The President's Forum with Young African Leaders (PFYAL)

Judith A. McHale
   Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs 
Maria Otero
   Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Michelle Gavin, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council
Pre-forum Briefing
Washington, DC
August 2, 2010

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. Tomorrow, both the Secretary of State here at the State Department and the President over at the White House will provide remarks and host a town hall for the Forum with Young African Leaders as we welcome 115 young African civil society and business leaders from 45 sub-Saharan nations to Washington.

These are leaders who will shape the future of Africa for the next 50 years. We were saying just prior to coming out that 60 percent of the population of Africa is under the age of 25. So this will be a hugely important conversation and it is also timed with the 2010 African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum. Many of you were together with us in Kenya last year when the Secretary traveled there for last year’s event; but again, an opportunity to increase economic and social ties between the United States and crucial countries across the continent.

So we have a cast of distinguished experts to talk this morning to begin the briefing about the President’s Young African Leaders Forum. Starting out will be Michelle Gavin, Senior Director of African Affairs at the National Security Council. She’ll be followed by Judith McHale, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and then Maria Otero, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs to kind of put the events of the week in context.


MS. GAVIN: Well, thanks so much. And I just thought I’d talk a little bit about the impetus for this event, which is unusual and, I think, really an exciting opportunity to see Africa in a different way.

2010 obviously is a big year on the continent in the sense that you have 17 countries celebrating their 50th year of independence. And it provokes a lot of discussion that’s been occurring throughout the year about what’s happened since independence. But it does focus the mind, too, on where the region is going, and mindful of the extraordinary demographic profile of the region that P.J. just alluded to where you do have a remarkably youthful population throughout the entire diversity of sub-Saharan Africa.

And also in keeping with the spirit of the President’s remarks when he traveled to Ghana and spoke in Accra about the future of Africa clearly being up to Africans themselves, we’re partners, but we’re not the drivers. And the real drivers are African youth. It’s the lion’s share of the society. And they’re going to determine what the next 50 years will bring. And so we wanted to have a conversation about that vision for the region’s future and deepen and broaden our understanding of where younger leaders in Africa are trying to take their societies, what their priorities are and their concerns so that we can be better partners moving into the future.

And so as P.J. said, we’ve got 115 really quite extraordinary young people coming from throughout Sub-Saharan Africa to engage in this conversation with us and also help us to focus a little bit beyond the kind of immediate crisis-driven types of engagement and messages that are important, that are an important part of the foreign policy work that we do, but certainly shouldn’t keep us from stepping back and taking kind of a more strategic look at where, over the longer term, this region is going and how we can build relationships now to be a strong partner. And it’s fortuitous that it’s happening this week, where you also do have the AGOA Forum, including a really exciting women’s entrepreneurship component to that to allow us kind of as a government to think about Africa in this different lens, forward-looking, and not focused on immediate crises, but much more about what we’re all looking to build together and in partnership.

So I think some of the key themes of the forum will very much echo the key themes of President Obama’s speech in Accra, where we will talk a lot about opportunity. And obviously, in a region where you have that vast a youthful population, economic opportunity, and ensuring that there’s a path for all of this potential to be realized is critical. And the importance of governance in creating that kind of opportunity and the simple fact of the importance of youth empowerment in societies that are structured this way, making sure that their voices are heard and that they have the tools available to realize their vision. These young leaders will participate in a town hall with the President tomorrow, and we anticipate that to be heavy on give and take and exchange. It’s not an event to come, sit, and listen to a speech.

But they have a lot of other opportunities as well. Secretary Clinton will be engaging with them. They’ll do some breakout sessions. My colleagues will talk more about this. But they’ll be able to meet not just with U.S. Government officials, but also with people from civil society here, private sector, network with young American leaders, with the idea that we’ll begin a process of deepening these ties and informing ourselves and helping us to step back and see the big picture, which is young and dynamic and is very focused on the change ahead by simply a sort of retrospective look at the last 50 years.

So that’s the broad vision, and I’ll turn it over to the Under Secretary.

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: Thanks, Michelle. I thought I'd give you a little – some of the details. I think, as both P.J. and Michelle said, we’re very much looking forward to this opportunity to meet with young African leaders. We feel, when you look at the continent of Africa and the strategic significance on a go-forward basis in terms of resources and, frankly, from a trade and other relationship, we see this as a great opportunity to reach out to young leaders from across the continent.

There will be 115 participants from 46 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 50 percent men, 50 percent women. The representatives were chosen by our missions. Our missions nominated a number of candidates and we chose the participants in this based on their strong leadership qualities, their track record of affecting positive change. These are people who are very active in the economic and political lives of their countries, and we asked them – so we very much evaluated on them. And they’re all people who have held positions or hold positions that allow them the opportunity to implement a lot of the new ideas and changes that we are seeing across Africa. If I look at it, there’s a sort of generational shift of almost seismic proportions taking place across the continent of Africa, and this is our opportunity to reach out and connect with the people who are actually leading that change.

As Michelle mentioned, it’s going to be structured around three themes – of good governance, economic opportunity, and youth empowerment. And this is just one of the many initiatives that the Administration has focused on Africa. Obviously, we have AGOA going on this week as well and the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Exchange program, but there are many initiatives that we have begun over the past months to focus our efforts and attention on all that’s going on in that critical part of the world.

It is part of the Administration – the way we’ve structured this is in line with the Administration’s efforts to really have dialogue and discussions with people around the world, and that’s the format of this, where people are going to be coming together with our government, being, if you will, a catalyst and convener, bringing people together so that we can have important dialogues and discussions, learn from each other, figure out ways that we can work together – Americans and people from across Africa – to look at many – find solutions to a lot of the challenges that they face, but also, frankly, to find new ways of seizing all the opportunities that are out there.

I just got back from a 10-day stint in parts of Africa, and I have to say it was incredibly impressive to meet with many of the young leadership there. They look at so many of the issues that confront their countries and the innovative approaches that they’re developing, whether it’s on the technology front or new ways of economic opportunity or how they work together. And I think this forum will provide us with an excellent opportunity to meet, to listen, to learn from each other, and to develop new paths for going forward.

So I’m very much looking forward to the next couple of days, and I think it will be a really sort of good and exciting event for all of us. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Thank you and good morning to everyone. I think you’ve already gotten a good deal of both detail and general sense of what the purpose of this event is. And I just want to address very briefly the importance of bringing together civil society leaders and being able to engage with them not country-by-country, but as a region, and giving them an opportunity to talk to each other, considering, as we do, that they really are the catalysts for transformational change in their own countries. They are the ones that we envision are going to be creating change and the ones that are going to bring their societies to address things in new and innovative ways. And so being able to have them at the forum is critical. This is one part of the population that’s enormously important for us to be able to interact with.

Secretary Clinton has always pointed out the importance that civil society plays in improving the quality of democratic governance, of creating broad-based prosperity. And most of the people that will be here – in fact, the participants in this event will be from activist organizations, from congregations, there will be writers, there will be reporters, there will be those who are really trying to use peaceful means to encourage change in their societies. And clearly, they do this on the one hand by introducing the work that they do, but also by really pushing their governments to do better and to do better by their people. So they are very active components of the – what we would say is the totality of what Africa comprises.

We have, and I think Under Secretary McHale has pointed out, I have also seen the important role that young people – certainly for me, young people are taking on the reins and leading things in different places. In my trips to Africa, I’ve been amazed by some of the things that I have seen 20-year-olds do. I’ve been to the Kenya Polytechnic University, for example, and really witnessed some of the inventions that are taking place, including one young man who had turned a cell phone into a way in which to have it set an alarm if somebody was stealing his car, and then have a GPS set in place so that it could follow the car – in fact, somebody actually was able to wire it out of wherever it was – and the inventiveness and the way to be able to contribute is enormously important.

There are a lot of other young people who are taking the lead in issues related to human rights abuses and issues related to improved governance and improved democracy. I’ve met with many of them in many countries. I was particularly moved by meeting with some of them in Uganda, who themselves were personally threatened for some of the work that they were doing, and they were really very courageous and inspired in their work. Young entrepreneurs are also some that are moving these societies forward and they also are enormously important and we will be meeting – some of them will also be contributing here.

As has been said, the U.S. Government’s role is one of gathering and convening, it’s of encouraging network among these young African leaders. And it is, as was mentioned before, putting them in contact with young people in this country and enabling them to form lasting partnerships, ability to interact with each other in a way that they haven’t before. So this, I think is the most important reason why having civil society representatives, broadly speaking, is enormously important as we engage with these countries. So I think I’m the last one to give you background, and I think we probably will have some questions.

P.J., do you want to --

QUESTION: Hi. Elise Labott from CNN. I’m looking at some of your breakout sessions on kind of advocacy and developing a responsible business climate in Africa, which I assume tackles corruption issues. But it seems like these are some of the biggest issues that these future leaders are going to follow that while you want to develop these leadership skills and you want to develop future leaders of America, the kind of current governments, not in all cases, but in many cases in Africa, you have governments that aren’t looking for these kind of civil society, for these kind of – that they might consider oppositions flourish. And I’m wondering what the complement is in terms of you working with governments, or not just in fostering leadership skills among these people, but in creating the climate in Africa where these type of leaders are going to have the opportunity to create change.

MS. GAVIN: Well, let me try and take a stab. I think that we have – it’s the bread and butter of our diplomacy and our foreign policy work, right – to constantly be engaged with officials in various African countries. And the President does that, the Secretary does that. We do that all the time and we talk about these issues. We talk about the importance of governance for improving trade and investment. We talk about its relationship with stability. So this is – those – the issues that are central, I think, themes of some of the breakout sessions and central themes of some of the events are very much on the agenda in other conversations.

The other thing I would say just in response to your question is that I think this event shouldn’t be misunderstood as about kind of imparting leadership skills to these delegates. These folks are already extremely accomplished leaders. It’s much more about learning from them and engaging in exchange, broadening and deepening our networks.

But to return to the earlier point, I mean, I would point out that, for example, last year at the UN General Assembly, President Obama met with some 25 African heads of state and talked about their key priorities going forward in his every exchange with African counterparts. I think the themes that we’re discussing are addressed, certainly, on the economic opportunity front. I don’t think that there are leaders who don’t recognize that given the tremendously youthful demographic of their country that this is a critical challenge for their societies moving forward. So I think that this is something that the themes are central themes to our policy at large.

The difference in this event, and hopefully moving forward and building off what we learned from these people, is about kind of broadening and deepening the dialogue so that we have a much closer and more sensitive and more nuanced sense of where these change agents are taking their societies and how we might better structure our engagement to be good partners.

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: And let me just add, I think that that’s – I mean, I think that’s a good question. But it’s also what we have done is to provide the context for this. And as Michelle said, given the demographics of these countries, it’s important to engage with young leaders and to have these kinds of dialogues in discussion. I believe when we provide the context to the various governments, they do understand what we’re trying to do. And I think we’re approaching it as one of partnership and really try to have a better future as we go forward together.

MR. CROWLEY: Charlie.

QUESTION: I don’t know who wants to take this. I’ve got two questions; one is really a nuts and bolts question. How much money is this costing? I assume it’s coming out of the State Department budget, but I’m not sure of that. And secondly, a quick look at the schedule shows you getting out in the community in DC one afternoon or morning. Was there any thought given to moving, taking these leaders outside of Washington and into the country?

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: Well, I can answer the budget question which is approximately 1. – roughly, $1.5 million which would come out of our public diplomacy funding combination of, sort of, our resources here and the resources from our missions as we’re bringing them overseas. Maria, you want to address the work issue in Washington, DC? They are in Washington; we are not traveling around the country. But do you want to –

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: They are in Washington, not only in part because of the shortness of time, but also because there is plenty to see in Washington. There are many, many organizations that are working either with minorities or with low-income groups or with a wide variety of different groups with whom these young leaders could have a very good exchange. They’re going to be seeing some organizations, for example, that work the Latin population in this country, which may seem not directly relevant, but in fact, some of the skills that you use – for example, the Latin America Youth Center or CentroNia, these are organizations that are – can show them what – their own sense of best practices and learn also from them how it is that they can have these exchanges.

So I think the opportunity to take them out, to look at the issue of community service as one component of leadership is going to be part of the exchange that they will be undertaking. In these meetings in the communities that they will be meeting with, they themselves will be doing some work with the people that work in those organizations. They will understand some of the issues that we’re facing. And as I said, we can do that in Washington. There’s an amazing amount of activity going on at the community level.

MS. GAVIN: Just as a very quick aside to that, though, I would just flag for you that one of the innovations with the AGOA Forum, actually, this year is that it’s not entirely in Washington. In fact, there will be the two days in Washington and then two days in Kansas City as part of an effort to really focus on agribusiness and the trade, investment, and job creation elements of food security, which matches up, of course, with the Administration’s initiative.

So, just – I couldn’t let it go without – (laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: Nicole.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask a small three-part question. I’m wondering why the U.S. Chamber event is closed to press. I noticed that on the last day, Thursday, at the Knight Conference Center, there are going to be these tables hosted by private sector and civil society organizations. Could you tell us some of the private sector companies that’ll be there? Do any involve energy?

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: I’m sure we have a list of them.


PARTICIPANT: We – have we got a list of the sponsors?

QUESTION: And why is the Chamber event closed?

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: It’s their event, it’s not --

PARTICIPANT: It’s their event.


MR. CROWLEY: It’s their event.

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: Do you have a list?

STAFF: I don’t have the list. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you say more about what you hope to achieve by having these private sector people --

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: Sure. I think the whole idea of this is to really be – it’s an exchange of ideas and opportunities, people getting together to learn more about each other. And one of the key parts of it, particularly with regard to a lot of the economic opportunity that we’re looking at, is to create these networks of individuals and organizations, so that they can work together on problems, and looking for new opportunities that they can see.

So we reached out to the American private sector to sort of find organizations and entities, both nonprofit and for-profit organizations and entities that were interested in Africa, interested in – either from programs that they wanted to launch there or economic opportunities that they were looking – business opportunities and others. And so we felt this was a good way of bringing them together.

QUESTION: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: So that’s why they’re involved in that.

QUESTION: So ultimately, you also have been – it’s an exchange of money, then, right? That some of these private sector companies will donate money or will invest in some of the young leaders’ programs back in --

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: Well, if as a result of those discussions, that actually leads to sort of funding or investment opportunities, I think that’s a good thing.

QUESTION: Well, it’s also a trade opportunity – like, creating trade links for the U.S.

UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: Yeah, absolutely. It’s absolutely a two-way street. And so a lot of what we’re trying to do is to create that, to sort of increase the exchanges between the United States and companies and organizations and individuals here and their counterparts throughout Africa. That’s right.

MS. GAVIN: Absolutely, and to see just a slightly different strategic vision of Africa, right? So looking not necessarily at what’s going to happen two years from now, but what might happen a decade from now. And we think that this is – there’s a lot of potential, obviously, in African markets, and there’s been some interesting reporting and reports issued around that quite recently.

But it’s a different and in some ways sort of more complex level of understanding that we’re interested in. And from our conversations and reaching out and planning this event, U.S. civil society and the private sector is interested in it as well; where is this going and how might they think about their engagement with Africa in the future.

QUESTION: Does a lot of that have to do with oil companies or minerals? I mean, when you – I’m wondering how much of it is resource-oriented and --

MS. GAVIN: A lot of investment in Africa right now is resource-oriented. I think that you’ll see – we’ll get you the list of partners. It’s by no means dominated by resource or extracted industry.


UNDER SECRETARY MCHALE: One of the things we’re trying to do by this dialogue is to really present to the United States and to people here this changing vision of Africa. If you look at all the economic activities and the diversification of the economic activity there, we think that there are real opportunities for our country to grow closer with that part of the world across the board. And so this is an opportunity to bring those groups together.

MR. CROWLEY: Other questions? Thank you.

PRN: 2010/1041