Pretoria - The United States stands ready to work with African youth in promoting trade and investment that will help build strong economies and create job opportunities, says President Barack Obama.
"We're going to keep helping empower African youth, supporting education, increasing educational exchanges," Obama told young African leaders attending a three-day forum in Washington on Tuesday.
Declaring that Africa's future belonged to the youth, he urged them to help improve their governments, saying that "good governance is at the center of development."
"As part of our new development strategy, we're emphasising transparency, accountability and a strong civil society - the kinds of reform that can help unleash transformational change.
"It will be up to you - young people full of talent and imagination - to build Africa for the next 50 years," the President said.
The meeting brought together 115 members of the private sector from more than 40 countries, to examine how they see Africa's future over the next 50 years and to help craft innovative solutions to regional challenges.
The topics included the HIV and AIDS epidemic, as well as human rights issues in Zimbabwe and the Sudan, among others.
Responding to criticism over his lack of funding to fight HIV-AIDS, Obama said: "We're never going to have enough money to simply treat people who are constantly getting infected... what we're trying to do is to build greater public health infrastructure, find what prevention programs are working."
Obama condemned the rule of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who has been accused of human rights abuses, saying he is "heartbroken." "I do not see [Mugabe] serving his people well." The abuse of opposition leaders there "is terrible."
With regards to the situation in Somalia, which he called "equally heartbreaking," he said there has not been an effective, functioning government that can provide basic services.
In contrast, he complimented South Africa's recent success in hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He said while there were two European teams in the World Cup Final, Africa was the real winner at the end.
"In the end, I think that this metaphor of the success of the World Cup, and the bombing, shows that each of you are going to be confronted with two paths. 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. "
Also speaking at the event, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the forum that the success of the continent was up to them.
"Africa's future is up to Africans," she said, adding that the US stood ready to partner "in a spirit of mutual respect and accountability."
She urged the youth to empower average people, adding that information technology will blow the doors down on repressive governments.
"We are looking for leaders who know that empowering citizens is in everyone's best interests."
Clinton said she hoped African nations could move toward e-government systems which could help slash the time needed to procure documents, start a business or register a car.
"We're looking for those kinds of ideas, and we want to help you bring them to fruition and take them to scale."