BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – Alumni of the Mandela Washington Fellowship and the Young African Leaders Initiative program have completed a three-day international post-elections conference in Buchannan, Grand Bassa.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, begun in 2014, is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking.
Thirty participants from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Liberia attended the conference, which took place at Hotel Buchanan.
Liberia’s president of the MWF/YALI alumni, Rally Fallah, said during the opening of the conference that the initiative is part of the association’s elections awareness project that helped to create awareness in communities in Liberia during the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections.
“Some few months back, we started this project in some parts of Liberia, creating awareness since indeed we were going to elections, as to how positively we can impact particularly young people, disabusing their minds about electoral violence and promoting peace and unity among them,” Fallah said.
Fallah said now that the elections are over in Liberia, the next component of the project calls for fellows of the Mano River Union countries to meet and share experiences about elections and peacebuilding in the region.
“We decided to have an international conference that we can develop and talk together and see how best we can all promote tranquility in the Mano River region,” Fallah noted.
He thanked the U.S. Embassy in Liberia for the support of the project. Fallah also extolled the U.S. government and former President Barack Obama for molding the minds of young Africans to take on responsible and impactful leadership initiatives through the MWF and the YALI programs.
Jaka Kabba, a Sierra Leonean participant, told The Bush Chicken that the conference is “an eye-opener” for her to understand and learn lessons from the Liberian elections.
Kabba says it is important for young people in the Mano River countries to continue such engagement in the region to provide one another with broader knowledge on cross-border electoral issues.
Kabba said one lesson she learned about the Liberian elections from the first day of the conference is that political actors signed agreements, ensuring peaceful conduct of the elections and seeking redress through the courts in an event where there were disenchantments.
“That is one thing we are hoping for in Sierra Leone. Because during the rallies, we have had a few violence and people don’t want to take responsibility,” Kabba said in an interview with The Bush Chicken.
She said if contestants in her country take responsibility, they will be more likely to urge their followers to remain peaceful during their elections. Sierra Leone goes to the polls on March 7 this year.
The U.S. Embassy’s public affairs officer, Paul Hinshaw, remarking at the formal opening of the conference, lauded the MWF/YALI Liberia chapter for the initiative.
He pledged the U.S.’s continuous support to positive undertakings of alumni of the MWF/YALI in Liberia.
“The U.S. government is proud not only to stand with this worthwhile project but to continue its long-standing engagement with those people participating in the YALI program and the Mandela Washington Fellowship,” Hinshaw said.
He encouraged the participants to continue engaging their colleagues in communities to be positive contributors to development.
For Ivory Coast’s Sedrick Gotta, the conference was a practical platform where young Africans could learn from one another.
He thanked the organizers of the conference and noted that participants learned a lot.
Gotta described the conference as an opportunity for young Africans to “showcase their works and think together” for peacebuilding on the continent.
“We should educate people to embrace the rule of law, instead of taking in the streets when they feel dissatisfied as about something,” Gotta said.
Gotta is the president of Open Africa Initiative in Ivory Coast, an organization working to promote civic education through technology and innovation.
Featured photo by Matthew Fred. [Full disclaimer: The author of this article is an alumna of the YALI program and a participant at the ongoing conference].