Obama in Africa: Soweto rising

2013-06-30 14:01

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Obama unveils plan to have future African leaders groomed.

US President Barack Obama yesterday unveiled his plan to train future African leaders, which he says will help groom young leaders beyond his term in office.

Speaking at an Africa-wide “townhall meeting” in Soweto yesterday, Obama said the exchange programme will focus on training civil leaders and entrepreneurs in the US.

The programme will be known as the Washington Fellowship for Young Entrepreneurs.

“This won’t be the most expensive programme we have, but I actually believe it will end (up) being one of the most important. It’s important to me personally because it is a great way for me to show confidence in all of you,” he said.

Earlier, the 44th American president spoke passionately about what Soweto meant to him.

He told the 600-capacity University of Johannesburg hall in Soweto that the township, which has been home to famous South Africans such as Nelson Mandela and Anglican archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, is where people learnt that history is in their hands.

He said he sent his prayers to Madiba and his family “because he inspires us all”.

“The story of Soweto inspires you in your lives. But keep in mind that it inspires me too. The uprising here helped open my mind to a brighter world, and to our responsibility to choose between right and wrong,” he said.

The last time he was here, as Illinois senator in 2006, Obama was still a relatively unknown politician.

He visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial.

High-profile people who attended the town hall meeting included businessmen Patrice Motsepe and Richard Maponya, and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote.

Obama said today he will speak in-depth in Cape Town about the future America and Africa can build together.

A young South African lawyer asked Obama if the Agoa (African Growth and Opportunity Act) trade programme, which waves tariffs for goods manufactured in Africa, will be renewed when it lapses next year.

Obama said he was hoping to get the American congress to renew the trade programme, saying Africa should not just be a source of raw materials.

Asked by a Kenyan youngster about whether he was worried by the policy of the east African country to “look east”, Obama said he wanted Africa to get a good deal, irrespective of who was doing trade with it.

In a veiled reference to China, which often gets criticised for bringing its own labour to the continent, Obama said he wanted whoever is building African roads to use African labour.

However, he also emphasised the need to root out corruption wherever it occurs, saying it was a barrier to investment.

He praised initiatives, such as the African Union’s peer review mechanism, saying it allowed African leaders to hold each other accountable.

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