THE BLOG

Letter to President Obama from Richard Attias

Barack Hussein Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
Washington, DC

26 June 2013

Dear Mr. President,

In a few hours you will touch down in Africa on a much-anticipated visit. Africa is deeply rooted in my DNA. It is the continent where I was born, it is where my roots are, it is the land where I made my best friends, it is the land whose sights and smells I recall, and where people have known how to live together for centuries in peace and harmony. It is where the conflicts of religion that we know today never existed in the past. Africa today is also a land of one billion people, many of them young and seeking opportunity. These one billion people have huge expectations of you on the eve of your arrival.

Your trip to Africa couldn't come at a more timely moment. Right now, Nelson Mandela, a world icon, a mentor who has undoubtedly inspired you, and a fellow Nobel Peace laureate is nearing the end of his lifecycle. This is not a coincidence. This is a message. This is a passing of a baton. It is, I believe, a sign that you personally have a big role to play in the future of the continent.

Earlier in June in Gabon, under the patronage of H.E. President Ali Bongo Ondimba, I convened the New York Forum AFRICA 2013, in the presence of ten of your fellow heads of state and over 1,500 business leaders. There in the capital, Libreville, not only did we come together to discuss how to accelerate economic and social development, but we produced concrete outcomes and policy innovations. These included: the launch of a job training fund, announcements regarding easing of workforce mobility requirements, and key steps to counteract the illegal pharmaceutical trade.

Following the intense deliberations among US, African and other global leaders, I left Libreville last week with a profound conviction: the continent needs America, it needs your leadership. Africa today needs to realize for itself the best that the United States has to offer. Its people are already inspired by the US - by technology, innovation, creativity, openness, stability, security, and the promise that the current generation will have greater opportunities than those experienced by previous generations. Africa now needs to replicate the DNA of your great nation. In this decade, Africa has found a voice, and it is calling for partnership, for investment. It is also calling right now. Our mutual friend Larry Summers was my guest at the Forum, and he put it well: "In a world where lending countries talk and borrowing countries listen, it is about time that Africa found its voice and the world listened. Senegal has a lower borrowing rate that Greece, and Ghana has a lower rate than Ireland, whilst Gabon has a lower borrowing rate than Belgium and Chile."

Africa is not just about oil or natural resources; Africa is about youth, talent, enthusiasm and passion. It's about young people, girls and boys who aspire for democracy, leadership, education and healthcare. It is about change. It's about citizens standing up to their governments and to non-state actors to say, 'We want to determine our own destiny and we want to create the conditions in our own countries for peace and for progress.' This is therefore a moment for Africans, from those in Tunis who have shown their sisters and brothers that they are not scared of regime change to those in Timbuktu who are defiant when crime and conflict prevent citizens from achieving their economic potential.

It is my belief that the continent of Africa today provides the US with an ideal platform for a global joint venture with the other leading economies, most notably the European Union and China. This "joint venture" would not be about aid, nor about investment in extractive industries. Rather it would be a process of supporting inclusive and sustainable growth for the continent and the people. This is a process, Mr. President, which I know you can and should definitely champion and lead.

In this regard, kindly permit me to share my personal dream with you. As part of a new global partnership for Africa, and as part and parcel of the US's commitment to economic statecraft and to Africa achieving its potential, I invite you to support, financially and technically, Train My Generation, the jobs fund that was launched by H.E. President Ali Bongo Ondimba, his CEMAC peers, and my New York Forum Institute, which you know well. Train My Generation will finance the creation of 50 professional schools that will train 100,000 students and unemployed persons in 18-24 months. These schools will focus on three sectors - tourism, agriculture and retail - that have the biggest growth potential, and the potential to create the most jobs. I hope that the US government will become a pillar of this fund and contribute to its transformative impact for Africa.

As you may know, we will be celebrating the life and achievement of another fellow Nobel Peace laureate of yours - Dr. Albert Schweitzer - on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of his clinic in Gabon and in celebration of the center's excellence in healthcare. In consideration of what you can do for Africa by way of example, Mr. President, I would like to quote the great humanist Dr. Schweitzer, who left Africa and the world greatly influenced by his humanist legacy, "Do something wonderful, people may imitate it."

Wishing you a successful trip.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Attias
Founder, New York Forum and New York Forum AFRICA

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