President Obama, Sec. Of State Discuss U.S. Commitment To Development, Fighting Disease In Africa With Young African Leaders

During a gathering of over 100 young African business and civil leaders at the White House on Tuesday, President Barack Obama “urged [them] to help spur economic development and fight corruption, disease and extremism on the continent,” MSNBC’s “First Read” blog reports.

“Young people from nearly 50 nations – including Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Somalia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Botswana and Liberia – joined administration officials like Attorney General Eric Holder, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah at the East Room event,” according to the post (Jones, 8/3).

Agence France-Presse reports that the meeting marked “50 years since 1960 when many former colonies on the continent gained their independence” (8/3). According to CNN, the gathering was “part of a series of events this week helping mark the 10th anniversary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, enacted in 2000 with the goal of boosting African exports to the United States.” A State Department spokesperson, “indicated … the young group of White House invitees was meant to reflect the fact that 60 percent of the population of Africa is under age 25,” CNN reports (8/3).

“The world needs your talents and your creativity,” Obama said during the forum, USA Today’s “The Oval” blog reports. “We want this to be the beginning of a new partnership” (Jackson, 8/3).

“We need young Africans who are standing up and making things happen not only in their own countries, but around the world and the United States wants to be your partner,” Obama told the East Room audience, according to a White House transcript from the event. “We are rooting for your success; we want to work with you to achieve that success, but ultimately success is going to be in your hands. Being a partner means that we can be there by your side, but we can’t do it for you” (8/3).

The topics covered during the hour-long forum, where the president took questions from the leaders, ranged from HIV/AIDS to human rights issues facing Zimbabwe and the Sudan, USA Today’s “The Oval” blog reports (8/3). The president also “encouraged the young leaders to stand up for democracy, transparent government and freedom of the press,” VOA News reports. “He said African men need to give women a bigger voice in the establishment of democracy,” according to the news service (Klein, 8/3).

Obama’s comments on HIV/AIDS in Africa “had many of the young leaders listening carefully,” ABC News’ “Political Punch” blog reports. 

“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,'” according to the blog. “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'” (Kendrick/Reed, 8/3).

AfricaNews writes that Obama discussed his administration’s plans to integrate HIV/AIDS as part of a larger effort to address diseases worldwide through the Global Health Initiative (Cham, 8/4).

“Africa’s future belongs to those who take charge of their health,” Obama said during the meeting, according to the White House transcript. “So our Global Health Initiative is not merely treating diseases; it’s strengthening prevention and Africa’s public health systems. And I want to be very clear. We’ve continued to increase funds to fight HIV/AIDS to record levels, and we’ll continue to do what it takes to save lives and invest in healthier futures” (8/3).

“I see Africa as a continent brimming with potential, a place that has so much just waiting to be grasped,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a meeting with the young African leaders earlier in the day, according to a State Department transcript from the meeting. “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.”

In addressing the partnership between the U.S. and Africa, Clinton said, “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,” according to the transcript. “We want to support women and girls to be full participants in their communities and countries. 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,” she said (8/3).

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