From ABC News’ Stephen Kendrick and Andrew Reed:
Declaring that "Africa's future belongs to its young people," President Obama convened a Young African Leaders Forum bringing in young leaders from nearly 50 African countries to the East Room of the White House this afternoon.
“We’re going to keep helping empower African youth, supporting education, increasing educational exchanges like the one that brought my father from Kenya, in the days when Kenyans were throwing off colonial rule and reaching for a new future,” President Obama said, “And we're helping to strengthen grassroots networks of young people who believe, as they're saying in Kenya today, yes, youth can.”
In an intimate town hall setting, elegant and brightly dressed young leaders surrounded the president for forty-five minutes of questioning on Africa’s future.
The President complimented South Africa’s recent success and African development by saying that while there were two European teams in the World Cup Final, Africa was the real winner.
“In the end, I think that this metaphor of the success of the World Cup, and the bombing, shows that each of you are going to be confronted with two paths. There is going to be a path that takes us into a direction of more conflict, more bloodshed, less economic development, continued poverty, even as the rest of the world races ahead, or there is a vision in which people come together for the betterment and development of their own country. “
The event covered how African issues directly affect Americans and how Americans can help Africans help themselves. The President tried to assuage concerns of a conflict of interest between the US economy and the development of the African Continent.
Obama insisted that trade between the United States and Africa is not a zero-sum game and that the US would continue to remain devoted to African development because African markets would be very appealing to US companies.
The President said, “ Africa is a young and growing economy. And if you can buy more iPods and, you know, buy more products and buy more services and buy more tractors from us, that we can sell to a fast-growing continent, that creates jobs here in the United States of America.”
President Obama sought to further tap down the young Africans' concerns by saying, “Our trade arrangement with Africa… can eliminate tariffs and subsidies and allow all sorts of goods to come in, partly because you are not our primary competition.”
One hot topic that had many of the young leaders listening carefully was HIV-AIDS.
The president discussed the challenges the United States and Africa have saying, “Even as we're battling HIV/AIDS, we want to make sure that we are thinking not only in terms of treatment, but also in terms of prevention and preventing transmission.”
Responding to criticism over his lack of funding to fight HIV-AIDS he said, “We’re never going to have enough money to simply treat people who are constantly getting infected… what we're trying to do is to build greater public health infrastructure, find what prevention programs are working.”
Obama acknowledged disagreements with former President George W. Bush but conceded the Republican was right to invest billions to fight HIV-AIDS. The President reminded the young African leaders that his Democratic administration had further increased funding for the program since Bush left office.
- Stephen Kendrick and Andrew Reed