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The Young and Emerging Leaders Programme (YELP) — is a leadership linchpin that annually inducts between 25–35 outstanding thought leaders into a fellowship program designed to train and orient values of self-advancement, integrity, social responsibility, and socioeconomic transformation. YELP Fellows have backgrounds in media, social enterprise, the Arts, innovation, and activism. The fellowship imparts critical skills needed in leadership that transforms the individual and society around them. This is achieved through critical reflection sessions, conversations with leaders from various sectors, peer-to-peer sharing and readings about leadership in Africa and the rest of the world.
The breakfast meeting was followed by a dinner reception at the Kampala Sheraton Hotel that was meant to welcome the fellows in to the programme. It wasn’t just an evening of great cuisine as it provided a unique discursive platform to debate about the Africa’s greatest opportunities and challenges and what role the continent’s youthful population can play. The panel session, co-moderated by one of Uganda’s most prolific and youngest journalist, Raymond Mujuni who is also an inaugural fellow of the programme and Fiona Kimakazi, another media practitioner and a current YELP fellow from Rwanda was timely and insightful to say the least. To spark off the discussion, the moderators tasked panelists to offer their insights on the Africa rising narrative.
Panelist Anne Wanjuhi, a 2018 YELP Fellow and social entrepreneur from Kenya wished that if Africa was a country, the rising would be faster as borderlines separating the different countries in Africa continue to pose significant challenges to the development of the continent.
Mathias Kamp, the KAS country director offered another illuminating thought about the lopsided confusions embedded within the Africa rising narrative because of the complexities of the economic, political and social events occurring in Africa today. However, he maintained that, “there might not be one straight answer to the Africa rising narrative. But one thing is clear: Africa is moving forward and the role of the African youth in shaping this movement cannot be disputed”To this note, panellist Awel Uwihanganye, LeO Africa Institute’s Senior Director emphasised the fact that Africa has one of the youngest populations around the world and so there isn’t a choice but to invest in these people. As part of this investment, Awel added, “the fellowship will contribute towards the building of a community of people who are significant in society and are building a progressive and prosperous continent”.
On what young people can and should do, Mathias Kamp asked “how do we strike a balance between young people in Africa creating their own spaces and demanding for a better leadership to create that space? He asked this question because addressing Africa’s development predicaments requires dealing with the political leadership and governance questions which when answered, Mathias insists “will go a long way in creating a better and more progressive continent”. “Yes, young people like all of you here tonight should continue being creative, starting up businesses and solving social problems. But that doesn’t not mean that we shall stop questioning our leaders to be accountable and play their part in making the continent rise faster” he warned. “Most times, the problems are so political and it is through politics that we can find sustainable solutions” he concluded.
On the second day, the workshop kicked off in Mukono at the tranquil and nature-filled reserves of Kansenge Forest Lodge. YELP’s text based workshop sessions enable fellows to deeply delve on literary works about the past, present and future leadership in and on Africa.
The cold Saturday morning provided thoughtful ambience for critical reflections about a speech Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s former Prime Minister gave to an audience of African leaders at Africa Leadership Forum in 1993. In his speech Kuan Yew wondered why many African countries still lag behind the development race when they were at almost the same developmental stage at the time of independence. In as much as there isn’t a golden standard path, Kuan Yew noted, there are basics that must be done for any transformational change to occur and which were significant for Singapore’s case, namely: running a government and civil service free of corruption, enforcing national solidarity despite tribal and other differences, promoting planned births, implementing pragmatic economic plans, allowing the private sector to thrive, educating everyone, especially the women and lastly, going for results not political correctness.
Reflecting on the speech, Fellow Amina Adhan Ahmed expressed her dissatisfaction with the performance of African leaders since independence but also maintained that the flickers of hope continue shining on Africa’s horizon because young leaders as aspiring to shape the present and the future of the continent in unimaginable ways. Through her blog, the East African perspectives, for instance, she writes and edits stories of incredible youth initiatives across East Africa creating impact and providing sustainable solutions to various challenges that continue to riddle progress in the region.
Perhaps a more riveting and mind-blowing literary piece at the seminar was Ali Mafuruki’s seminal critic of Kwame Nkrumah’s legacy. Speaking before an audience, most of whom African heads of state at the TANA High Level Forum on Security in Africa held in Ethiopia on the 18th April 2015, Mafuruki debunked all conventional knowledge and legacy of Nkrumah as a selfless pan African leader. In fact, Mafuruki considers the Osagyefo Nkrumah as a selfish, corrupt, arrogant and tyrannical African leader who pursued an unrealistic Pan-African dream of uniting the entire continent without critically reflecting on its essence and relevance to the needs of the ordinary person.
True, the readings helped the fellows to connect their ideas and visions to individual action and to embrace the concept of servant leadership: the idea of submitting one’s self to the betterment of lives of others and a better society.