Obama Expands African Leaders Initiative to Foster Ties

President Barack Obama said the U.S. is expanding an initiative to develop and train political and economic leaders in Africa.

Obama is expanding a U.S.-based program for young African leaders, and the U.S. Agency for International Development is providing $38 million to create leadership centers in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Senegal. It is drawing contributions from companies including Microsoft Corp., Dow Chemical Co. and Intel Corp. to keep the programs going.

Addressing 500 young African leaders in Washington, Obama said a prosperous and self-reliant Africa is crucial to global security and economic growth.

“We have to make sure we are seizing the extraordinary potential of Africa,” Obama told the group.

The meeting, which included a question-and-answer session with the president, is a prelude to a three-day summit of U.S. and African leaders next week in Washington.

Obama said he is renaming a scholars program he announced a year ago for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died Dec. 5 at the age of 95.

After spending almost three decades in a South African prison under white minority rule known as apartheid, he became the nation’s first democratically elected president in 1994, and led the country out of racial discord.

The initiative reflects Mandela’s “optimism, his idealism, his belief in what he called ’the endless heroism of youth,’” Obama told the audience. It is “a long-term investment” in Africa and its people.

U.S. Study

Under the program, Africans aged 25-35 study at 20 top U.S. universities. It’s part of the U.S. investment program in Africa to strengthen democracy, spark economic growth and boost the odds “for peace and security in Africa,” according to a White House statement today.

0bama cited the work of fellowship members, one of whom is fighting against sex slavery and pushing for women’s rights. Another is working on a program to help generate electricity so farmers could irrigate crops.

“I want to make sure the United States of America will be your friend and partner every step of the way,” Obama said, leading to new businesses. “There are ways you can make a difference.”

The regional leadership centers are set to open by 2015 to provide leadership training as well as entrepreneurship services, including mentoring, technology and access to capital.

Africa’s Potential

Political turmoil and violence has been a drag on growth for some African economies, though the potential for expansion on the continent has drawn investment.

A McKinsey & Co. report released last week said that Nigeria has the potential to be one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2030 with a consumer base exceeding the current populations of France and Germany.

Africa’s biggest economy has consistently posted annual growth rates in excess of 4 percent over the past decade, spurring foreign investors such as Unilever Plc, Nestle SA and Shoprite Holdings Ltd. to expand operations despite an upsurge in violence by militants in the north.

In South Africa, the continent’s second-largest economy, growth has been curbed by labor strife. The central bank last week cut its economic growth forecast for this year to 1.7 percent from 2.1 percent.

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