"We must decide whether to be headlights or taillights," King told those attending a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Friday.
The young African leaders met to discuss their role in achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals in East Africa. King urged the group to take on bigger responsibilities in their countries' development.
The 51-year-old eldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain 1960s U.S. civil rights leader, is a former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who now heads a foundation he created, Realizing the Dream.
"Young people need to be considered as an asset in development and their abilities harnessed," said Helen Sambili, Kenya's minister of youth affairs. She noted that 75 percent of Africa's population would be under 30 by 2015.
Speakers criticized Kenya's political leadership for not doing more. Kenya is on track to achieve just two of the United Nations' eight millennium development goals by 2015 while it appears Rwanda will fulfill all eight.
"It is all about leadership," said Sylvia Mudasia-Mwichuli of the U.N. Millennium Campaign.
Sir James Mancham, founding president of Seychelles, urged the country's leaders to put "Kenya first, party second and tribe third."
The event was sponsored by the Youth Federation for World Peace. Its president, Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, is chairman of News World Communications Inc., which owns UPI.