With Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) delivering the keynote speech Monday at the University of Virginia, 25 members of the Young African Leaders Initiative – Washington Fellows began a six-week leadership, academic and mentoring program that will take them to six of the commonwealth’s most prestigious locations.
College of William & Mary President Taylor Reveley, who introduced Kaine at a welcome luncheon, posed a hypothetical question: do “leaders actually matter or are they just a lot of huffing and puffing and gold braid?”
His answer? “Yes, leaders matter. They matter hugely if they’re effective at leading and if they care about the public interest.
“Without such leaders, it’s almost impossible to accomplish anything that amounts to much … that’s why, Young African Leaders, you are so enormously important and why we are so happy to have you here in our midst.”
The fellows are being hosted by the Presidential Precinct, a consortium of U.Va, William & Mary, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier, James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland and U.Va.’s Morven. Programming will take place at each of the sites.
Taking the podium, Kaine described the fellowship as a “two-way street,” and said the visit of the select group of leaders comes at a critical moment when “we think the time is right for even more involvement.
“There is no better way than to have interaction with future generations of African leadership,” he said.
“I’m fully confident that you are just the best of the best of your countries and future leadership,” said Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, who also addressed the group.
At a later roundtable discussion, the fellows had an intense, wide-ranging exchange, touching on the positives and challenges in their individual countries. By the end of the session, Martine Ekomo-Soignet from Central African Republic was effusive. “I am so grateful to be here. I want to learn everything you know… I am so, so happy to be here,” she said.
The Washington Fellowships are part of the White House’s signature African initiative, which aims to support a very young Africa, where nearly one in three people is between the ages of 10 and 24, and approximately 60 percent of the total population is below the age of 35.
The precinct’s tailored curriculum is rooted in the theme of civic leadership. While in Virginia, the fellows will take part in training, coursework and mentorship opportunities; participate in workshops, roundtable discussions and more, drawing from the expertise at each of the precinct’s six sites. More than 70 distinguished instructors from academia, the private sector, government, civil society, nongovernmental organizations and local communities are scheduled to take part.
The fellows come from 18 countries across Africa, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Central African Republic and South Africa. Their backgrounds are as diverse as their countries of origin; they include teachers, journalists and human rights activists, among other professions.