• Opinion
  • December 5, 2018
  • 10 minutes
  • 1

How Apolitical Academy is cultivating a pipeline of new public leaders in Africa

Opinion: We believe that government is the biggest single lever for social change

This piece was written by Lindiwe Mazibuko, the former Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of South Africa. She is the co-founder and executive director of Apolitical Foundation, which supports the next generation of ethical public leaders around the globe. For more like this, see our spotlight on public service leadership in Africa.


Last year I was sitting in my home, glued to the television set as I watched people on the streets of Johannesburg and in Harare, Zimbabwe rejoice in celebration as President Robert Mugabe’s term in office came to an end.

I could not help but reflect on the influence and power that one person has over millions of people. There was euphoria and hope for Zimbabwe as the 93-year-old man who had held office for 37 years resigned.

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I had multiple questions racing through my mind. What kind of leader would step down and have millions of people rejoicing at his departure? Are they rejoicing the end of an era? Are they rejoicing the possibility of a new dawn of leadership? How could one man’s leadership drive his people to so much discontentment?

As this year draws to end, we also watched President Paul Biya win his seventh presidential term in office in Cameroon, which effectively means that to date, he has held power for 35 years. In 2008, President Biya passed a constitutional amendment which removed the two-term limit on his presidency, allowing him to extend his term in office.

How long will Africa be ruled by leaders who want to extend their grip on power to the detriment of citizens?

How long will Africa be ruled by leaders who want to extend their grip on power to the detriment of the citizens that they are supposed to serve; a pattern which is replicated throughout the African continent?

The United Nations estimates that we have the world’s youngest population — the average age in Africa is 19 year old — yet this demographic is not reflected in the continent’s leadership. This age gap raises concerns about whether decision-makers understand the needs of the young people they govern.

If we are not recycling political leaders who are supposed to be enjoying their retirement, we have presidents tabling constitutional amendments to run for yet another term in office, irrespective of their ability to serve fully their constituencies. There continues to be a glaring disconnect between the leaders in office and those they are supposed to be serving. This is the biggest hindrance on Africa’s development.

Globally, women make up 49.7% of the population, but only hold 22% of government and public offices. Women only hold 22.8% of parliamentary seats worldwide, and only 17% of ministerial positions as of 2015.

Research has shown that an increase in the proportion of women in public office results in lower levels of inequality and increased confidence in national governments. In East Africa, Uganda and Tanzania are making advances in gender representation: they have more than 35% women as members of parliament. Rwanda has about 64% parliamentary seats held by women. These countries also display the region’s highest economic growth rates.

There is no prosperity for our continent without a vibrant, diverse and truly competitive politics

Africa urgently needs a new generation of representative leaders; there is no prosperity for our continent without a vibrant, diverse and truly competitive politics founded upon excellence, transparency and commitment to the public good.

At a time when Africa is on the cusp of a youth population bulge, and governments everywhere are wrestling with the challenges and opportunities brought about by new technologies and the fourth industrial revolution, the continent sorely needs leaders of all ideological backgrounds who understand the challenges faced by their electorates and are ready to serve. We need ethical leaders across the spectrum who have a burning desire to make a difference.

Africa’s development and prosperity depends on many things, including fostering entrepreneurialism, economic development, health reform and social upliftment — and all of these successes hinge upon the success of politics and government around the continent.

At Apolitical Foundation, we understand that the success of politics and government will be the result of populating public offices and political structures across the region with a new generation of ethical and transformational leaders. We want to support smart, entrepreneurial, highly-skilled, talented and service-oriented young Africans to make themselves available either for political leadership or government appointment, to drive and support Africa’s socio-economic prosperity.

This is why we partnered with the Daniel Sachs Foundation to establish Apolitical Academy. The academy’s mission is to make the public service work for people everywhere by supporting the next generation of ethical and transformational public leaders.

We believe that government is the biggest single lever for social change

We believe that government is the biggest single lever for social change, and so we want to give young and emerging public leaders the opportunity to enter the public service and be part of the decision making process, giving them the access, responsibility and the mandate to to change the societies that they live in for the better.

Through the academy’s Public Service Fellowship program, we offer non-partisan training programs designed to prepare diverse groups of talented and innovative leaders for careers in government or elected leadership.

By gathering emerging leaders from a variety of ideological backgrounds and giving them the opportunity to share and defend their ideas while learning about modern government and policymaking, we are able to provide our fellows with a unique personal leadership development experience that will prepare them well for the rigours of public life.

Our Public Service Fellowship focuses on personal leadership and public purpose, ethics and values, and is underpinned by a high-level mentorship program. Every year, we will identify and support emerging leaders between the ages of 20 and 45 — women in particular, and other political “outsiders” who wish to transition into public service, but lack the networks and personal development opportunities to do on their own.

The program invites our fellows to ask themselves who they are as leaders, what they have to offer, who they hope to serve and who they want to represent. We also want to facilitate inter- generational conversations, where fellows have an opportunity to learn and engage with the political elders from whom they hope to take the baton of leadership.

Our program also deals with the skills-development side of running for office: speech writing, media management and the entire toolkit necessary to be successful in politics and government.

We as Africans are the only ones who can rise to the call and save our countries

Our inaugural program is Southern Africa-based and comprises a cohort of 25 ideologically-diverse Public Service Fellows who will spend seven in-residence weekends over nine months engaged in personal leadership development, as well as public service skills and systems learning.

We as Africans are the only ones who can rise to the call and save our countries. There is a need for political evolution and we need to drive that change. We need to enter positions of power and create political and economic systems that are inclusive.

There is no better time than now for young and emerging leaders of different ideological backgrounds to enter political and government structures and lead! — Lindiwe Mazibuko

(Picture credit: Apolitical Academy)

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