Saturday 24 March 2018

Barack Obama calls for jobs drive in African Union speech

Barack Obama delivers a speech to the African Union (AP)
Barack Obama delivers a speech to the African Union (AP)
Barack Obama offers a toast during a state dinner hosted by Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn (AP)

US President Barack Obama has urged African leaders to prioritise creating jobs and opportunity for the next generation of young people as he completed a visit to the continent.

He said the "urgent task" of generating jobs for a population that is expected to double to about two billion people in the coming decades will be "an enormous undertaking". But he said it can be achieved with US help.

"Africa will need to generate millions more jobs than it is doing now," Mr Obama said in a speech to the entire continent delivered from the headquarters of the African Union (AU), a member organisation of African nations.

"The choices made today will shape the trajectory of Africa - and therefore the world - for decades to come."

The speech marked the end of Mr Obama's five-day visit to Africa that included an earlier stop in Kenya, homeland of his late father.

He also called on Africa's leaders to make their countries more attractive to foreign investment by cleaning up corruption, upholding democratic freedoms, supporting human rights and willingly and peacefully leaving office when their terms expire.

Mr Obama, who is more than halfway through his second and final term, said he did not understand leaders who refuse to step aside when their terms end.

He referred to Burundi's leader, who was just elected to a controversial third term although he is constitutionally limited to two. The announcement that President Pierre Nkurunziza was seeking a third term sparked days of unrest across the country.

He called on the AU to use its authority to help make sure African leaders stick to their term limits and follow their constitutions. "No-one should be president for life," said Mr Obama, who leaves office in January 2017.

Africa's progress will also depend on security and peace since businesses and wealthy people will not want to invest in unsafe places, the president said.

He pledged continued US training assistance and other support in the fight against terrorism carried out across the continent by groups like al-Qaida, the Islamic State, al-Shabab and Boko Haram.

Mr Obama said Africa's impending population boom could bring tremendous opportunities for the continent on the one hand.

"On the other hand," he said, "we need only look to the Middle East and North Africa to see that large numbers of young people with no jobs and stifled voices can fuel instability and disorder."

Before addressing the AU, Obama highlighted his administration's efforts to combat hunger by touring a Faffa Foods factory that participates in the US Feed the Future programme.

The initiative focuses on helping smaller farmers in 19 countries, including Ethiopia and 11 other African nations, expand their businesses.

Mr Obama's speech closed a homecoming of sorts to Africa.

The president first flew to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi to attend a US-sponsored business development summit, but he also spent time reconnecting with relatives on his father's side of the family, including his sister, Auma Obama, and a grandmother.

Kenyans had waited years to welcome him back as president and many lined the streets in Kenya, as well as in Ethiopia, hoping for a glimpse of him as his motorcade drove by.

Press Association

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