Special to USAfrica, USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine, Houston
WASHINGTON DC — U.S President Barack Obama urged young African leaders Tuesday to work for change on their continent and bolster democracy, slamming many independence-era leaders who were elected but then clung to power.
Welcoming more than 100 young Africans to the White House for a forum marking 50 years since 1960 when many former colonies on the continent gained their independence, Obama said he hoped “some of you will end up being leaders of your countries some day.”
“If you think about it, back in the 1960s, when your grandparents, great-grandparents, were fighting for independence, the first leaders, they all said that they were for democracy,” Obama — the first African-American US president — said at the gathering on Africa’s next half century.
He hailed Africa’s “burst of self-determination” that helped rid the continent of abusive colonialism.
But “what’s been happening is that when you’ve been in power for a while, you say ‘Well, I must be such a good ruler, that it’s for the benefit of the people that I need to stay here.’ And so then you start changing the laws, and intimidating and jailing opponents.
“And pretty soon, young people just like yourselves, full of hope and promise, end up becoming exactly what they fought against,” Obama cautioned.
Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Obama said: “one of the things that everybody here needs to internalize, is that ‘you have to be the change that you seek’.”
“It’s not as if we’re perfect, we’ve got all kinds of problems as well,” said Obama, whose father was Kenyan.
“But what it does mean is that the peaceful transfer of power, and the notion that people always have a voice, our trust in that democratic process is one that has to be embraced in your countries as well.”
Earlier Tuesday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the same group to empower average people as she said information technology will “blow the doors down” on repressive governments.
“We are looking for leaders who know that empowering citizens is in everyone’s best interests,” Clinton told a gathering of 115 young African democracy campaigners, journalists, rights activists and business leaders.
In today’s world, “top-down hierarchical power is not sustainable. Oh, it can stay in place for years but eventually it is not sustainable,” the chief US diplomat said in a speech.
“There are just too many ways where people are going to get too much information, and technology is going to blow the doors down on governments,” she said.
Clinton said she hoped African nations could move toward “e-government” systems which could help slash the time needed to procure documents, start a business or register a car.
“We’re looking for those kinds of ideas, and we want to help you bring them to fruition and take them to scale,” she said at the start of three days of meetings with the young leaders from more than 40 sub-Saharan countries.
Washington hopes to reap trade and other benefits from such ties.
The leaders head groups such as the Angolan Institute for Electoral Systems and Democracy, the National Youth Council of Cameroon and the Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe.
They also include executives from the Zen Corporation in Chad, MTN Telecom in the Congo, Rwanda Eco-Tours Agency and Alios Finance Senegal.
Michelle Gavin, senior director of African affairs at the US National Security Council, said the meetings are in keeping with the spirit of Obama’s remarks when he visited Ghana last year.
“We’re partners, but we’re not the drivers,” Gavin told reporters Monday at the State Department, recalling Obama said the future of Africa is up to Africans themselves. AFP