Well, good morning, and it is wonderful to see all of you here today, and I’m delighted to welcome you to the State Department and to the United States. And I hope this is the beginning of what will be an unforgettable three weeks.
As Assistant Secretary Carson just said, we believe strongly in the future of Africa, of you as individuals, of your communities, and your countries. And our goal is to be a partner and a friend as you lead the way into the kind of future that is so well deserved. You’ve traveled here from more than 40 nations, and you are here because of what you have already achieved. You are leaders in many fields: the arts and business, technology, education, journalism, and civil society. And so we have a bet on you. And that bet is that you will use your talents and your skills to help bring greater prosperity, progress, and a better future to all of the people whose efforts so desperately need to be supported.
You are here because of your potential. And as President Obama has said, Africa is not a world apart; it is a fundamental part of our interconnected world. And we want to do a better job of making those interconnections and then supporting and nurturing them, because we believe to strengthen the global economy we should look to Africa, one of the fastest growing regions in the world. There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses, for trade and investment that would be beneficial for Africans and for Americans.
We want to support the rise of democracies and give more people the chance to live under governments of their own choosing. And to do that, we look to Africa, where new democracies are growing stronger every day and where citizens have found innovative methods to promote good governance and hold leaders accountable.
And to make progress on the defining challenges of our time, like climate change and clean energy, global health and education, preventing violent extremism, defending human rights, once again, we look to Africa, because African communities have been on the frontlines of these issues for years.
For all these reasons, President Obama and his Administration has made building strong partnerships with the nations and people of Africa a key element of our foreign policy, because we are convinced that the story of the 21st century will be written in large part by you and your fellow citizens. So we want to be of help to you on your journeys and to support you as you chart that new future.
And the fact is you are young leaders at a time when young people are increasingly at the heart of world events. In Africa, 60 percent of the population is under 25. Now, that can either be a daunting statistic or a cause for celebration. It will be daunting if they are not educated, if they don’t have healthcare, if there are no jobs, if they cannot participate in the political lives of their societies. But it will be cause for celebration if young people can begin to have their voices heard, their votes counted, and help to chart a new beginning. And we think success will depend upon whether or not the youth of Africa, like many places around the world, have a chance to contribute to their own countries.
Now, we have benefited greatly in the United States because of Africans who have left Africa to come here, who have then been business leaders, doctors and nurses and teachers, academics and have given so much to the United States. But we hope that that kind of emigration will reverse and that more and more people will return home.
When I had my daughter many years ago, the midwife who worked with my doctor was from Ghana, and I remember talking to her about why she would come so far away. And she said, “I can have a better opportunity for myself and my children.” Just recently, she returned to Ghana. We want to see that happen throughout the continent, where people with skills and education and experience and expertise go back home to join you in making a difference.
There are many people here who have already made a difference. One of the people here, just to cite a few examples, is Refiloe from South Africa – where is Refiloe? Ah, Refiloe – who created a nonprofit organization called 18twenty8, which provides young women from poor backgrounds with educational and personal development so they then can have the confidence and the skills to have the kind of future they deserve.
Erikson is here from Namibia. Where is Erikson? He started making homemade chili and barbeque sauces – I’m getting hungry. (Laughter.) – then created a company to market them. Now they’re sold in stores throughout your hometown, and soon, if all goes well, across your country.
Thierno is here from Guinea. Where is Thierno? Aww, Thierno. As a radio journalist, his investigations of drug trafficking made him known throughout the country. Now he is creating a farm radio station to broadcast the voices of Guinea’s many farmers.
Clarisse has joined us from Rwanda. Clarisse, hello. She is the CEO of HeHe Limited, one of East Africa’s leading mobile development companies, which Clarice helped found while she was a student at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.
There are people here publishing books in Ethiopia, producing shoes in Ghana, promoting foreign investment in Tanzania, monitoring high school students in Nigeria, supporting agricultural diversity in Guinea-Bissau, making bead and paper craft products in Cameroon, and on and on. You get the idea. You are amongst high achievers. You are amongst people who are already making their marks. The initiative and ingenuity that you all share cannot be taught or imparted; it does come from within. You have a drive, a desire, to do something with your lives and to make that difference. But that can be nurtured, and that is what we hope to do in the next few weeks.
In Washington, Chicago, and other cities you will visit, you’ll have the chance to form relationships with each other and with professional mentors, and you’ll have the chance to see more of America. And I hope that you take it all in, because we want to see this group of young leaders turn into a thriving network that stretches across Africa, across the Atlantic, to America.
And we also want to learn from you. What can we do better to help you, to help your communities, to help your countries? Assistant Secretary Carson is a man of great wisdom and long experience. It has been an honor for me to be working with him as his colleague. We are very open to hearing what you believe we need to hear. This is not a one-way broadcast. We’re looking for the opportunity to get feedback at all levels, from the Assistant Secretary and myself to everyone with whom you will interact.
So let me close by saying this: In your time here in America, you’ll meet many Americans who have never been to Africa, let alone your home countries. Many of them will not know anything about what has been happening in Africa, all the changes that have been occurring, everything that you and so many others have worked so hard to achieve. They will not know about the rising prosperity, the explosion of new businesses and technologies, the new and more secure freedoms, the opportunities for women and girls. But they should know.
So in effect, I am deputizing you for the next three weeks to be ambassadors, to help educate those with whom you come into contact. As you learn, help others to learn so that we break down the walls of ignorance and indifference, because whether we like it or not, we are all in this together. And I believe strongly that you represent the promise and possibility of Africa’s present and future, and I believe that what we can do together truly will make the world a better place. Thank you and Godspeed.