• Opinion
  • March 4, 2019
  • 9 minutes
  • 1

These leadership skills are needed to meet Africa’s future challenges

Opinion: Highlighting Mandela Washington Fellows in civil service

mandela washington

This piece was written by Abbie Wade. For more like this, see our spotlight on public service leadership in Africa.


Africa’s youth population is booming, with nearly 60% of Africans under the age of 25 and the overall population of the continent expected to double by 2050, according to a recent report from the Gates Foundation.

As these millions of youth grow and develop, the increasing interconnectedness of globalisation will expose them to numerous options for employment around the world.

If African nations want to harness the youth dividend to fuel economic growth, they will need to provide opportunities for their young citizens to direct the future of the continent at home, including through civil service.

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Some young Africans are already leading the way in the public sector and creating more opportunities for others. Ukinebo Dare, CEO of Poise Graduate Finishing Academy in Nigeria, has created employment opportunities for over 24,000 Nigerian youth through the academy’s job training programs.

In 2017, Dare was selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the US government’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

Sponsored by the US Department of State, the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which began in 2014, brings young leaders to the United States for academic coursework and leadership training and creates unique opportunities in Africa for Fellows to put new skills to practical use in leading organisations, communities and countries.

Nearly 3,700 young leaders have traveled to the US to take part

Since 2014, nearly 3,700 young leaders have traveled to the United States to take part in the Mandela Washington Fellowship. They come from all across Sub-Saharan Africa and are leaders in public service, business and civil society.

During the six-week program, Fellows participate in Institutes at educational institutions across the United States, enhancing their leadership skills through academic study, workshops, mentoring, networking with US leaders and collaboration with Americans.

They develop lasting connections with Americans and enrich their host communities through community service. They then convene for a multi-day Summit in Washington, D.C., where they forge connections with one another and US leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors.

Picture credit: Nikki Laws, University of Delaware Institute of Global Studies

With her corporate experience, Dare was placed in the Business Institute at Clark Atlanta University. She built connections with professors, American professionals and many of the other Fellows in her cohort.

Following the Fellowship, Dare connected with her state governor in Nigeria, Godwin Obaseki. Since job creation is a key priority for his administration, when he heard about Dare’s work in Nigeria, he appointed her as senior special assistant on skills development and jobs.

“The lessons and interactive sessions with government officials and entrepreneurs [during the Fellowship] made an impact and helped prepare me for this role,” Dare said.

Dare now coordinates and implements activities that create and promote jobs through skill development. These programs have impacted over 55,000 individuals. By translating her business skills to the public sector, Dare was able to scale her work state-wide and increase her impact.

“It cannot be over-emphasised why young Africans should be prepared for government,” Dare said. “There is a lot that rests on the shoulders of government and it must be approached with the right paradigms about leadership and service.”

Like Dare, 2015 Fellow Hlanganani Siphelele Gumbi found that one of the program’s greatest strengths was the network with which it connected him. When he participated in the Public Management Institute at Howard University at age 25, he was already a member of the provincial legislature in KwaZulu-Natal, a southern province on the coast of South Africa. Today, he is Deputy Chief and Head of Finance for a political party.

“What the Fellowship certainly does is raise your profile. People take the Fellowship quite seriously, and Fellows are publicly profiled in the media,” Gumbi said. “It opened doors for me to make connections and partner with other Fellows across the continent.”

On top of forging networks and fostering professional connections, another key component of the program is professional development.

Following the Institutes, the Professional Development Experience (PDE) places competitively-selected Fellows in US non-governmental organisations, private companies and government agencies. Fellows hone transferable skills, expand their professional networks and bring fresh knowledge and unique global perspectives to American workplaces.

Youth leaders have the opportunity to direct the future of the continent through government roles

Yacine Blalogoe, a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, is Head of Office in the Department of Civil Status of Glazoue’s City Hall in Benin, in charge of issuing birth certificates, identification cards and other certification documents.

Following her Public Management Institute at Arizona State University, Blalogoe participated in a PDE and spent six weeks at the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

She visited many offices in Hennepin County and observed their methods. While on a visit to the office that distributed birth certificates, she noticed that they had printed forms for the services they offered and put up a public notice for information. Upon returning home, she implemented a similar process in her work at City Hall.

“I noticed that even if the process isn’t exactly the same, I can use what I saw there,” Blalogoe said. “Back home, I spoke with my team, and we printed public notices in all our offices. We also have forms to help people [easily ask for] what they want.”

Bester Chilombo, a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow placed at the Public Management Institute at Syracuse University, is the Assistant Director of Administration in the Malawi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The leadership skills he developed during the Fellowship have allowed him to take on more responsibilities at his job.

“It is my strong conviction that the Mandela Washington Fellowship prepares young African leaders to take up leadership positions in government,” Chilombo said, highlighting that the “skills and networks” it provides will be essential to meet the continent’s challenges of the future.

As Africa’s population continues to grow, youth leaders have the opportunity to direct the future of the continent through government roles at the local, state and national levels. Programs like the Mandela Washington Fellowship are critical to prepare these leaders and empower them with the skills and knowledge to take their leadership to the next level. — Abbie Wade

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is sponsored by the US Department of State with funding provided by the US Government and administered by IREX.

(Picture credit: The Mandela Washington Fellowship)

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