Rise of Youth Leadership in Africa


Did you know that leadership programs such as Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African leaders have trained over 4500 young leaders across the continent since its inception in 2014? Did you know that Young African Leaders Regional leadership program has also produced hundreds of young leaders across the continent from its 3 Regional Centers in Africa? And that there are other leadership programs based in African countries that are sending out well equipped young leaders as well?

Billian Ojiwa a his foundation

Let’s simplify this. Historically in Kenya, you can’t talk about youth leadership without mentioning the late Tom Mboya and his contribution that led to the molding of other leaders like Prof. Wangari Mathai, while in West Africa Kwame Nkrumah stands out. What do these leaders have in common? Their actions were able to change the perception of young people towards leadership, a living proof that one individual can make a change in a whole country.

The space is more open and accessible today. Young people from various fields are more thirsty and determined to achieve greater things than ever. I want to be a little bit practical and talk about my experiences as the National Chairman KANU Youth Congress and an Alumnus of the prestigious Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. In my capacity as the KANU Youth Congress I have been able to meet and share ideas with young people both from my hood Mathare to Kwisero Village in Kakamega county just to mention but a few and from this it has been evident for me that young people are stepping up, they are more informed and are taking bold steps to challenge the status quo when it comes to local politics. After interacting with my party’s young Members of County Assemblies across the country I can confidently say that soon the County Assemblies will be controlled by young leaders and this could be the trend with our neighbors Uganda if the current political narrative around Bobi Wine is something to go by.

‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek” – Barack Obama.

This statement by Barack Obama has been a drive to many young leaders across the continent in different sectors. I had the privilege of being part of the 2018 Mandela Washington Leadership program where 700 Young leaders from the continent drawn from Civic Leadership, Public Management and Business Entrepreneurship spent 6 weeks in different institutions learning and networking with other established Leaders from different sectors in the US. Being that I was based at the University of Delaware with other 25 young leaders from 20 countries, I got to interact with the Senator Chris Coon, The Governor, The Congress Woman and got a standing ovation at the county senate and this was the trend in almost all the institutions. I have been consistently applying for the program for the last 4 years because I felt this program would come in handy in validating me as a leader. If this is the truth then many of us have been validated so far. I would describe it as one of the best platforms tailored for young leaders to network, grow and challenge themselves.

Billian aspiring politician

The youth are no longer playing second fiddle and this demystifies the norm that has been in existence for decades. There are more Young CEOs across the continent, young governors, young cabinet ministers and great youth led initiatives and organizations. We are fully transforming from heckling to creating solutions to different problems. Young people are evolving in creativity and innovation.

If this trend is something to go by then this could just be the beginning of great surprises that young leaders are yet to display. During the launch of the Obama Foundation Leadership program for Young African Leaders, the former US President confessed that the Leadership program was an idea from one of the Young Leaders who happens to be a Mandela Washington Fellows alumnus. This tells how forward thinking young people are right now and they are willing to open the circle for a bigger ripple effect across the continent.

Young people will change the world.

Billian Okoth Ojiwa is the National Chairman of the KANU Youth Congress and Founder of FichaUchi Initiative and The Billian Foundation. He is an Alumni of the Mandela Washington (YALI) and Austrian Leadership Program.