WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State John Kerry warned African leaders Tuesday that extremists threaten the continent's economic boom, with African youth particularly vulnerable to their pull.
He pointed specifically to the extremist Islamist groups Boko Haram in Nigeria and Shebab in Somalia and Kenya, saying countries were in danger of losing their fragile social and economic gains.
"In Africa, there are some 700 million people under the age of 30, a staggering youth bulge unknown at any time on the face of this planet," Kerry warned.
"And the fact is that ... most of them, with their increasing awareness of this world we live in, are desperate for opportunity, but also for dignity and for respect.
"On the other side, we all know too well there are extremists, too many radical religious extremists who distort theology, religion, and even ideology.
"And they are prepared to seduce these young people in a very calculated and disciplined way to lure them into what is nothing less than a dead end."
Kerry was speaking at the US-Africa Leaders Summit, which drew some 45 heads of state and government to Washington as the US seeks to strengthen political and business ties with the continent.
He reminded that the extremists "don't offer an education...(and) don't build infrastructure."
"And they don't talk about how they will provide jobs or offer a vision for the future. Opportunity is something that Boko Haram and al-Shebab and many other groups will never, ever provide."
He warned that the groups feed on corruption and oligarchic rule, and that governments need to modernize and meet the desire for jobs and better lives to defeat extremists.
"One thing that we have learned is that in the places where people are free not just to develop an idea, but to debate different ideas ... those are the societies that absolutely are the most successful and the most stable on our planet."