The 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship Presidential Summit kicked off in Washington,D.C., earlier today with Zimbabweans making a mark for themselves at the event.
Almost 1,000 young african leaders from 49 countries converged at the Omnishoreham hotel and call to order by the U.S. Assistant secretary of state of educational and cultural affairs Evan Ryan immediately set the room abuzz.
While speaking during the Congressional Forum on investing in the next generation of Africa, panelist Natasha Kimani from Kenya, drew an applause from Zimbabweans in the crowd after mentioning of Pastor Evan Mawarire’s #Thisflag movement. Speaking on the power of social media like Twitter, Kimani said movements like #Thisflag has pushed the narrative for change.
“Africa has one of the largest Twitter users and Africans have Twitter to change policy, to influence government. You have seen recently in South Africa ‘Fees must fall,’ in Zimbabwe about the flag (cheers). Young people are the voice of Africa right now, and what is happening our governments are listening to us, whether or not they want to,” said Kimani.
Responding to an audience question from a Togolese fellow on a young American leaders exchange program, U.S. Congressman Chris Coons commended Zimbabwean businessman Strive Masiyiwa’s recent initiative to send young American leaders to African countries.
“I will give a great deal of credit to Strive Masiyiwa, the founder of Econet ... And he has recruited a number of other very compelling and successful business leaders and they have just launched this summer, recently launched an America business fellows program to bring recent graduates of some of the most prominent business schools to spend six months as interns in African capitals, working for African businesses,” said Coon.
In breakout sessions tagged ‘The idea storm: fellows ignite talks’, a number of Zimbabweans including Golden Maunganidze, journalism lecturer and editor of community newspaper Tellzim, spoke on ways to ignite Africa.
Speaking in his session, Maunganidze said African voices needed to be amplified, a task he has been taking through his initiative of a community newspaper.
Zimbabwean fellow Tiara Gendi, an advocate of the LGBTQ community, said his experience in the United States has been enlightening.
“Because the attitude that I came here with, the way that I conducted my work back home, I was really hammering on trying to change people’s attitudes towards the way they view LGBTI people.”
Gendi said after the six weeks, he has learned new approaches and found support from people who generally may not have focused on issues within LGBTQ communities.
Faith Ndlovu, who works for the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, said she is expecting more to come for the remainder of the program this week.
“I’m feeling very much excited, I’m feeling very much rejuvenated. It’s been inspiring to be here with colleagues and peers from 49 other African countries,” said Ndlovu.
The fellows will remain in Washington D.C. Until Thursday leading to a town hall meeting with United States President Barack Obama scheduled for Wednesday.