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Clinton: U.S. Wants to Help Create Conditions for African Success

Clinton: U.S. Wants to Help Create Conditions for African Success

Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the President’s Forum for Young African Leaders serves as the start of an engagement between the Obama administration and young Africans who are making a change in their countries, with the goal of creating conditions for Africa to fulfill its potential as a continent of innovation and creativity.  (Photo: Sierra Leone’s Francis Sowa, Frances Marke, Khoumba A. Kanawa and Donald Kalokoh meet in the gallery section of the Museum of African Art.)

The secretary spoke at the State Department August 3 to an audience of more than 100 entrepreneurs, civil society activists, artists and other young leaders who have come to Washington from sub-Saharan Africa for the August 3–5 forum. She described Africa as “a continent brimming with potential,” with 60 percent of its population under the age of 25 and connected and empowered through technology.

“Africa has no shortage of ideas, innovations or entrepreneurial drive,” she said. “We want this conference to be a start where we work with you to help you create the conditions in which your ideas can be translated into real-life solutions for Africa and beyond.”

Those attending the conference had educational and other opportunities and used them well, she said, starting businesses and nongovernmental organizations, and working with youth and the underprivileged in their countries.

“Many of you would have the option to go nearly anywhere in the world to pursue your dreams. But you’re here because you care about the future of your families, your communities, your countries. And I urge you to stay with it. Change is not easy,” she said.

The participants were invited to Washington to meet with Clinton, President Obama and other officials because the United States is “trying to empower you,” she told them.

“We are looking for leaders who know that empowering citizens is something that is in everyone’s best interests. In the world in which we live in today, top-down hierarchical power is not sustainable,” even if it persists for a long time, Clinton said.

“There [are] just too many ways people are going to get too much information, and technology is going to blow the doors down on governments,” she said.

It will ultimately be up to Africa’s young leaders to sustain and deepen the progress Africa has made in recent years, through improved and more widely available education, health care, economic openness and stability, and the right to express opinions, she said.

“We believe that you have the talents, the determination and the ability to bring these dreams to fruition,” Clinton said, and Americans “stand ready to be your partners.”

At the same time, the U.S. relationship with Africa “is not a one-way street,” she said.

“We expect to benefit. We expect to learn. We expect to look to you for models and ideas of what we can do better ourselves,” she said.

Many of the participants welcomed the chance to meet with U.S. officials, especially their town hall discussion with President Obama at the White House. But they also welcomed the opportunity the forum has given them to interact with each other and find common cause.

Dianah Mukundwa of Rwanda told America.gov she was especially motivated to come to Washington “to meet with young African leaders that we’re going to work with in years to come and to network with them and to gain different experiences and testimonies from different leaders who are actually of my age.”

Similarly, Sierra Leone’s Amienatta Khoumba Kanawa said the idea of “bringing Africans together to see how they can work towards one agenda in improving the continent” interested her the most.

“There are like-minded people in other countries doing what I’m trying to do,” said Modesta Lilian Mahiga of Tanzania. “We’re building a coalition across national borders. There is great opportunity in this, and I think we can start moving as a bloc. We’ll get so much further.”

Mahiga is already planning her next steps when she returns home. Recognition from President Obama will earn her and the other two Tanzanian delegates a certain amount of acknowledgment and respect from authorities back home, she said.

“The three delegates from Tanzania will hold a symposium when we get back. We will speak to the young people and tell them, ‘We can’t wait. There is something we need to do now.’

“We will agitate for reforms at the top, and we will inform the youth at the bottom,” she said

By Stephen Kaufman, Staff Writer, US State Dept.

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