The White House this week brought in a group of 27 young African leaders from 23 nations to give them a crash course in American-style democracy.
The meeting, entitled “’Young African Leaders: Grassroots Democracy and the U.S. Elections,” is part of a President Obama’s strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa released in June that prioritizes efforts to empower Africa’s next generation of leaders.
“These young men and women have shown time and again the willingness and ability to change their communities and their countries for the better, and the United States will continue to be their steadfast ally and partner,” the president said when he announced the initiative in June.
The group met at the White House with Grant Harris, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs. They were brought in as part of the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program, whose objectives are many: to provide an understanding of democracy in the U.S. and the significance of citizen participation in the democratic process; examine how citizen action groups interact with U.S. elected officials in an effort to influence political, social, and economic change; observe mechanisms for voter outreach; and explore the diversity of views held by Americans and how this diversity contributes to a dynamic and resilient political system.
While the leaders came to Washington, D.C., to learn, there was also a significant exchange of ideas as they were encouraged to share their own ideas on how the U.S. can better engage their generation and help them develop skills. The group had a lively Q-and-A session with Harris, focusing on such crucial issues as globalization and economic growth; battling corruption; U.S. trade and development policies; and engagement with the growing number of organizations representing women and youth across Africa.
According to the White House website, the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is designed to build on and institutionalize the Administration’s outreach to young African leaders by focusing on three lines of effort: (1) support leadership development; (2) promote entrepreneurship; and (3) connect young leaders with one another and with Americans.At the end of the session, Harris asked the leaders to remain engaged in both their own communities and with the United States as the U.S. seeks additional ways to connect with and support Africa’s rising generation of leaders.