At a presentation of the Africa Peace Award to Mozambique in November 1997, Mr Mandela proclaimed that “the time for Africa’s renewal, for our continent to occupy the pedestal of the successful, has come to pass. Africa yearns and deserves to redeem her glory, to reassert her centuries-old contribution to economics, politics, culture and the arts, and once more to be a pioneer in the many fields of human endeavour.” In absorbing this quote, one cannot help but revel in the certainty with which Mr Mandela painted this future vision of the African continent, and honour his subsequent efforts towards its realisation. The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, whose purpose is building exceptional leadership in Africa, is one of the key vehicles in the Mandela Legacy organisations that seeks to make real the very dream of ushering Africa, with dignity, into its rightful place as an equal and competitive presence in the global world.
Founded in 2003 with nearly 450 beneficiaries since inception, the MRF commemorates the centenary year of Nelson Mandela in July 2018 through the attainment of the milestone of 100 Mandela Rhodes Scholars in residence in this hallmark year. This achievement was a commitment made to the founding patron 15 years ago, and serves as a living testament of the vision that Mr Mandela had of providing education and exceptional leadership development opportunities to young leaders from across the continent. The 100 Scholars in residence come from 18 African countries, amongst these: Ivory Coast, Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Togo and many others. Their areas of study range from Philosophy, International Relations, Biochemistry, Economics, Linguistics, Health Innovation, Media Theory and Practice, Information Technology and Renewable Energy. Each of the 100 Scholars being funded by the Foundation this year speak with great excitement and clarity about the kind of Africa they want to be part of leading, challenging not only the notion of Africa as a continent that is always “catching up” – but one that is driving innovation through leap frogging in technological advancements, creating new economic models that ensure true distribution of wealth, telling uniquely African stories in African languages, and using renewable energy as the driving source that fuels our economies and homes.
The Foundation’s investment in these young African leaders speaks directly to Mr Mandela’s idea of building a generation of leaders and influencers in their respective fields who will substantially re-imagine and co-create a new dawn for Africa. As the entire world celebrates the centenary year of the birth of one of its greatest sons, this landmark is an invitation for all of us to reflect with gratitude, accountability, responsibility, and possibility. The gains made across the African continent in the post-colonial era must be acknowledged and celebrated, but we must equally admit they were not without their complications. Liberation movements across the continent came into political power with socio-economic policies that sought to right the wrongs of the past. But the lure of absolute power and greed have unfortunately plagued too many nations from which our Mandela Rhodes Scholars originate, including the very country that Nelson Mandela helped lead into democracy. So this centenary milestone is an opportunity for all of us to take stock of the hard battles won for the benefit of the greater good, whist simultaneously not tiring in our efforts to continue to accelerate the progress made towards the true transformation of the African continent.
The 100 Scholars in Madiba’s centenary year serve as a physical manifestation of the possibilities that lie ahead for our future as a continent. Their passion, dedication, intellect, and commitment to ethical leadership gives hope that when others gather in another hundred years, the fruits of freedom, peace and prosperity that will exist among all Africans can in part be attributed to the courageous and creative efforts that resulted from Mandela Rhodes Scholars of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. May the ‘Madiba Magic’ then continue to inspire and guide us, especially in the more difficult parts of the next hundred years. And as we carry forward the baton handed over to us by Madiba and his comrades, may we as young Africans continue to Aspire To Be and remember that it seems impossible until it is done. And rest assured, it shall be done.