Nelson Mandela’s Legacy and the Next Generation of Great African Leaders

Posted by Richard Stengel
July 17, 2014
Young Woman Honors Former South African President Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was not only a great leader; he was a student of great leadership. As a boy, he was dazzled by stories of African leaders from the 17th and 18th centuries, and he saw himself as part of that grand tradition. He was raised by the Regent of the Tembu tribe, who allowed him to sit in on tribal councils. Mandela once told me that the Regent would never speak until the end, and then he would summarize what had been said and try to form a consensus. When I was working with Mandela on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, I sat in on many meetings with his own senior team. He would almost always wait until the end to speak and then see if he could forge a consensus. To him that was the African way.

Mandela was not only a student of great leadership; he was intent on creating great African leaders. He believed that there was a dearth of great leaders in Africa, and he was keen on motivating a new generation of leadership for the continent. Today would have been Nelson Mandela’s 96th birthday, and I believe he would have greatly admired President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative, known as YALI. That is something President Obama and Nelson Mandela share: a desire to inspire a new generation of great African leaders.

Next week, 500 YALI Fellows will arrive in Washington. They have been selected from almost 50,000 applicants representing all 49 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. YALI’s mission is to support young African leaders, enhance their leadership skills, spark entrepreneurship, and create a continental network of ambitious young men and women. The Washington Fellows are now participating in academic programs at twenty colleges and universities across the country, where they are studying business and entrepreneurship, public management, and civic leadership. Many of the YALI Fellows will be on hand to help President Obama and Secretary Kerry welcome more than 50 heads of state on August 4-6 for the largest summit of African leaders ever held. Then one hundred Fellows will go on to eight-week internships in the public, private and non-profit sectors with organizations throughout the United States.

I was with Mandela during many meetings with South African and international leaders. Afterwards, he would comment on a leader’s particular style or tactics, or even on what he wore. He would note if a leader was polite or deferential. He did not like leaders who were overly emotional or histrionic. If he described you as “measured,” that was a great compliment. He prized directness. He had no tolerance for leaders who were not honest. And he would sometimes smile ruefully if someone was in over his head.

Mandela believed that African leaders needed to be different than Western leaders. As the head of the African National Congress, and as the president of South Africa, he always sought consensus. He once told me that as a boy he had spent many days herding cattle, and that the way you lead cattle is from behind. By that he meant, you must marshal your forces and make sure that your people are ready to go in the direction where you want to lead them. Mandela led from the front and behind, and it is his spirit that is behind the Young African Leadership Initiative. And on Mandela’s 96th birthday, we get ready to welcome to Washington the 500 YALI Fellows who are the brightest of a new generation of great African leaders.

Mandela understood that leaders are made as well as born, and that circumstances bring forth great leaders. He liked the old English expression about leadership: “Cometh the moment, cometh the man – or the woman.” This is the moment for these young African leaders.

About the Author: Rick Stengel serves as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Follow @Stengel on Twitter for the latest updates from the Under Secretary.

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Comments

Vivian M.
|
Texas, USA
July 19, 2014
How can I take part in this wonderful program.
Lillian S.
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Kentucky, USA
July 19, 2014
WELCOME YALI Fellows to the shores of our country. I hope everything you experience in the U.S., coupled with the knowledge and skills you already have, will help you mature in your development as a leader. Your country will depend on you for solutions and the world will need your skills to help solve global issues. You are the young ladies and young men of the next generation of African leaders, embrace your position. Here's wishing the best for you.
carolyn b.
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Missouri, USA
July 19, 2014
Rick Stengel, you have written a valuable article about valuable leadership specific to Africa. My personal experience on that continent (Mozambique) as a white missionary with the United Methodist Church, proved to share this insight of yours -- time and time again. I am so pleased that Mr. Mandela's legacy is being carried forward surrounding his ethics, his wisdom, his overall leadership from behind and in front, whichever is needed through keen observation -- not of selfishness but of honed skilled awareness. Our US can learn from his life. Thank you.
Fred R.
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California, USA
July 19, 2014
He was a great leader and strove to build a free and democratic society, even at great personal cost and humility. He also exemplified forgiveness and worked to bring the rainbow nation to fruition. All my friends in SA have positive things to say about his presidency.
clinton c.
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Florida, USA
July 20, 2014
PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA is a hero of all, he was very, very strong relentless in fighting for human rights and equality and as a GREAT OUTSTANDING LEADER, not only in Africa but around world. I have to mention PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA is to a great black leader and heard around the world!!
LUCKY O.
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Nigeria
July 20, 2014
African are rising up. Mandela was a legend. He has made a plat form for every africans to excel. So african youth rise up and educate your selves, so we be liberated...I believe so much in my heart that this time is for african to shine all over the world.
Sherry W.
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South Carolina, USA
July 20, 2014
born and raised Afrikaans in South Africa and to my family, Nelson Mandela is our greatest hero~
Theophilus V.
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Liberia
July 21, 2014
Leadership educational advocate light the global world.
thierno d.
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Senegal
July 21, 2014
A great lesson nelson Mandela gave african leader. they must be more different than western leaders. I think now, african leader must think and practice african reality. young african leader as Mandela think, must read more the past and built the future among new parthnership with other young in the world who think that african have opportinies to grow up.
Mamadou B.
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Liberia
July 22, 2014
Africa needs real leaders and that will be "us" in general!!!
Tony P.
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New York, USA
August 6, 2014
I very much enjoyed the book Long Walk To Freedom, and proud to be able to spread his legacy in my own small way. Nelson Mandela's vision serves as a constant reminder of unity and hope for future generations and I am proud to post this!
JKT48 g.
|
United States
September 10, 2014
Writers today don’t seem to care about writing their own original content. You seem to have a lot of talent and your own original ideas. All the way this post is really excellent.

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