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South Africa

Obama unveils energy plan and challenges young Africans

US President Barack Obama has focused on Nelson Mandela's legacy and democratic progress in an address aimed at South Africa's youth. He also unveiled a new US initiative to help improve access to electricity.

Obama capped off an emotional day with a speech at the University of Capetown on Sunday, having earlier visited Mandela's former prison cell on Robben Island.

In his speech, he asked South African youths to seize a "moment of great promise" whilst pointing to the legacy of Mandela and the ailing anti-apartheid leader's long-held vision of equality and opportunity.

"Nelson Mandela showed us that one man's courage can move the world," Obama said.

Obama's address at the university came nearly 50 years after Robert F. Kennedy delivered his famous speech at the same university, boosting the anti-apartheid cause. Kennedy spoke there shortly after Mandela was imprisoned, calling on young people to fight against injustice and "build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

The subsequent years have seen the end of apartheid, Mandela's election as South Africa's first black president and the nation's economic and political success on the continent.

Fragile progress

Obama pointed out, however, that progress can be fragile, and he encouraged the continent to focus on expanding opportunity, promoting democracy and supporting peace.

During his speech, Obama focused on South Africa's need for democratic change and good governance.

"History shows us that progress is only possible where governments exist to serve their people and not the other way around," he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

"Across Africa, the same institutions that should be the backbone of democracy can all too often be infected with the rot of corruption. The same technology that enables record profits sometimes means widening a canyon of inequality," he said.

To help expand opportunity in Africa, the Obama administration is embarking on a new initiative, unveiled just before his speech, entitled "Power Africa."

Shedding light

The venture is funded to the tune of $7 billion (5.34 billion euros) in US investment, combined with another $9 million from the private sector. Its goal is to bring electricity to 20 million new households in sub-Saharan Africa.

In his speech at the university, Obama vowed to bring "light where there is darkness."

Earlier in the day, the American leader and his family visited Mandela's former prison cell on Robben Island, where the ailing leader spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars.

Mandela remains critically ill in a Pretoria hospital, where he has been being treated for a lung infection for three weeks.

Obama will head to Tanzania on Monday, where he plans to finish his three-country African tour.

tm/ccp (AFP, AP)

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