Thank you all so much. I am thrilled to see you. I had to come back to work to recover from my daughter’s wedding. (Laughter.) And one of the reasons I came back was because I wanted the chance to welcome each and every one of you here to the State Department, and to tell you how excited we are to be hosting this Young Leaders Forum.
Now, I know that later this afternoon, you will have the unique opportunity to go to the White House and to meet with President Obama. And I think from what you heard already today and the comments of my friend and extraordinary Assistant Secretary for Africa, Johnnie Carson, this Administration, from the top, is very committed to, concerned about Africa, and especially about Africa’s future, because we know that it is people like all of you and others who are not in this room today who will determine what Africa’s future will be.
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.
Now, people in this room have already started businesses. You have started NGOs, you have made films, you have helped to make peace, you have worked with at-risk youth, you have cared for people living with HIV/AIDS, you have fought to end mistreatment of some of Africa’s most vulnerable citizens. You have looked for solutions close to home. And you have seen unprecedented progress in your own lifetimes. Poverty and child mortality have declined across much of the continent. Primary school enrollment is up. Ghana, Botswana, South Africa, and others have all recently held elections that were models of freeness and fairness.
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.
Every child, boy and girl, deserves to go as far as his or her God-given talents and potential and hard work will take that child. That means education is a right, not a luxury. It means that the best education must be made available to as many young people as possible. It means that every pregnant woman receives prenatal care and assistance for labor and delivery so the child that is brought into the world has a good start. It means that everyone has a safe environment – a house, a roof over one’s head, a fair wage for the work that is done, and that everyone is free to follow his or her conscience in religion and politics to express an opinion without fear of being marginalized, silenced, or worse. We believe that you have the talents, the determination and the ability to bring these dreams to fruition.
When President Obama spoke to the parliament of Ghana a year ago he said, Africa’s future is up to Africans. And he pledged then to work with Africa’s leaders and citizens as friends and partners in a spirit of mutual respect and accountability. We stand ready to be your partners.
What does partnership mean? Well, it means that we have to change the way we pursue development. We have to work harder to expand trade and we have to encourage more trade among African countries yourselves. It means we have to improve private sector competitiveness. Many of you have had the privilege of traveling. You’ve been to Europe. You’ve now been to the United States. You’ve seen the diaspora from your countries and you often see how successful they are. We want that success to be right where you live and to break down the barriers that still exist. (Applause.)
We want to help you modernize how you deliver and create clean energy, how you get more value for agriculture which is still the life blood and the source of income for most people in sub-Saharan Africa. We want to help you strengthen democratic institutions. Elections are great, but that’s only one part of democracy – free press, independent judiciary, respect for human rights and the rights of minorities, giving everybody a stake in their own society. We want to support women and girls to be full participants in their communities and countries. (Applause.) We want to redouble our global efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, malaria. We want to respond to food scarcity and soaring food prices and growing populations with a multi-billion dollar initiative to help eradicate hunger and achieve food security. We want to join with you to fight against climate change, which will be devastating to Africa.
Meanwhile, we want to be sure that your voices are heard on the global stage. Johnnie was referring to my trips to Africa as First Lady. And I recognized then how much work there still was to be done to educate people in my own country about Africa. I held a roundtable for members of the White House Press Corps, and this was probably in – I don’t know, 1997 or ’98 – and one of the first questions that one of the reporters asked me – he said, what’s the capital of Africa? (Laughter.) I thought, oh, do I have a lot of work to do. (Laughter.) And we’ve made a lot of progress there, too – (laughter) but we have a long way to go. Because you know so well that when people think too often of Africa, they think of all the tragedies, the conflicts. We want people to see a more comprehensive picture.
This forum, along with the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, and the AGOA Forum taking place here in Washington and in Kansas City, Kansas, this week will help link African and American leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, investors, and especially young people. And we are inviting you to take advantage of that. We designed this forum not to be a one-time event; we want to create the connections that you will continue to exploit, to think about how you can tap into whatever help and skills, references and ideas that you can get from us.
We want you to take advantage of this when you go home, when you return, and maybe begin to think anew about how you can be more effective. And your generation of young Africans has already pioneered information technologies. You are connecting and empowering people in ways that we couldn’t have dreamed of even five, let alone ten years ago. For example, Ushahidi crisis management platform has become a digital tool for social change all over the world.
Ushahidi was developed by young Kenyans to map reports of violence after the election of 2007. And a lot of the young Kenyans we invited were unable to come because they’re staying to vote and to work on behalf of the constitution that will be voted on very soon. This new network has been used by citizen election monitors to help prevent fraud and violence in Burundi, India, Sudan, Guinea, Namibia. It’s revolutionizing and empowering what citizens can do without permission, just on their own. We have seen the way that sophisticated mobile communications tools have also been used in Kenya to educate and empower voters in the lead-up to the referendum on its new constitution tomorrow.
Good ideas leapfrog languages and borders. Technology created and deployed first in Africa was used by U.S. Marines in Haiti to help rescue earthquake victims, and by a Louisiana environmental group tracking efforts to clean up the Gulf oil spill We are working hard to convey that our relationship with Africa is not a one-way street. 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.
So to ensure that new technologies are used more for good – and not for ill – we have promised to work with partners in industry, academia, and NGOs to try to harness the power of connection technologies to help you spur economic, political, and social progress.
The United States has now joined with three local partners to sponsor a contest called “Apps-4-Africa” – A-p-p-s dash 4, the number, dash Africa. Software developers in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania have proposed applications for everything from educational games for mobile phones, to interactive maps that can track shortages of blood or medicines, to a mass texting app that could broadcast emergency information to rural villages. The winning apps will be announced in September. And we hope to catalyze these collaborations between technical experts and leaders of civil society to develop practical solutions that will improve people’s lives.
This concept of leapfrogging holds such great promise for Africa. You already have. You didn’t have to put up telephone poles, you went right to cell phones in many parts of Africa. Your electric grid doesn’t have to be massive. It can be local and regional and provide sources of energy from wind and solar as well as fossil fuels. We stand ready to help in any way we can.
I often say that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Africa has no shortage of ideas, innovations, or entrepreneurial drive. 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.
I know you’ve been going to workshops and you’ve been talking to one another, and we will maintain a kind of nerve center after this forum to stay in touch with you, to provide assistance if you request it, to connect you up with other people. It’s part of how we’re trying to redefine diplomacy, development, and statecraft in the 21st century. We recently held an entrepreneurship summit in Washington where we invited young business people from predominantly Muslim-majority countries that are lagging way behind in unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of their people. And I think people came in part because they got a free trip to Washington, but also they were curious, wondering kind of what we were up to. But what we were up to was trying to empower them as we now are trying to empower you.
We’re looking for leaders who know that empowering citizens is something that is in everyone’s best interests. The world in which we live in today – top-down hierarchical power – is not sustainable. Oh, it can stay in place for years, but eventually, it is not sustainable. 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.
One of my hopes is that we can move toward e-government in Africa, so that you can get more quickly whatever documents you need to start that business, or to register that car, and you don’t have to go through a lot of hands to do it. We’re looking for those kinds of ideas and we want to help you bring them to fruition and then take them to scale.
I’m very excited about what’s possible with your generation in Africa. But you know as well as I that you’re here in part because you’ve already succeeded. And 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. And for many who try it, it can become very frustrating and even discouraging. But it is so worthy an effort, commensurate with your talents and your dedication.
You are educated beyond the average education of most of the people that you know or that you can watch as you drive down the road. You’re here because you had the opportunities and you took them. What we want to help you do is to set forth your vision and then realize it. Because it will not be just for you – although I hope every one of you becomes successful in whatever enterprise you choose to pursue – but it will help to open doors and not go over obstacles, so that people will look at you, especially people younger than you, and believe that they too have a chance for a different future.
Godspeed as you go out from this forum back to your homes, I hope, energized and knowing that no matter how hard it is, you have friends and partners who are rooting for your success.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
# # #