This is an edited extract from President Barack Obama’s address at the University of Cape Town on Sunday.
“When Bobby Kennedy spoke at the University of Cape Town in 1966, he expressed a powerful idea. He said: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal… he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Now the world is very different from that June day in 1966. The idea of hope might have seemed misplaced.
It would have seemed inconceivable to people at that time that less than 50 years later, an African-American president might address an integrated audience at South Africa’s oldest university, and that this same university would have conferred an honorary degree to a president, Nelson Mandela. It would have seemed impossible.
That’s the power that comes from acting on ideals. That’s what Mandela understood. But it wasn’t just the giants of history who brought about change. Think of the many millions of acts of conscience that were part of it.
So Mandela’s life, like Kennedy’s life, the life of all those who fought to bring about a new South Africa or a more just America stand as a challenge to your generation, because they tell you that your voice matters, that your ideals, your willingness to act on those ideals and your choices can make a difference. If there’s any country in the world that shows the power of human beings to effect change, this is the one.
And this is a moment of great promise. South Africa is one of the world’s economic centres.
Many of the fastest-growing economies in the world are here in Africa.
We know this progress, though, rests on a fragile foundation. Across Africa, the same institutions that should be the backbone of democracy can all too often be infected with the rot of corruption.
The same technology that enables record profits sometimes means widening a canyon of inequality. The same interconnection that binds our fates makes all of Africa vulnerable to the undertow of conflict.
So there is no question that Africa is on the move, but it’s not moving fast enough for the child still languishing in poverty in forgotten townships.
And that’s where the young people of Africa come in. Just like previous generations, you’ve got choices to make. You get to decide where the future lies. Think about it – over 60 percent of Africans are under 35 years old.
So demographics means young people are going to be determining the fate of this continent and this country. You’ve got time and numbers on your side and you’ll be making decisions long after politicians like me have left the scene.
I’ve travelled to Africa on this trip because my bet is on the young people who are the heartbeat of Africa’s story. I’m betting on all of you.
America has been involved in Africa for decades. But we are moving beyond the simple provision of assistance, foreign aid, to a new model of partnership between America and Africa – a partnership of equals that focuses on your capacity to solve problems, and your capacity to grow. Our efforts focus on three areas that shape our lives: opportunity, democracy and peace.
So I’m calling for America to up our game when it comes to Africa. We’re bringing together business leaders from America and Africa to deepen our engagement. We’re going to launch new trade missions and promote investment from companies back home.
We’ll launch an effort in Addis (Ababa) to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act to break down barriers to trade, and tomorrow I’ll discuss a new Trade Africa initiative to expand our ties across the continent, because we want to unleash the power of entrepreneurship and markets to create opportunity here in Africa.
And so the question we’ve been asking ourselves is what will it take to empower individual Africans?
For one thing, we believe that countries have to have the power to feed themselves. Through a new alliance of governments and the private sector, we’re investing billions of dollars in agriculture.
We believe that countries have to have the power to prevent illness and care for the sick.
And we believe that nations must have the power to connect their people to the promise of the 21st century.
Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. I am proud to announce a new initiative – Power Africa – to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, starting with an investment of $7 billion (R69 bn) in US government resources.
So this is America’s vision: a partnership with Africa that unleashes growth, and the potential of every citizen, not just a few at the very top. And this is achieveable.
But history tells us that true progress is only possible where governments exist to serve their people, and not the other way around.
The good news is that this example is getting attention across the continent.
But this work is not complete – we all know that. Not in those countries where leaders enrich themselves with impunity; not in communities where you can’t start a business, or go to school, or get a house without paying a bribe to somebody. These things have to change.
And they have to change not just because such corruption is immoral, but it’s also a matter of self-interest and economics. Governments that respect the rights of their citizens and abide by the rule of law do better, grow faster, draw more investment than those who don’t. That’s just a fact.
These are things that America stands for – not perfectly – but that’s what we stand for, and that’s what my administration stands for.
We don’t tell people who their leaders should be, but we do stand up with those who support the principles that lead to a better life.
And that’s why we’re interested in investing not in strongmen, but in strong institutions: independent judiciaries that can enforce the rule of law; honest police forces that can protect the peoples’ interests instead of their own; an open government that can bring transparency and accountability.
And, yes, that’s why we stand up for civil society – for journalists and NGOs, and community organisers and activists – who give people a voice. And that’s why we support societies that empower women – because no country will reach its potential unless it draws on the talents of our wives and our mothers, and our sisters and our daughters.
I know that there are some in Africa who hear me say these things say that’s intrusive. Why are you meddling? I know there are those who argue that ideas like democracy and transparency are somehow Western exports. I disagree.
Those in power who make those arguments are usually trying to distract people from their own abuses. Sometimes, they are the same people who behind closed doors are willing to sell out their own country’s resource to foreign interests, just so long as they get a cut. “