When many Americans think of Africa, they usually think of destitution, AIDS, famine and war. Such conjured images are understandable since most news from Africa to the U.S. is overtly tragic.
As the world’s second largest and second most-populous continent, Africa is much more dynamic with lots of smart, young and entrepreneurial leaders interacting and growing in burgeoning economies. Many of these leaders work full-time jobs, and then spend their nights and weekends starting nonprofits and businesses aimed at helping their fellow countrymen and countrywomen obtain a better standard of living.
For the next six weeks, Arizona State University will host 25 public management fellows from 19 different African countries through the Mandela-Washington Fellowship. The program’s goal is not only to further the civic and governmental knowledge of the fellows, but also to provide an innovative platform for cross-cultural exchange and problem solving.
Many Americans may not know that Africa is celebrating good news on multiple fronts: the number of armed conflicts has dropped dramatically, from over 30 during the Cold War to about a dozen today; Africa’s economic growth rate is expected to trend upwards from 3.1 percent in 2018 to 3.6 percent in 2019-2020; and Africa’s infant mortality rates are decreasing, which means Africa will account for more than half of the world’s population growth by 2050.
This year, I have the opportunity to volunteer as a Mandela-Washington peer-collaborator and speak with many of the fellows about their diverse countries’ strengths and challenges. There is no denying that Africa faces problems that even the U.S. would have a hard time addressing. Despite these challenges – or perhaps in spite of them – the African fellows share an indomitable trait: Determination.
One gentleman from Mozambique works as a public health professional by day, but spends his free time coordinating volunteers and driving pregnant women to pre-natal HIV screening appointments. He says he does this to ensure that women who are HIV positive take the necessary medications to avoid transmitting the deadly virus to their child.
In Nigeria, a female fellow has started her own nonprofit and is training women to protect themselves and their children against terrorism. Men are better at running and hiding during violent attacks, leaving women and children to suffer the highest causalities. Her response has been direct: She is presently teaching women how to avoid assailants and self-defense techniques through Krav Maga, an Israeli-developed fighting style.
Africa’s professionals are motivated and dedicated to solving problems and moving their countries forward even though social and public programs such as safety and health are severely underfunded or nonexistent.
They are highly capable, motivated and insightful. But like all leaders, regardless of country or continent, determination alone is not enough. They need personal and professional investment to help realize their fullest potential. The Mandela-Washington Fellowship is part of the U.S. effort to build strong international bridges of trust and reciprocity.
 Time. (2016). 5 Facts that Explain the Good News about Africa. Retrieved from: http://time.com/4246821/these-5-facts-explain-the-good-news-about-africa/