Obama MXits Africa's youth

2009-07-07 17:26

Johannesburg - US president Barack Obama will engage with young people across Africa via mobile and SMS as part of his first official visit to the continent.

Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are visiting Ghana on July 10 and 11.

The American government has created an SMS program for the historic visit, where registered users can receive updates from his visit and send messages and comments.

In order to get broader access, the American state department partnered with popular texting site, MXit, which has 14 million users across the continent. As one of the partners during the visit, MXit will run a one-day service collecting messages from youth across the continent for the popular president.

For about 24 hours from Tuesday afternoon teenagers and young adults will be able to send messages to the popular president from their phones or PCs.

While internet penetration in Africa is low, mobile web usage is booming and tools like MXit have garnered almost 14 million users, with its offer of cheap texting.

It also allows users to chat and text messages to and from mobile phones and PCs using GPRS or 3G instead of using standard - and more expensive - SMSes.

The first six months of his term in office has seen him addressing other pressing foreign concerns.

Reuters reported that as an African-American whose father was born in Kenya, Obama was anxious not to be seen as exaggerating the importance of Africa in US foreign policy.

But this won't be his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. In 2006, he visited Kenya, Chad, Ethiopia, South Africa and Djibouti as a US senator.

Seasoned traveller

Meanwhile MXit has received a boost from a prominent figure like Obama, whose campaign to win the presidency garnered hitherto unrivalled attention and passion both in America and abroad.

“We are very proud to have been asked to be part of a campaign to better understand and engage with African youth,” says Herman Heunis, MXit’s founder and CEO.

“We are simply delighted that such an important and influential president understands and acknowledges the power of social networking.”

Obama, who was often photographed on his Blackberry mobile phone while on the trail, is known for being a tech-savvy politician.

The 24 hour window period opened at 17:00 on Tuesday and will close at 18:00 (South African time) on Wednesday, according to spokesperson Sandra Sampayo.   

Obama will, via SMS, relay speech highlights on July 11, but not respond to Mxit comments.  He will respond to SMS comments in his podcast next week.

To send a message to President Obama on MXit, go to from your mobile phone to download the social network and IM and follow the prompts to leave a comment or question.

Simply compete the questionnaire found at MXit’s Tradepost entering your name, city, country and comment. 

This article was amended on Thursday 9 July 2009.

The original article conveyed the impression that the President is asking young Africans to engage with him on Mxit.  Mxit is an Embassy or State Department partner in the SMS program.

It also suggested users can "communicate directly with the popular President from their phones or PCs". Mxit is not the platform for direct communication with the President.

The article also stated that "Obama will send messages back to the Mxit user base after the campaign closes". Obama will, via SMS, relay speech highlights on July 11, but not respond to Mxit comments.  He will respond to SMS comments in his podcast next week.

This has been corrected.