About the Author: Maria Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.
This year, 17 sub-Saharan African countries celebrate 50 years of independence, and the Obama Administration is ready to look forward towards greater partnerships with African nations. Acknowledging the value of engaging young leaders in the discussion of the future of Africa, President Obama has invited 115 young leaders from 47 nations of sub-Saharan Africa to the President's Forum with Young African Leaders. The Forum is an opportunity for the participants to engage with each other, their American counterparts, and U.S. government officials on key themes of youth empowerment, good governance, and economic opportunity.
I have worked closely with my African counterparts, civil society leaders, and colleagues at the State Department on each of these themes and am looking forward to interacting with the future leaders of Africa through this unique opportunity. On numerous occasions, I have been inspired by the passion and ingenuity of Africa's young leaders. At Kenya Polytechnic University, I learned from innovative students the value of mobile and other technology and scientific advancement for youth empowerment and social change. In Uganda, I met with young human rights advocates fighting for tolerance and inclusion. I was moved by their courage and inspired by their passion. Young women entrepreneurs in Ethiopia reminded me that glass ceilings were meant to be cracked.
Through the Forum, these young leaders will have a great opportunity to learn from one another, and we have a unique opportunity to learn from them. People to people connections like this have the power to change lives and the future of nations and are where lasting partnerships begin. As policymakers, we in the U.S. government hope to learn how best to support African youth's vision for the future of Africa. Personally, I have seen how enhanced mutual understanding of ideas and cultures can create the foundation for long term peace, security, and prosperity.
Technology is going to connect this Forum to an even wider audience, enabling every person that has access to the internet to virtually participate in the Forum through live online streams of select segments of the conference. Stay tuned to www.state.gov and DipNote for updates.
Take a look at what the next few days have in store:DAY 1: The President's Forum with Young African Leaders opens in Washington, DC at the State Department where participants will attend a number of small discussion sessions to explore topics including transparency and accountability, job creation and entrepreneurship, rights advocacy, and the use of technology to empower individuals and communities. President Obama will then welcome the delegates and host a town-hall at the White House.
DAY 2: Participants meet with leaders of Congress on Capitol Hill, participate in leadership and empowerment discussions with Peace Corps, and share in service experiences across Washington, DC.
DAY 3: Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale and I co-host “The Way Forward Plenary” at the Newseum where delegates will share their ideas from the forum. Participants will also have an opportunity to network with American civil society leaders and resource organizations at an “unconference” following the plenary. The Forum will close with a featured speaker.
Each night, participants will have the opportunity for peer to peer exchange at partner events hosted by the Aspen Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, McKinsey, and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.