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Aug. 1, 2016 (GIN) – With media attention glued to the salacious details of the U.S. election, a signature program of President Obama is flying under the radar, preparing young African leaders with advanced leadership skills to bring home to their countries.

Participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders are enrolled in an intensive, six-week program on academic excellence and leadership focused on business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership, public management, and renewable energy at U.S. colleges and universities.

Through these courses, the program works in conjunction with the White House's policy goals for promoting trade and investment with Sub-Saharan African countries.

The African Fellows are highly accomplished leaders in their respective fields.  Most have a Master's Degree and already own their own businesses.  Participants are chosen from 30,000 applicants from every sub-Saharan country. 

“It's 25 of the best and brightest minds of 20 different African countries. Seeing the impact that they're having on our community is pretty amazing," observed Carina Black, executive director of the Northern Nevada International Center and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Fellow Gadza Makopola of Botswana says the U.S. strategy of targeting the young minds of Africa's brightest is a welcome change to foreign policy in the region.

"The beautiful thing about the fellowship is that the U.S. targeted the most important resource, which in my opinion is the youth, with a different approach," said Makopola. "It is now done with respect and we are being looked at now as partners, not as people to colonize. While other countries are targeting resources from the ground, President Obama's strategy was to target the minds."

Other participating schools include the University of Notre Dame, the University of Texas at Austin, Dartmouth College, Rutgers University, Tulane University, Arizona State University, University of California, Berkeley, the University of Virginia, Howard University, Georgia State, and Syracuse University.

The program is funded by the Young African Leadership Initiative, a State Department initiative dedicated to promoting partnerships with Sub-Saharan African countries.

Of the 10,000 applications for the Fellowship from Nigeria, 100 were chosen, among them Otto Orondaam who founded Slum2School which is now one of the largest volunteer driven non-profits in Nigeria “providing access to education and psycho-social support for disadvantaged children in slums and remote communities,” Orondaam said in an interview with BellaNaija.

Fellow Amadou Boukar from Niger, who holds a Master’s degree in business law, enthused on Instagram: “The first half of the day was powerful. So proud to be among these unbelievable leaders. Africa has a bright future.”

For some of the young people, the best is yet to come as they meet with President Obama this week at an informal “town hall” and he selects among their submitted questions to answer.

“Ever dream of asking Obama a question?” tweeted YALI, the Young African Leaders Initiative. From their breathless social media posts, questions will not be in short supply. w/pix of Chipo Chikomo, a 2016 Young African Leader, visiting Iowa City Farmers’ Market


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