NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 30 – Over 50 years ago Barack Obama Snr boarded a plane for Hawaii on a scholarship that would later lead to the election of the first black President of the United States of America in over two centuries of independence.
Now 50 of Kenya’s most promising young leaders, under the auspices of President Barack Obama, will have a similar opportunity to learn about what makes, what has been touted as the world’s greatest democracy, tick.
This is through what has been dubbed the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.
The flagship programme which will last for six weeks between June and July will instruct 500 Africans, mainly between the ages of 25 and 35, in the three areas of Civic Leadership, Public Management and Business and Entrepreneurship.
“We have received over 2,500 applications and it’s going to be tough whittling them down to 50 but hopefully we’ll have more slots available next year. Even the folks in Washington were astounded by the interest YALI has generated,” America’s Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec told Capital FM News.
Out of the 500, a select 100 will have the added benefit of an eight week internship in the USA while the various embassies endeavour to place the remaining 400 locally.
“We’ve reached out to the privates sector and non-governmental bodies locally to help secure internships and even seed money for the fellows in the hopes of helping them meet their full potential,” Godec said.
At the end of the six weeks, all the fellows will have the opportunity to dine with President Obama in a summit that will be the culmination of the fellowship.
“This is something President Obama in particular is passionate about. As you know he is committed to supporting youth and providing youth with opportunities to support their countries,” Mark Feierstein the associate administrator at the US Agency for International Development enthused to Capital FM News.
Obama, who went to Harvard like his father and became the first black Harvard Law Review president, spent the early years of his career as a Community Organiser in Chicago before making his first ever trip to Kenya in search of the heritage his father left him.
The fellowship applicants were therefore required to demonstrate a history of community and volunteer work.
President Obama announced the initiative in June of 2013 on a tour of Africa and given his father was a beneficiary of the 1959 Tom Mboya airlifts, it came as no surprise.
“I had things to learn in law school, things that would help me bring about real change…That’s the story I had been telling myself, the same story I imagined my father telling himself 28 years before as he boarded the plane to America, the land of dreams,” an excerpt from Obama’s book, Dreams from my father.