Young African Leaders Initiative - Obama Immortalises Mandela

By Amanda Hawker

On Monday, 28 July, in the presence of 500 newly selected young and inspiring leaders from the African continent, President Barack Obama announced that the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders had been renamed in honour of Nelson Mandela, who passed away last year. With the newly renamed Mandela Washington Fellowship, President Obama plans to spearhead a tangible investment in Africa through growing and nurturing leadership qualities, skills and networking opportunities in the promising young candidates.

The 500 fellows were picked from a staggering 50, 000 applicants. Selection criteria was rigorous, with all applicants having to be between the ages of  25 and 35 years of age, and have to have proven track records of already being leaders in public, civic or private organisations. They also have to show a strong community ethic and be dedicated to sharing their skills and expertise by uplifting and serving their communities.  Under the programme, the fellows have the opportunity to study at top US universities and the programme also aims to open regional leadership centres in Kenya, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa to provide support and leadership training as well as access to mentorship and capital funding.

The inaugural class of Mandela Washington Fellows is made up equal numbers of men and women from all 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and provide a wonderfully diverse kaleidoscope of cultures and backgrounds.

It’s no secret that Africa has enormous potential to be a worldwide economic power. With the rapid growth of the economies of many countries on the African continent, many Western countries have begun looking to Africa for new trade opportunities. A global management firm recently reported that “Nigeria has the potential to be one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2030 with a consumer base exceeding the current populations of France and Germany.” The US Agency for International Development has also drummed up financial support for the program’s fellows from private sector partners such as Boeing, Microsoft, Ethiopian Airlines and Intel, to name a few.

Obama explained his reasons fro renaming the fellowship in honour of Mandela, saying it reflected Madiba’s “optimism, his idealism, his belief in what he called ’the endless heroism of youth.” Obama told the audience it is “a long-term investment” in Africa and its people.

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