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

For an African Renaissance, we need a critical mass of talented young leaders

Opinion: We need to make government work to get development right

African renaissance

This piece was written by Yawa Hansen-Quao, the Executive Director of Emerging Public Leaders. For more like this, see our spotlight on public service leadership in Africa.


Earlier this year, I began a new chapter in my professional journey as Executive Director of Emerging Public Leaders (EPL), an organisation that is creating a merit-based pathway for young people to provide solutions to pressing socio-economic challenges facing Africa.

At EPL, I lead a team of talented Africans who are passionate, like I am, about an African Renaissance. Together, we are working to fill Africa’s future leadership pipeline with leaders that will think critically, work competently, act ethically and inspire change where it is needed most — in government.

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Many of the challenges facing Africa today are exacerbated by public sector shortcomings. To realise its potential, Africa needs effective government institutions to set the stage for economic growth, human capital investments and delivery of social services to the most vulnerable. Simply put, we need to make government work to get development right.

EPL is solving for the government piece of the development equation by attracting and retaining the best and brightest talent to work in Africa’s civil service institutions.

The mission of driving good governance is one that I am personally vested in. My father was in government in Ghana when President Hilla Limann was ousted by a military coup d’état in 1981. The economy of Ghana shut down, women were brutalised and raped, judges were murdered and many politicians were publicly executed during what was arguably one of the darkest chapters in Ghana’s history.

Witnessing an extreme form of the failure of public leadership gives me an unrelenting desire to do my part

My family fled Ghana, first to Togo and then, eventually to the United States, as political refugees when I was five years old. We escaped what could have been a fatal outcome if my father had been apprehended by the military regime — others were not so lucky. Witnessing an extreme form of the failure of public leadership gives me an unrelenting desire to do my part to elevate leadership quality not just in Ghana but in Africa at large.

It troubles me deeply that the story of global poverty today is still largely about Africa. It is estimated that by 2030, 88% of people living in extreme poverty will be African. Transforming this narrative — and reality — requires bold leadership at all levels of society, especially in government. Unfortunately, African governments are missing out on a vital talent pool that has what it takes to solve complex problems: its youth.

The world’s youngest continent has the oldest leaders. Despite belonging to the youngest continent, young Africans are often systematically marginalised from governance and decision-making processes on issues that affect them and their future.

The world’s youngest continent has the oldest leaders

EPL is working to change this reality. Our vision is for inclusive civil service agencies across the continent where young people engage with government not merely as beneficiaries but as decision makers who combine creativity and skill to drive change in their countries.

By creating a merit-based pathway to public service, EPL’s public service fellowship program provides local university graduates with two years of guaranteed employment in government agencies, where they gain first-hand experience in public policy implementation and government administration. Post-fellowship, EPL works in partnership with the civil service agencies to absorb fellows into the civil service where they continue to advance their public service careers.

After nearly a decade of success in Liberia, EPL launched its public service fellowship program in Ghana this year. In partnership with the civil service agency we have placed an inaugural cohort of 20 fellows across eight public institutions, where they have already become integral parts of operations and strategic initiatives.

Over the next three years, we plan to expand our public service fellowship into additional countries, growing a pan-African network of public service fellows who will impact governance in Africa by strengthening the effectiveness of public institutions across the continent.

If we do our jobs right, we will build the critical mass of leaders who will deliver on the promise of an African Renaissance

One source of confidence in our model stems from the observation that fellows have developed a reputation of excellence across country programs. Right now, demand for EPL fellows and their skills currently surpasses supply. These observations affirm the value of our work in filling critical areas of need in countries we serve. They also show that creating structured public service opportunities for qualified young people is a proven way to empower Africa’s youth as future leaders.

Emerging Public Leaders has a lifelong commitment to Africa. Our success is bound together with the success of the continent, and we are inspired daily by Africa’s endless possibilities.

I am convinced that if we do our jobs right, we will build the critical mass of leaders who will deliver on the promise of an African Renaissance — a continent that is peaceful, prosperous and just. — Yawa Hansen-Quao

(Picture credit: Unsplash)

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