Over 130 Mandela Washington Fellows convened in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the first annual regional conference of alumni and current Mandela fellows.
They were joined by some of Africa’s most notable leaders including the first lady of Namibia, Monica Geingos, and Sir James Mancham, former president of the Republic of Seychelles.
The Mandela Washington fellowship, launched by U.S President Barack Obama in 2010 under the banner Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), is now in its fourth round boasting over one thousand participants.
Emmanuel Ndlovu, who is 2014 Mandela Washington Fellowship alumni and Advocacy Program Manager with Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association, said the purpose of the conference was to provide a platform for interaction between regional fellows in southern Africa, and to map up and identify issues of concern that speak to the core of the fellows.
The Southern African Fellows included participants from Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, among other nations.
Ndlovu said the network of YALI fellows past and present will have an amazing impact in Africa, showcasing what young Africans are capable of doing.
“Considering that last year alone there were about 50,000 applications [in Africa] and out of 50,000 applications 500 were selected, so it still means that there is a greater constellation of young leaders aspiring to learn, to expose themselves to international thinking, perspective and systems,” said Ndlovu
He said the Mandela Washington Fellowship will remain a pivotal initiative in terms of bringing young people together and exposing them to new thinking to build in their respective professions.
Zimbabwe, which recently announced the 2015 fellows, will see 30 participants visit one of the 20 prestigious U.S. universities hosting the participants followed by a conference in Washington DC hosted by President Obama. A total of 500 fellows were picked this year.
The fellows will spend six weeks training in areas of business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, and public management.
The conference began on Saturday and ends Monday. Panelists included U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, Cheryl Anderson, Mission Director, USAID Southern Africa and Moeletsi Mbeki, deputy chairman, South African Institute of International Affairs.