Transforming Africa Through Leadership
Leadership. This is one word, one quality that seems to have long evaded most of Africa. From dictators to pawns to blatantly self-interested figures, Africa has been plagued with a leadership that is more interested in the well-being of themselves and a select few than that of the many. This has led to a state of rampant corruption in government and business, lack of opportunities for young, driven individuals and weak institutions that have left our countries clutching at straws to stay afloat.
It’s in light of this that Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was born. Launched by former President of the United States, Barack Obama, YALI and the Mandela Washington Fellowship seek to train and equip a new generation of leaders to transform the fates of their individual countries. A fellowship of 1000 bright, young men and women from across West Africa were chosen to spend six weeks in institutions of higher learning in the US, coming back to their home countries with what they have learnt, to make a real and lasting change in their communities and spheres of influence. They were also connected with mentors, exemplary leaders in their own right such as Carl Manlan of Ecobank Foundation, Margaret Jackson of Rainbow Consult and Ben Andoh of Ecobank Transnational, to help guide them in achieving the goals they set for themselves after their time in the US.
The programme in West Africa is run by IREX, with WACSI as an institutional partner. The partnership ensures some local ownership whilst providing logistical and institutional support for the US-based initiative and organisation. WACSI, an institution committed to the development and bolstering of civil society in West Africa, sees this partnership as essential in the building of a robust civil society and future for the region through the raising up of strong, principled leaders.
Every year, some of the Fellows come together at the Mandela Washington Fellowship Conference to reconnect, share their experiences and consolidate the gains made over the past months. This year’s conference took place in Accra, Ghana from 31 May – 1 June 2017. The Fellows were greeted first, to a moving and galvanising keynote address by Dr Patrick Awuah, President and Founder of Ashesi University. “Seek perfection of character,” he told the Fellows, “we will never find perfection but if we keep seeking it we will find perfection.” He went on to impress upon the Fellows to respect people by respecting themselves, saying that only through respect, discipline and strong characters can the fellows make lasting change on our continent.
Over the following two days, the Fellows went through a series of events learning from regional leaders and themselves on how to maximise their impact and potential all over the region. From panel discussions to storytelling sessions, powerful examples of what good, strong and selfless leadership can do for Africa came to the fore. Leaders in business and civic space came forward with innovations to transform our region such as a vaginal test kit to detect vaginal discharge, invented by Dr Laud Anthony Basing from Ghana and Food Tours to exhibit African culture by Yasmine Fofana from Cote D’Ivoire.
In the end, the true transformation of the region will come about through the character of its leaders, selfless individuals who seek to make a better life for every citizen. Leaders who think about the less fortunate with every decision they make and keep the best interest of the many before the few and the self. This was perfectly encapsulated in the closing words of the conference by Aissatou Diajhate, West Africa Manager of IREX, “keep your heads small and your hearts big.”