The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) hosts a number of programs working hand in hand with the American state Department. The Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) is one of these programs. 64 000 applications where accepted and only 700 young leaders from the African continent were selected to do a 6 weeks academic track in various Universities across the USA.
When I first got the email saying I was accepted into the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) program I was excited. However my excitement levelled out when I was told I would be going to do my studies in the gun slinging, confederate state of Texas. It was my first-time hearing of the city of Austin and naturally I took to Google to find out everything we could about the Silicone hills.
(Infographic about our cohort taken from YALI UT Facebook)
To my pleasant surprise, Austin was a welcoming city, a diverse place with polite an friendly people. Our days spent at The Central Food Bank and Southwest Keys also showed me a side of this city that really cares about its communities.
(Firdos and Thomas from Ethiopia showing us how its done during our community visit to Casa Marianella, a center for refugee's and asylum seekers)
The University of Texas at Austin (UT) team, that we fondly referred to as Team LAABAN (initials of the team members) was instrumental in putting the whole experience together for us. We attended lectures at the prestigious McCombs School of Business .
(Our Thank You party for LAABAN Team)
Our academic program was lead by Professor John Doggett. A very intense man who has a deep passion for the African continent and us as its future leaders. He led us through case studies of various businesses and shared his personal experiences that opened conversations about ourselves as leaders and what our real priorities are.
(Receiving my UT Certificate of Completion form Professor Doggett)
Dr. Charlee Garden was not as intense but just as impactful. With her we learnt better communication skills with others as well as with ourselves. She helped us find balance, especially when working with/ understanding other people. There were many breakthroughs, which I believe also lead to the unique tightness of our group.
(Guest Lectures included the likes of Dr. Vijay Mahajan, Author of Africa Rising)
I was blessed to find a new family in the other 24 fellows that where placed with me out in UT. I enjoyed discussions about the importance of culture in modern times with Uiteni Chumussa (Fashion/Culture advocate, Mozambique) and learnt the latest dance moves from Benin with Augastino Agbemavo, (founder of Reading Power ) a Mobile and Virtual Library that started with this young man cycling with books to get them to the kids in areas that do not have access to libraries.
(International Night Event with Stephane Bougouma and Uiteni Chamusso)
I got to share my sentiments about natural hair with my home girl, Hape Marite (Founder of Black Hair, Lesotho) and practiced my poor French on my West African fellows including founder of Fortitude Agence, Amina Issa Ado of Niger (not Nigeria, as she would always remind us) and our resident chef, Stephane Bougouma (Burkino Faso) CEO of Umau Sarl a company that processes traditional African foods with international practices in modern packaging.
(Amina and I after receiving our Mandela Washington Fellowship Certificates in Washington DC)
They say you learn about a country through its people. Amhed Elmurtada (Cybersecurity Engineer) shared about the Pyramids of Sudan as well as its beautiful forests. Its then I realized how I truly know very little about this wonderful continent and I have 24 reasons to go and explore 18 African countries.
I would need a book to write about all the wonderful personalities I had the pleasure to get to know and the stories of their countries that they shared.
More then anything, my experience on the MWF allowed me to know that there are other likeminded leaders on this continent. It tells me that despite what we see in the media and what some of us have lived through, the truth is all is not lost however there is a massive mind-shift that must take place that my self and the 700 Leaders from this years MWF have been tasked with.
Africa, we already know, is a wealth of natural resources that we as African do not own. Africa is also one of the world’s largest consumers (of our resources being transformed and being sold right back to us). If anything this trip has spurred me on to learn more about Africa’s true history, of when our Kings made economies collapse because of how much gold they spent on foreign soil. Times when we build structures that are older and rival that of the Great pyramids of Giza. A time before slavery and pain and Africa became the continent cursed by debt with its hand held out for never ending aid.
I have seen the future of Africa in the eyes of my fellows in UT and it is magnificent. Will you follow us and allow us to show it to you too?