of African descent.  Big Deal.  A lot of noise was made about this in Paris, where Cameroonian President Paul Biya and Burkina Faso‘s Blaise Compaore joined French President Nicholas Sarkozy in applauding France’s former colonies.  A lot more stink was made in the news about this particular celebration, not just because of the obvious irony –celebrating 50 years independence in Paris at the behest of the French president–but because of the human rights track record of the likes of Compaore, who has been associated with the murder of his predecessor, Africa’s own Che GueveraThomas Sankara.
Meanwhile in the United States, President Obama threw a different kind of fete for Africa.
The White House Young African Leaders Forum was something of a Town Hall meeting Obama called it. One hundred fifteen under-age-35 leaders from 47 sub-Saharan African nations attended.  Invited guests included Anas Aremeyaw AnasEditor of Crusading Guide newspaper, Emmanuel Pumpuni Asante – Head of Programs, The Ghana Center for Democratic Development & Shamima MuslimPresenter, Flagship News Magazine Program; Host, “Good Morning Ghana” all from Ghana.
Also in attendance were Djibouti entrepreneur Miguil Hasan-Farah, who runs an accounting firm; “The Real Enchilada” radio show host Tumie Ramsden from Botswana; Ivory Coast’s activist journalist Aminata Kane-Koneprotect who promotes Muslim women’s rights and Malawi’s HIV/AIDS activist Tamara Kapichira-Banda.
Obama succinctly summarized the key take away from his own speech;

“And so when you go back and you talk to your friends and you say, what the main message the President had was — we are rooting for your success, and we want to work with you to achieve that success, but ultimately success is going to be in your hands.  And being a partner means that we can be there by your side, but we can’t do it for you.”

Obama’s choice of celebrating Africa’s next 50 years with tomorrow’s leaders has been interpreted by some as a snub to the continent’s current heads of state, some of whom are openly labeled dictators (describing Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Obama said that “he is not serving his people well”).  The New York Times run a brief on the forum titled, “White House Party for Africa Leaves Out Leaders”. I have to disagree totally to that!
Instead of reading a diplomatic bruise into the situation, I see a vote of confidence for where Africa is going and the young innovators most likely to take the continent there.  Certainly, there are luminaries past the age of 35 who share this vision of a better Africa, but to me, there is a palpable generational shift in the expectations African youth have for what is possible. I see this as the call for our generation. Wake Up, African Youths..!!!
Obama told young African leaders that as they work to build strong economies with jobs and opportunity, the United States will work with them, promoting the trade and investment on which growth depends. But ultimately the future of African is up to Africans.

“It will be up to you — young people full of talent and imagination — to build the Africa for the next 50 years,” the president said.

Just as our parents and grandparents had the seemingly insurmountable task of liberating Africa from colonialism in their youth, our plight has to be picking up where they left off (mind you some of them are Africa’s current leadership) and doing the so-called impossible, making Africa an undisputed success.  If they could shed the yoke of political and socio-economic oppression 50 years ago, surely can’t we can be the generation that leaves behind sound institutions and government/economic systems that serve their people?  And to think of it as snubbing misses another point, salient especially in African culture.
Obama laid the real hardship African face daily in this quote;

“Now, the great task of building a nation is never done.  Here in America, more than two centuries since our independence, we’re still working to perfect our union.  Across Africa today, there’s no denying the daily hardships that are faced by so many — the struggle to feed their children, to find work, to survive another day.  And too often, that’s the Africa that the world sees.”

The continent will not achieve success without young African leadership at the helm.  No one can do it for us, not even Obama.

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