Five years ago, President Barack Obama came to South Africa with a message of hope and youth empowerment, introducing the young African leaders initiative to develop the next generation of African entrepreneurs, activists and leaders.Next month, he returns to the “rainbow nation” to continue his work and to commemorate what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday.Backed by the Mandela Washington Fellowship, young leaders have convened in Johannesburg for a two-day workshop.They tell VOA that for most in attendance here, Obama is more than just a former president.“I think Obama is an empire of young people.I think of him as somebody who has really given us young people a platform to express ourselves, a platform to display our leadership.”
US ambassador Matthew Harrington says the conference is an important next step in their development.“Well, these fellows today were the part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship Class of 2017.This is the first continental conference we’ve had and a follow-up to their experience.So we’re bringing 400 of them together to have a series to meet each other again after their experience last year and to have a series of panels and discussions about what comes next.”
Nigerian optometrist Ucheoma Udoha says her time with the Fellowship gave her the skills she needed to help more people.“So with the Fellowship, I also got some grants to provide eye care services to those in underserved communities.We actually developed eye test kits which is like the kits that you can actually use yourself and do an eye exam all by yourself.”
For many here, Obama’s legacy of hope and empowerment continues to resonate.
Zaheer Cassim, VOA news, Johannesburg, South Africa.