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We live in an era of glorious growth, audacious hope and terrifying tumult in Africa…a very noisy Africa…and we do not get many chances to get people to listen to us. Very few people do. So when we do get the chance we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders provides an opportunity to not only be heard, but to be listened to.

The youth of Zimbabwe fortunately are some of the brightest, most innovative and most inspiring young people, not just in Africa but also in the world. Our generation has however suffered from some neglect over the past couple of years as evidenced by our low representation in government, high youth unemployment, falling examination pass rates and minuscule government and private sector support for our businesses. Even these bright, innovative and inspiring Supermen and Superwomen have minds that need investment and caring if they are to retain their vitality and relevance.

In my understanding the core value of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is the belief that young Africans with passion can change their communities, nations and continent for the better.

I have been immensely fortunate to meet and interact with passionate young people who have changed and are changing their communities in some big and some small ways. Some who have had leadership thrust upon them like Chief Sbonelo Mkhize, who had to leave his investment banking career and all its comforts to lead an entire clan. Some others have turned the unfortunate hand that life dealt them into endless possibilities like two of the finest disability rights activists we have in Zimbabwe: Tafadzwa Nyamuzihwa and Edmore Masendeke. Yet others have led quietly from behind the scenes.

Now I am well aware (as Mark Twain put it) that there are a few things harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. Right now, a Zimbabwean youth in some corner of Zimbabwe is wondering, “How can I become a Mandela Washington Fellow too? What are the selectors looking for?”

My short answer is: “The selectors want to know who you are, what is it that you stand for and how you intend to achieve what you stand for?”


My longer answer (for those with time) is, I personally believe the selectors are looking for young people who do not fit in a box. They are not looking for whoever has the best academic results or longest list of accolades and honours. As Zimbabweans I know when it comes to these we do very well.

Growing up in Zimbabwe, you are constantly reminded the world is as it is and your quest is to just live your life inside this world. There are some people who disagree. People who refuse to be defined by the world. They go out and do what they chose to do regardless of what career path others said it falls under: doctors masquerading as social entrepreneurs, lawyers lending a sympathetic ear to abused women and engineers analysing policies. They are rad, short for radical and street lingo for someone who is really cool in a subtle, effortless way. Two years ago I wrote about such people and put a spin to it: rad is not just an adjective but an abbreviation: R.A.D – short for Rising Above Definition.

In my understanding the core value of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is the belief that young Africans with passion can change their communities, nations and continent for the better.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a call for young people who refuse to compromise who they are to be accepted by the crowd, youth who prefer substance over popularity and the bright minds that choose to think their own thoughts. They are young people who are building the foundations for peace, security, trade and good governance in Africa.

To sum it up I have paraphrased the Think Different campaign that Apple Corporation ran over a decade ago:

The Mandela Washington Fellowship is for young people that you cannot put in a box. It is meant for the crazy ones, the misfits …. The round pegs in square holes. The ones who see things differently…. Youth who are constantly rising above definitions. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you cannot do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push Africa forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, the Fellowship sees genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the Africa are the ones who actually DO!

Applications being accepted now for 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows – https://youngafricanleaders.state.gov

norman mukwakwami

By Norman Mukwakwami, 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow.  A qualified mining engineer, Norman Mukwakwami is passionate about the alleviation of artisanal miners. He has worked with the Centre for Natural Resource Governance in a successful campaign to decriminalise artisanal mining and is now working on a project to formalize artisanal mining with Pact Zimbabwe. He has a vision to see a significant reduction in the use of mercury in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector and an ambition to become a leading extractives expert.