The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders concluded this week in a whirlwind of Summit activity in Washington, D.C. following six weeks of intensive academic coursework, leadership development, and cultural exchange at 38 colleges and universities across the United States. During the closing ceremony, the young African leaders cheered college chants at the mention of their American host universities. In a ballroom brimming with energy, the participants were excited to share their unique experiences in the United States.
Mandela Washington Fellow and founder of Green Farmlands, Atim Mbah Patience from Cameroon, was inspired by the enthusiasm and support. She explained that when she’s in her home country, the challenges she faces can be discouraging; however, after the program she had realized that there are challenges everywhere that must be tackled.
“Someone has to do the work at home, and as a citizen it’s my responsibility,” she stated. Through the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Patience explained that she learned new approaches to counter challenges and now feels that she has a network of support. Even as we spoke, she was connecting with an American businessman, Jean A. Tsafack-Djiague from Futures Agribusiness (FAGRIB), to discuss possible future cooperation between their agricultural businesses.
The 1,000 Mandela Washington Fellows arrived in the United States from 48 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. They came to develop leadership skills and make long-lasting connections with American peers and one another. During the first six weeks in the United States, Fellows participated in Academic and Leadership Institutes focused on one of three tracks: business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, and public management. When they return home, it is with new skills, opportunities, and connections that should enhance security, foster economic growth, and strengthen democratic institutions to the benefit of Africa and the United States. The Fellows say they are excited to put into practice the knowledge and experience they gained through the Fellowship.
William Nateymazingi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo explained that the program allowed him to utilize his critical thinking skills and taught him how to expand his chemical engineering studies to include a business component.
“I’m grateful to the Young African Leadership Initiative for building my confidence and economic adaptability,” he said.
Mandela Washington Fellows also built strong ties within their local communities. They not only engaged in student life at their host colleges and universities, but also represented their cultures, countries, and the continent.
“As Africans, we need to tell our own story and paint the picture of Africa that we want the world to see,” said Loice Kopondo of Zimbabwe.
Loice and all Mandela Washington Fellows act as bridges for both educational and cultural understanding by sharing their experiences and establishing connections between Americans and Africans. The exchange of practices and information provides room for growth and development, aiding both the Fellows and their U.S. host institutions.
Papa Oamar Zongo of Senegal most appreciated the ability to network with other Mandela Washington Fellows. He noted the importance of maintaining Fellow-to-Fellow relationships and working together after the program ends to improve opportunities and economic growth across Africa.
“We need these kinds of frameworks and places to share opinions and experiences,” he said.
About the Author: Eshrat Nikrooye-Asli serves as a U.S. Foreign Service Intern in the Office of Public Affairs and Strategic Communications (PASC) with the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.