Ambassador Jackson’s Remarks at YALI West Africa RLC 7th Cohort Closing Ceremony

Professor P. Ebow Bondzi-Simpson, Rector of GIMPA,
Mrs. Shola Safo-Duodu, the Accra RLC Director,
Members of the RLC Governing Council,
Partners of the Accra YALI Regional Leadership Center,
Our 2017 YALI West Africa Graduates,
Members of the media,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honor to welcome you to the closing ceremony for the seventh cohort of the Young African Leaders Initiative of West Africa. I have been involved with the Mandela Washington Fellows Program since it was launched by former President Barack Obama. This is indeed a flagship exchange program that invests in supporting the ideas, aspirations, and efforts of African youth to promote African solutions to African challenges. I would like to offer special congratulations to the 2017 YALI West Africa Graduates here with us this morning for carrying forward the vision of this program through their successful participation.

Allow me to offer some very important thanks to those who have made this program possible. First, I wish to thank the Accra Regional Leadership Center, the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, and USAID West Africa for their work organizing this ceremony and for all the work they do in support of the YALI program. Second, thanks to the RLC Governing Council, our YALI RLC partners, trainers, speakers, and support staff for their time and dedication to this program’s success. I also want to thank our sponsors and especially the Master Card Foundation. The United States is grateful for your generous contributions towards making the RLC and this program a reality, and to all the young men and women participants. We are grateful for your commitment to advance the vision of the YALI program.

Today, we are also pleased to have with us a number of guests from the Government of Ghana, the private sector, and NGOs — all of whom share our passion for promoting young African leadership.

I am pleased to report that the YALI program enjoys strong support across the U.S. government. The United States values and recognizes the extraordinary talents of young leaders like you that this program supports. In fact, during his visit to Ghana last weekend, Senator Chris Coons from Delaware and his bipartisan delegation of members from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives singled out YALI as an invaluable program that enjoys strong support in the U.S. Congress.

As U.S. Ambassador, I consider it a top priority to meet YALI alumni, as well as the youth whose lives their efforts touch and inspire. You are very special, and truly are the future leaders of all sectors across Africa. When he founded this program, former President Obama observed that “change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Each of you plays a key role in shaping the future of Ghana and Africa. You are here today because at one point in your life you decided to make a difference in the lives of others. May your efforts be peaceful and constructive to unleash the unlimited promise and dignity which are the rights of every person.  

Our hopes are placed on you to unite citizens across all levels of society and sectors to be positive builders of peace and development. It takes a special kind of leadership to motivate others to identify and reach common solutions for extraordinary challenges. 

We are especially proud that the YALI Regional Leadership Center serves as a forum where you can strengthen your networks and share ideas with Mandela Washington Fellows and other youth who have joined the YALI Network.

We hope that you are inspired as I am by the successes of members of the YALI family. I wish that I could highlight all of your individual achievements, but time does not permit me to do so. However, I will highlight the work of some of our YALI alumni.

YALI Mandela Washington Fellows Yaganoma Baatuolkuu and Doris Darkwah distinguish themselves in efforts to empower women and girls, which is a key priority for the United States. Yaganoma owns and manages the social enterprise Wanjo Foods, a beverage and sauces company that uses indigenous herbs, spices, and fruits mostly found on the African continent. Doris is the executive director of A Ban Against Neglect (ABAN GHANA), a non-profit organization that focuses on women’s empowerment in rural Ghana through skills training, financial education, and environmental stewardship. Doris performed her YALI fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

Promoting anti-corruption efforts is one of the United States’ priorities, and Bright Kwadwo Sowu is a leader in those efforts. He is a Senior Research Officer for the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC), a cross-sectoral group of public, private, and civil society organizations with a focus on promoting good governance and fighting corruption in Ghana. His major task at the Coalition involves leading the Monitoring and Evaluation team for a USAID funded anti-corruption project known as Accountable Democratic Institutions and Systems Strengthening.

Transparency and efficiency in the energy sector are other U.S. priorities in Ghana. We are proud that Kwabena Kankam-Yeboah and Enoch Agyepong are two YALI alumni members serving in the energy sector and leading in those efforts. Kwabena is a Business Planning Engineer at the Volta River Authority, Ghana’s largest power generation company. He focuses on performance management issues and business opportunities. Enoch is a Regulatory Strengthening Project Engineer at the Millennium Development Authority (MiDA).

Two of your fellow YALI graduates, Ngnaoussi Elongue “Cédric” Christian and Jason Amoo are shining examples of future West African leaders. Their optimistic outlook, track-record of ethical decision-making, and dedication to service before self are exemplary. I am told that many of you appreciate their good leadership and team management skills.

The young leaders I just mentioned, and all of you, embody the spirit of the old saying that: “if your actions inspire others to dream more, to learn more, to do more and to become more, then you are a leader.”  

The challenges these young leaders and many of you here today face are also shared by youth in other nations, including in the United States. There is no perfect nation, but as you have demonstrated, together we can all further perfect our nations and promote global prosperity through local efforts such as these:

  • Promoting good governance and stewardship of resources;
  • Combating the scourge of modern-day slavery;  
  • Registering citizens to vote to advance free, fair, and transparent elections, as we saw here in Ghana last year;
  • Energizing the private sector by establishing new businesses to reduce high unemployment and create critically needed jobs for large numbers of youth entering the workforce each year;
  • Bringing together women entrepreneurs to share best practices and mentor the next generation of women business leaders to succeed and reach their fullest potential;
  • Promoting quality education;
  • Advancing the work of a free, vibrant, and independent media – both traditional and digital – to strengthen democracy and public discourse on issues of public concern; and
  • Earning a reputation for honesty, character, and integrity — to be a trusted voice of reason and peace.

These are examples of efforts undertaken by our YALI alumni, and I congratulate each of you.  

Members of the 2017 YALI class, your experience as part of this prestigious program may have concluded, however your work as YALI alumni is just beginning.

Today you reaffirm the bonds established with your peers and new connections with others who share in your belief of the YALI vision of service. As trailblazers, I know you have valuable success stories to share with each other. I also know that even trailblazers may have some stories about challenges and setbacks. Those lessons learned are just as valuable — perhaps even more so — in charting your way forward and tackling the challenges ahead.

Leaders persevere and attain greatness because they see failure as a temporary part of their journey towards attaining success. Good leaders see beyond statistics and figures into the human lives affected by corruption, hunger, unemployment, wars, and conflict. The lives and sufferings of human beings matter deeply, and seeking to improve conditions should guide your vision and efforts.

See yourselves as key contributors to your country, Africa, and the world. We all share one planet and one home. If Ghana and Africa prosper, then the United States and the world also prosper. Peace and prosperity are shared goals.  

You are the builders of a new Africa, a continent where innovation and youth leadership in all sectors is needed to promote vibrant democracies and private sectors reflecting that Africa is indeed open for business.  

On sunny days be humble and share credit, and during dark days — no matter how long they may be — always remember that the sun will rise in the morning giving you another opportunity to aim for success, and that the United States stands with you in support of your vision and efforts.  

Congratulations and thank you!