Searching the Depths for Africa's Youth Talent

Among the remarkable first cohort of pupils to attend African Leadership Academy (ALA) when it opened in 2008 was DRC-born Joseph Munyambanza.  At 17 years old then, he certainly had a mind-blowing story to tell. Eleven years before his arrival at the academy, at age six, Munyambaza together with his family were forced to flee their home country. Amidst the chaos, the young boy was separated from his parents, only to thankfully find them again at the Kyangwali Refugee Camp in Uganda, more than 1,315 kilometres away.

Though technically safer at the refugee camp, the traumatised Joseph had no respite from suffering. He went hungry for days, his sister died tragically and he shared a classroom with 150 other children in a makeshift school which he spent two hours walking to and from every day. It was at this school that his fate was sealed. He knew from then that a better education for him and his fellow pupils would result in a vastly different destiny.  When he was 14, his focus was on obtaining quality education for refugee children and he started a non-profit organisation, COBURWAS.  Displaced youth from the Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and the Sudan, led by Munyambanza, started by offering extra pre-school and primary school tutoring. By 2009, the organisation had built a primary school and early childhood development centre in Kyangwali and by 2010, through the help of a donor Munyambanza met at ALA, a secondary school support  programme was instituted. Today the latter offers an innovative programme that includes entrepreneurial leadership and mentorship as well as psycho-social counselling for the students. Munyambanza has since secured university education for 12 students in the USA and Africa.

He has been recognised globally as an exceptional leader on numerous occasions and serves as an advisor on international education to the UN Secretary General. His work, he says, is far from over: there are still 57-million eligible children in the world out of school. Read more about Munyambanza’s ongoing efforts here.

“It’s students like Joseph Munyambanza that African Leadership Academy seeks out to join its two-year flagship programme,” explains head of recruitment and partnerships, Faith Abiodun. But it’s not easy for Abiodun and his team whose goal is to seek out Africa’s future leaders. The team, who can respectively speak Arabic, Portuguese, French and English, meet young talent in the remotest places.

“While we find exceptional students in Africa’s major city centres thanks to our vast networks, we also travel to places like Ejisu – a village outside Kumasi in Ghana,” he says. Often, children in more removed locations are disadvantaged in terms of poor English and formal education, but Abiodun looks for potential and latent leadership. He has a nose for it. “I look for the community workers and the entrepreneurial thinkers,” he notes.

In 2016, Abiodun and his team visited twenty countries, 35 cities, towns and regional centres. “Our investment – time, money – in recruiting the right scholars is probably one of the greatest in any academic programme in the world,” he said. His team also speak with church and school leaders, and they are interviewed on national radio stations to get their message across.

Applications are open from September to January each year and all are welcome to apply.