US President Barrack Obama on Monday announced setting up of a regional leadership centre in Kenya which will be operational beginning 2015.
Three others, he announced, would also be set up in Ghana, Senegal and South Africa “in order to improve the availability and quality of leadership training programmes and professional development opportunities for young African Leaders.”
Obama’s announcement ironically follows the suspension of its Peace Corps programme in Kenya over security concerns.
“While volunteers are leaving, the Peace Corps plans to retain its office in Kenya and will continue to assess the safety and security climate,” Shira Kramer, the spokesperson for the Peace Corps told the Associated Press on Friday.
USAID, the White House said, would provide Sh3.3 billion for the centres with support from a number of multi-national corporations. “American and African companies and foundations have more than matched these funds.”
Obama made his announcement during a town hall meeting with the first set of Young African Leaders (YALI) to undergo six weeks of training in the United States in the areas of entrepreneurship, civic leadership and public administration.
During the town hall meet, President Obama also renamed the initiative the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. “The spirit of YALI reflects Madiba’s optimism, his idealism, his belief in what he called the endless heroism of youth.”
Given the over 50,000 African youth who applied to participate in the fellowship programme, President Obama also announced that come 2016 the number of annual participants would have doubled from 500 to 1,000.
“We have to make sure that we’re all seizing the extraordinary potential of today’s Africa – the youngest, fastest-growing continent,” he said.
President Obama addressed a number of issues during the town hall including the necessity of empowering women, who in many instances make up more than half the population of African nations.
“If you’re a strong man, you should not feel threatened by strong women,” he argued.
President Obama also addressed the issue of corruption on the Continent, disagreeing with those who continue to argue that Africa’s colonial past remains to blame for its underdevelopment.
“There’s not a single country in Africa…that with the resources it had could not be doing better,” he said.
President Obama also took issue with monopolies on the Continent of Africa, advocating for equal business opportunities for the youth. “If you’ve got a good idea, you should be able to test that idea and be judged on your own merits.”
All agendas, women and youth empowerment, that formed a key component of the platform President Uhuru Kenyatta campaigned on in 2013 and has sought to make good on with the setting up of the Uwezo fund and an executive policy that requires 30 percent of all government tenders be awarded to women and youth.
“With 60 percent of Africa’s population under 35, the future success of African nations will depend on the leadership, skills, and ingenuity of this emerging generation of leaders,” a communiqué from the White House points out.
YALI served as a lead up to the inaugural US-Africa Leaders Summit set for August 4 to 6, themed ‘Investing in the next generation.’
The summit will bring together 50 African Heads of State and Government in Washington DC in, “the largest gathering any US President has held with African heads of state and government,” according to the US Department of State.
While President Obama will not be holding any bilateral talks at the summit, Kenya’s Foreign Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said Kenya would be looking to strengthen trade ties with the US.
“Many CEOs of US companies will hold one-on-one meetings with President Kenyatta. This includes the CEOs of Microsoft, Pfizer, Coca Cola and other companies that are interested in Kenyan business,” she said.
Kenya, she said, was also keen to, “seek the support of the US government in stabilising neighbouring countries like Somalia and South Sudan,” rubbishing claims that Kenya was strengthening ties with the East at the expense of the West.
The US however, Obama said, was keen to see the growth of intra-African trade as has been prioritised by President Kenyatta’s administration.
“It’s easier for me to sell my goods to Tanzania or Uganda than it is for me to compete with Nike or Apple in the United States,” he said as an example.