17 countries across sub-Saharan Africa celebrate half a century of independence this year, a milestone that the United States is marking along with the nations themselves. The challenges facing the region are many and serious. But in a recent conference held in Washington, President Barack Obama and other top U.S. officials took the occasion to look forward as well as to the past, meeting with young leaders from African civil society and the private sector to praise their work and the hope they offer for their countries for the next 50 years.
The highlight of the 3 day forum was a town-hall style meeting at the White House August 3, where President Obama encouraged the 115 attendees to make things happen in their countries and around the continent. He told the diverse group of youth counselors, entrepreneurs, journalists, women's leaders, development activists and others that they represent the great progress that so many in Africa have achieved, and that their talent and creativity is needed to move their societies forward.
To do this, they will pick up the torch of leaders in nations such as Ghana and South Africa that have made important strides in economic development, democratic rule and other areas. Sadly, leaders in some other nations such as Zimbabwe are mired in the struggles of the past; they took office as reformers, but produced conflict, dysfunction and poverty.
It's hoped that bringing young leaders and activists together in this way will allow them to learn from each other and help them deal with the challenges they and their countries face. Africa holds extraordinary promise, and the U.S. is committed to a partnership with it to fulfill that potential.