A week after scolding African leaders for clinging to power for too long, President Barack Obama hosted rising stars of Africa’s next generation to continue that conversation.
He welcomed about 500 young Africans to Washington on Monday to deliver the same message he did to the African Union last week when he decried a “cancer of corruption” that he said was holding back African countries.
“I want to make sure that even as we’re working with governments, we’re also working to empower young Africans like you,” Obama told the group in the U.S. for the president’s Young African Leaders Initiative.
The meeting is a chance for Obama, whose late father was a Kenyan, to solidify his legacy in sub-Saharan Africa, where the burgeoning youth population offers potential for helping spur rapid economic growth while also presenting a risk if their aspirations aren’t met.
“As respect for political rights and civil liberties continue to wane across the continent, I think the president is placing hope in future generations, and I think that’s where he’s looking to make an impact,” said Jeffrey Smith, Africa policy director at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a New York-based group that advocates for greater human rights.
Obama looked back at what he’s done to boost Africa during his six and a half years as president and told the group he expects more progress out of the continent because of the promise of young leaders.
Making a Difference
“Young people like you are driving so much of this progress -- because Africa is the youngest continent,” Obama told the group at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. “This program’s going to help all of you make a real difference back home.”
While on his trip to Kenya and Ethiopia last week, Obama lectured his hosts on expanding rights and rooting out corruption and scolded leaders, such as Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, who change laws so they can cling to power.
The group hearing Obama’s message on Monday consists of fellows from across sub-Saharan Africa who are mostly ages 25 to 35. Obama created the exchange program in 2010 as a way to create a new generation of African leaders and instill in them a desire to challenge existing leadership and have high expectations for their governments. The Mandela Washington Fellowship component of the program began last year with nearly 30,000 people applying for 500 spots in the program.
Obama announced Monday the program will expand next year to send as many as 80 young Americans to Africa to learn from African leaders.
He also welcomed members of the group to Washington a year ago during the U.S.-Africa summit. The program, run by the State Department, offers online courses in civic and business leadership and touts stories of people who have brought about change.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday described the event as “a capstone” to Obama’s travels last week to Kenya and Ethiopia.