US President Barack Obama has asked young African leaders to follow the example of Mahatma Gandhi and change themselves first if they wanted to bring about real change in the continent.
"Back in the 1960s, when your grandparents, great-grandparents were obtaining independence, fighting for independence, the first leaders, they all said they were for democracy," he recalled at a meeting Tuesday with 40 young leaders from across Africa.
"And then what ends up happening is you've been in power for a while and you say, well, I must be such a good ruler that it is for the benefit of the people that I need to stay here," Obama said at the White House meeting of Young African Leaders Forum.
"And so then you start changing the laws, or you start intimidating and jailing opponents. And pretty soon, young people just like yourself, full of hope and promise, end up becoming exactly what they fought against."
"So one of the things that I think everybody here has to really internalise is the notion that I think it was (Mahatma) Gandhi who once said you have to be the change that you seek. You have to be the change that you seek," Obama recalled.
In the first of its kind meeting with African leaders, the president said the US has instituted a "culture where the institutions of democracy are more important than any one individual", he said. "And, now, it's not as if we're perfect."
"But what it does mean is that the peaceful transfer of power and the notion that people always have a voice, our trust in that democratic process is one that has to be embraced in all your countries as well," Obama said.
Saying "Africa's future belongs to its young people", the president promised "to keep helping empower African youth, supporting education, increasing educational exchanges like the one that brought my father from Kenya, in the days when Kenyans were throwing off colonial rule and reaching for a new future."
"I see Africa as a fundamental part of our interconnected world," he said. "There is going to be a path that takes us into a direction of more conflict, more bloodshed, less economic development, continued poverty, even as the rest of the world races ahead, or there is a vision in which people come together for the betterment and development of their own country."