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Obama announces African electricity initiative, reflects on Mandela

President Barack Obama on Sunday announced a sweeping initiative to help bring electrical power to some of Africa's poorest regions, while reflecting on the legacy of Nelson Mandela and urging the continent to continue the work of South Africa's ailing former leader.

Speaking at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the president announced a $7 billion initiative to bring electrical power to sub-Saharan Africa in an effort to help modernize the continent and better connect it with the rest of the world.

The program, called "Power Africa," will also include more than $9 billion in investment from private companies, according to the White House. The iniative will focus on six African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. 

"We believe that nations must have the power to connect their people to the promise of the 21st century. Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age," Obama said.

"It's the connection that's needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy. You've got to have power," he added, citing that two-thirds of the population in sub-Saharan Africa does not have regular access to household electricity. 

Obama's hopes to modernize the continent came the same day as he urged Africa's youth to remember the sacrifices of beloved leader Mandela, who is in "critical but stable" condition in a South African hospital, according to government officials.

Earlier Sunday, the president and his family visited Robben Island prison, the place where Mandela spent most of his 27 years in jail. The 94-year-old anti-apartheid champion has been in the hospital for weeks, and his health has become one of the main story lines of the president's week-long trip.

In his speech in Cape Town, Obama said that standing in Mandela's small cell helped his daughters appreciate the sacrifices made by the the leader and is an experience they will never forget.

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

White House officials said the speech drew inspiration from remarks delivered by Robert F. Kennedy in June of 1966 at the same university. Kennedy's now famous "ripple of hope" speech was delivered soon after Mandela was sentenced to prison also called on African youth to fight against injustice.

"There is no question that Africa is on the move, but it's not moving fast enough...That's where you come in -- the young people of Africa. Just like previous generations, you've got choices to make. You get to decide where the future lies," Obama said.

While in Cape Town, the president also visited an HIV/AIDS clinic where he commended the work of President George W. Bush in helping fight AIDS in Africa. 

"We have the possibility of achieving an AIDS-free generation...and making sure that everybody in our human family is able to enjoy their lives and raise families, and succeed in maintaining their health here in Africa and around the world," Obama said.

NBC's Shawna Thomas contributed to this report.