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Taking the village with him

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Taking the village with him

Meet Zambian development economist Elijah Mumba (Zambia & UCT, 2021)

Published 16 October 2022

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Like many of the young Africans whose journeys have led them to The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, Elijah Mumba’s has been not been easy. Through diligence, determination and at times pure luck the name Mumba is now counted amongst the Mandela Rhodes Scholars.

Elijah’s manner is quiet and studious. He hails from Mutale, a village in Northern Zambia where he was raised by a single mother. It is to her that he credits his love of education. Both his mother and grandmother emphasised that he had a responsibility to his family and his community; whichever new frontiers his education opened up for him, he ought to remember those who weren’t so fortunate. His father’s presence was inconsistent at best. They only met twice and his recollection of their relationship is marred with unmet promises. Finances were also a hurdle: to get through high school he was sponsored by the head teacher.

Elijah became the only person from his district to gain entrance into the University of Zambia. There he chose to study Development Economics, hoping that an understanding of inequality might be the key to helping pull those he had left behind in Mutale out of poverty. The university environment opened his eyes to new possibilities. He says, “I believe that when people become educated they can compete and have access to different opportunities.” Elijah gathered some university peers to tutor and mentor students from his high school, to encourage them to do their best.

Elijah was drawn to The Mandela Rhodes Foundation by the leadership component of the scholarship. He initially thought the programme would help him become a hero and save the world; he says he was surprised to learn that that wasn’t at all what he was being capacitated to do. “They (the facilitation team) made me understand that leadership begins with inner transformation,” he says. Elijah’s time in the programme has mainly been about self-discovery. The Enneagram self-development tool has helped Elijah to understand his tendency to focus on the needs of others while neglecting his own authentic needs, and set him on a journey towards balancing the two. Through the reconciliation workshop he says that was also able to identify and name some of his wounds and finally let go of resentment held against his late father. In a vulnerable moment, he shares, “I think I have totally forgiven my dad. I don’t know why he did what he did. I only wish I had had the opportunity to ask him why he left.”

Conversations with other scholars in 2021 have also inspired Elijah to develop a more courageous leadership style. “Sometimes I have ideas, but it takes courage to get into spaces where I can discuss and ask questions to further them,” he says. He looks up to the late Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa who he says was a man of courage who balanced leadership and being a family man, something which Elijah also aspires to.

What does success look like for Elijah? He sees himself helping young people in under-served communities in Zambia, especially in the area of education. As a development economist, he hopes that the future holds opportunities that may one day allow him to add his energy and expertise to the World Bank. For now Elijah is enjoying being close to the coast and tapping into his adventurous side while completing his studies in Cape Town.

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