Youth can change Africa's destiny, Obama tells UCT

7 Oct 2013 - 12:15

President Obama

President Barack Obama addresses a spellbound audience at Jameson Ha ll on 30 June.

Speaking on campus to a tightly-packed Jameson Hall during a visit to South Africa in June, the first black President of the United States' message to an enrapt audience in was loud and clear: Africa's fate is in the hands of its youth.

Obama visited UCT while in South Africa during his first major African tour since taking office. He also travelled to Senegal and Tanzania in a bid to deepen co-operation and strengthen US ties with countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

During his address Obama referred to US Senator Robert Kennedy's historic speech at UCT in 1966, spoke about the civil rights movement in his home country during that decade, and reflected on a South Africa that was still knee-deep in the brutality of apartheid.

"It would have seemed inconceivable at that time that less than 50 years later an African American president might address an integrated audience at South Africa's oldest university," he said, "and that this same university would have conferred an honorary degree on Nelson Mandela."

Speaking of his own political stirrings as a nineteen-year-old college student, Obama said it was a visit by young South Africans in exile that first ignited his political spirit.

He reminded the UCT community that it wasn't just the "giants of history" who brought apartheid to its knees, but that it was also "ordinary people who pushed against the wall of oppression and indignities."

He said that in today's Africa, where young people outnumber older people, it made demographic sense that students and other young people could bring about the change that the continent needed.

"That's where young people come in," he said, "It is you who get to decide. You are going to determine the fate of this continent, and the world will be watching what decisions you make. My bet is on the young people for the heartbeat of Africa's soul."

Obama raised loud applause in the hall when, speaking on gender-based violence and prejudice, he said, "You can measure how well a country does by how it treats its women".

But, his most noteworthy announcement - also met with rapturous applause - was news about a project that could have a large impact not only South Africa, but other sub-Saharan Africans countries, in which two-thirds of people live without electric power.

Announcing the ground-breaking project - Power Africa - Obama said its aim was to double the number of people who currently have access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. He said his government had contributed US$7-billion towards the initiative, while the private sector had put forward US$9-billion.

"We will develop new sources of energy for cities and farms," he said.