CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Challenging African youth to seize a “moment of great promise,” President Barack Obama declared yesterday that the future of the young and growing continent still rests in ailing South African leader Nelson Mandela’s vision for equality and opportunity. Seeking to carve out his own piece of that legacy, Obama unveiled an ambitious initiative to double electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa, vowing to bring “light where there is darkness.”
The president’s address at the University of Cape Town capped an emotionally charged day in this picturesque coastal city, including a solemn visit to the Robben Island prison where Mandela was confined for 18 of his 27 years in captivity. Obama stood stoically with his family in Mandela’s cramped cell and peered across the lime quarry where Mandela toiled each day, causing the damage to his lungs that led to his latest hospital stint.
“Nelson Mandela showed us that one man’s courage can move the world,” Obama said during his evening speech at the university. He was flanked by a diverse array of students, underscoring Mandela’s vision for a unified “rainbow nation” for the country once led by a white racist government.
In the flagship address of his weeklong trip to Africa, Obama outlined a U.S. policy toward the continent that focuses on increasing the region’s ability to support itself economically, politically and militarily. Harkening back to a prominent theme from his 2009 speech in Ghana — Obama’s only other trip to Africa as president — he said Africans must take much of the responsibility for achieving that goal, although he pledged American assistance.
“Ultimately, I believe Africans should make up their own minds about what serves African interests,” he said. “We trust your judgment, the judgment of ordinary people. We believe that when you control your destiny, if you got a handle on your governments, then governments will promote freedom and opportunity, because that will serve you.”