Country of the Week: Liberia

A month from now, on October 10, Liberians will head to the polls to begin to elect a new president, who will be sworn in in January 2018. When this inauguration takes place, it will mark the first time in 70 years that a living, democratically elected president will pass power to another. As the peaceful transfer of power draws nearer, each Liberian has been asking him or herself how to ensure a peaceful electoral process. The 14 years of devastating civil war remain fresh in many people’s memories despite the fact that now as many years of peace have passed as there were of war.

Liberia’s population is incredibly diverse. Sixteen ethnic groups comprise about 95 percent of the country’s population. This multiethnic, multicultural demographic weaves together the distinct tapestry of Liberia’s rich history and culture that was officially born 170 years ago this year on July 26 when freed American slaves established Africa’s first republic in present-day Liberia.

Thanks to the work of people such as the members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network, Liberia continues to rebuild its economy while investing in its education and health care systems. The nation has also made great democratic strides, including the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—Liberia’s current president and Africa’s first-ever elected female head of state.

The positive contributions by YALI Network members are an important part of Liberia’s development towards peace and prosperity, and we are proud to feature their work while Liberia is the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek!

Keep reading to see how three incredible #YALINetwork members are working to end poverty, encourage civic engagement, and save lives throughout Liberia.

Working to End Poverty

Local community members meet with leaders of the Gbor Clan Farming Union and Rural Early Learning Program.

Local community members meet with leaders of the Gbor Clan Farming Union and Rural Early Learning Program.

In 2010, Brocks Pokai was visiting Liberia’s rural Grand Bassa County. While there, he witnessed some of the country’s most pressing social issues: lack of access to adequate health care, extreme poverty, and insufficient childhood education.

“I watched a woman give birth to a baby in a wheelbarrow about a one-hour walk from her nearest health facility,” says Brocks. “Local children weren’t attending school, and farmers were living in extremely poor conditions. I wanted to help change that.”

That’s when Brocks came up with the idea for Growing Liberia Democracy, or GOLD, a rural development program designed to improve the economic and social wellbeing of rural citizens in Liberia. By identifying and measuring the various challenges facing rural farmers, as well as encouraging civic engagement, GOLD aims to address the underlying causes of social inequality, increase small farm holders’ incomes, and eradicate extreme poverty.

Brock’s programs are already making a measurable impact. So far, GOLD’s Help Farmers Fight Poverty and Child Abuse project has organized over 50 local farmers into a farmer’s union. Based on traditional Gbor clan values, the Gbor Clan Farming Union works to empower farmers by offering training in organizational leadership and modern farming techniques. GOLD has also piloted the Rural Early Learning Program, which now provides education to over 50 children in Liberia’s Gbor District.

Encouraging Civic Engagement

Losene Talawally speaks to a group of young people in Voinjama City, Lofa County about the importance of civic engagement in advance of Liberia’s upcoming presidential election.

Losene Talawally speaks to a group of young people in Voinjama City, Lofa County about the importance of civic engagement in advance of Liberia’s upcoming presidential election.

A student at the University of Liberia, Losene Talawally says that the YALI Network has inspired him to succeed academically and has helped him recognize his passion for volunteerism: “Because of my work with YALI,” he says, “I want to motivate and inspire young people to achieve academic excellence and ensure that the next generation receives education…no matter their tribal or religious backgrounds.”

To do that, Losene hosts events focused on educating young people about the significance of elections and civic engagement. “It’s critical that young people understand the importance of choosing good leaders and participating in government,” he says. “I want to inform people about their responsibilities as citizens.”

With help from the YALI Network, Losene has the tools—and the support—to stay motivated to follow his career path, and to inspire others to do the same

Saving lives throughout Liberia

In the summer of 2014, Liberian YALI Network member Yassah Levalah had just finished participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program when she received an intriguing offer from the US government: stay in the US.

“At the time,” Yassah recalls, “Liberia was being ravaged by Ebola, a deadly and highly contagious disease for which there’s no cure. But as one of the only nurses from Liberia trained in treating the virus, I made the decision to go back and help. All major health facilities were shut down or overwhelmed, so I returned home to ensure that our local clinic remained open.”

As it turns out, Yassah’s incredible self-sacrifice would save hundreds of lives.

Yassah Levalah from #CountryoftheWeek Liberia demonstrates how to use protective equipment and other emergency tools in a midwifery training session.

Yassah Levalah from #CountryoftheWeek Liberia demonstrates how to use protective equipment and other emergency tools in a midwifery training session.

Yassah had originally applied to the YALI Mandela Washington Fellowship in order to pursue courses in entrepreneurship and to establish a community midwifery center to address Liberia’s high rate of infant mortality. But when she returned home to Liberia, she began working at the country’s only Ebola treatment unit and as a field supervisor for the Ministry of Health, while also operating her own community clinic. Additionally, she conducted several workshops and lectures on disease safety and prevention, helping to ensure that her community stayed Ebola-free.

And when the community’s clinic was on the verge of closing due to lack of supplies and protective equipment, her friends at Notre Dame University—where she had spent six weeks as a Mandela Washington Fellow—stepped up to provide critical support. Members of the Eck Institute for Global Health mobilized a university-wide fundraising campaign alongside Notre Dame’s Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD) and the Kellogg Institute’s Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity, ultimately raising more than $26,000 for the clinic.

“We were in dire straits,” explains Yassah. “Then, news of my situation spread throughout the Notre Dame campus. The fundraising effort helped supporters purchase enough medical supplies to fill a 40-foot container, which was delivered to my clinic in Paynesville. These supplies saved hundreds of lives at my own clinic and helped us keep other smaller health facilities open.”

Today, the clinic is thriving: “We’ve trained more than 85 traditional midwives who are currently assigned in the community as infant and maternal health ambassadors, and they receive a regular supply of equipment from the clinic,” she says. “With support from the YALI Network, I have purchased land and have raised enough money to begin constructing a 25- bedroom clinic that will house Liberia’s first midwifery center with a focus on sexual reproductive health and preventing infant and maternal mortality.”

That’s not all—Yassah was also recently admitted to Harvard University’s Master’s Program in Global Health Delivery and Social Medicine. She credits the YALI Network, as well as the YALI Network Online Courses and #YALILearn events, for providing the valuable guidance and training required to advance her career and transform her community.

“As a result of my work with YALI, more people in my community are seeking health education and care regardless of financial barriers,” says Yassah. “We’ve been able to transition over 35 young girls back to school—many of whom had dropped out due to teenage pregnancy. And our community now has trained midwives available for emergencies who can also provide sexual and reproductive health education to the 80 percent of residents living below the poverty line.”

Want to get involved in your community? Like the YALI Network Facebook page, and access free online trainings, virtual events, and more by visiting the YALI Network website.

Country of the Week: Lesotho

Lesotho is the southernmost landlocked country in the world with a uniquely cool climate due to its high altitude and mountain terrain.

In recent years, Lesotho’s exports sector has transformed its economy; however, agriculture is still a valuable source of income for many Basotho, with nearly 50 percent of the population cultivating informal crops or raising livestock.

In addition to economic developments, investments in education continue to advance the nation, and Lesotho happily holds one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. As Lesotho continues to grow, you and other impressive members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network are shaping peaceful and positive change. Because of your dedication, Lesotho is the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek!

Keep reading for three inspiring stories about breaking gender barriers, enhancing civic engagement, and leading community events throughout Lesotho.

Breaking gender barriers

In a male dominated industry, Relebohile Monethi boldly champions Lesotho’s agricultural market.

Relebohile rears broilers and grows peppers as a female farmer and the owner of Morali’a Monethi Farms — an uncommon profession for a young woman in Lesotho. “I am a firm believer that any person, both male and female, so long as they continue to have the desire to learn, can succeed in the agricultural industry,” she explains.Woman wearing bright jacket

Her positive demeanor and hopeful attitude is captured in an interview with The Post Newspaper in which she states that “[t]he most important step is to start, and the rest will fall into place along the way. Instead of procrastinating, wake up and do what you want to do.” While growing her abilities as a farmer, she also refined her entrepreneurial skills, for which she credits the YALI Network Online Courses as a tremendously helpful resource. “One should not be afraid to be a risk-taker or to stand alone from the crowd in order to make it in life.”

Relebohile’s farm requires constant dedication — a trait she extends into all her endeavors — as she encourages other young women to follow their dreams. “I hope and plan to work closely with the ministry of education in Lesotho to impart [my] knowledge, skills, and passions … to women and girls.” She believes that farming is not only economically viable for her country as a whole, but also a rewarding and achievable profession for individuals, especially women.

Enhancing civic engagement

Lieketseng uses two YALI Network Online Courses to train Butha-Buthe urban council youth.

Lieketseng uses two YALI Network Online Courses to train Butha-Buthe urban council youth.

Lieketseng Sakoane is a motivated woman living in #CountryoftheWeek Lesotho, who after completing the YALI Network Online Course Understanding Elections And Civic Responsibility became determined to engage her community in the election process.

As a snap election approached, Lieketseng found that the course content was “very relevant and necessary to … Lesotho youth and all other citizens.” She notes that the course helped her spread awareness about how the election process functions, as well as one’s civic responsibility.

In addition to her civic duties, Lieketseng also refined her public speaking skills by studying YALI Network resources and acting on her own initiative. As a result of her hard work, she says her presentations were marvelous, and she earned a promotion at work. She has even been able to build her business skills with the resources she accesses from the YALI Network, and she makes sure to share her knowledge with the youth in her community.

Leading community events

Pontso joins local farmers, cultivating relationships between suppliers and growers, while helping to harvest crops.

Pontso joins local farmers, cultivating relationships between suppliers and growers, while helping to harvest crops.

“I have realised how important it is to take cognisance of my surroundings and [the] people I live with; we are social beings and there is power in our unity,” says Pontso Tsoeunyane. “My dedication to my community has improved ever since I joined the YALI [N]etwork in 2015.”

Pontso currently lives in what she describes as a “vulnerable” village suffering from land erosion. “I have taken action as a leader to rehabilitate this land,” she states. “I’m currently working with the community, local authorities and the relevant ministries to control and reclaim this endangered land, while writing proposals to the relevant agencies for further support.”

As a local leader, Pontso believes that the “essence of inclusion,” especially in regards to young girls, is vital to creating future leaders who value and promote environmental and social rights. In addition, she works with over 30 projects across Lesotho, engaging diverse communities in ways to better society as a whole. “I volunteer with Youthworx on a self-enrichment camp for over 200 youth … [helping equip them] with life skills, self development[,] and outdoor experiences. I’m also part of the GCG community that offers support to orphanages through friendly visits, counselling, [and] food packages.”

If you’re interested in getting involved in your community, like the YALI Network Facebook page, and access free online trainings, virtual events, and more by visiting the YALI Network website.

Country of the Week: Sudan

Just below the Sahara, in Sudan, civilization has existed for thousands of years.

Along the Nile River, through a region of geographic extremes varying from sandy desert to tropical forest, Sudanese culture combines the lifestyles, traditions, and ideals of nearly 580 ethnic groups, speaking 145 distinct languages. Built upon the remnants of time-honored civilizations, Sudan is home to the ancient city of Kerma, the ruins of Old Dongola, and the Nubian Pyramids in Meroe, all of which contributed to today’s multicultural Sudan.

While facing some challenges, you and other incredible members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network are dedicated to improving Sudan’s future and implementing meaningful change. In recognition of all your work, Sudan is the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek!

Keep reading for three inspiring stories in which Network members are spreading awareness about climate change, empowering Sudanese youth, and encouraging civic engagement.

Spreading awareness about climate change

Adults sitting in school desks holding YALINetwork certificatesAfter completing YALI Network Online Courses, Mutasim Essa Abdallah Adam made a personal promise to share his knowledge with the local community. “I am a young Sudanese man driven by energy that keeps me going and fill[s] me with happiness, excitement, and anticipation to help people in my community through education and sharing [knowledge] for the benefits of both people and our environment,” he explains.

Mutasim organized a #YALILearns event to increase awareness of the Network and its available resources. “The opportunity was a lifetime experience for me,” he says. At the event, attendees discussed how Sudanese people can develop leadership skills, and he explained the importance of understanding climate change.

The event required extensive logistical preparation, such as acquiring a space in which to host guests, as well as encouraging 21 individuals from various academic and professional backgrounds to attend. “I am a flexible leader as I was able to listen to my participants’ ideas and suggestions during the session. [I]n addition, [I] inspired participants to engage in the discussion, … [and] I was able to gain respect and credibility during the event.”

Mutasim plans to hold many events in the future saying, “This event [was] … part of my personal [commitment to] an ongoing effort, [and I] will continue … to … [focus] on a new category of YALI Network Online Courses [that] address some of the pressing issues facing Africa today… [and offer] insight and positive solutions for young Sudanese leaders.”

Empowering Sudanese youth

Since becoming a YALI Network member, Fathelrhman Mohammed has maintained strong connections with other participants throughout Sudan and the region at large. “My focus has been empowering other young leaders and work[ing] with them to bring lasting, positive change [to] the community [and our nation],” he says.Man speaking into microphone in front of stage holding musical instruments

Fathelrhman continuously grows his public speaking and leadership skills by speaking to young people and encouraging them to engage with the YALI Network. “Being a YALI member I gained a lot of experience that advanced my professional development,” he notes.

He recently gave a speech that focused on national needs and how a unified people can better implement lasting change. “The [attendees] … appreciated my speech, and … some [people told me] how they … [were] inspired … [and] encouraged [by my words].” At an event for ‘Youth & Leadership,’ Fathelrhman emphasized the importance of reading, and shared success stories about “community service, self-development initiatives, ideas, and visions of young, bright Sudanese.”

In addition, he realized that many YALI Network members from West Darfur have difficulties writing proposals for funding and applying for educational programs. Fathelrhman initiated a plan to make templates and forms more accessible to those individuals, and he believes improved access to resources will enable and empower people to do more for their communities. If you’re interested in getting involved in your community, like the YALI Network Facebook page, and access free online trainings, virtual events, and more by visiting the YALI Network website.

Encouraging civic engagement

“The YALI Network is a great opportunity to improve ourselves and our communities,” says Ali Abdalla Mohammed Mahmoud.

After studying and completing many YALI Network Online Courses, Ali began exchanging and sharing his learnings throughout his community as an English teacher and a professional development coach. Hosting an event at the American Corner in Port Sudan, he shared strategies for personal growth and development with 100 attendees. “It was successful, and the next course will be in the coming month. It was a real addition to my community to understand the … meaning of personal code of ethics, art of public speaking, and networking,” he says.

His other projects include encouraging and empowering young people. He believes that youth empowerment is vital to building their self-esteem, and he hopes his work will shape future leaders who are determined to become inventive and creative members of society.

Man presenting to group of people

Join Ali and members like him by joining the YALI Network. You’ll receive email updates, opportunities to collaborate with other young leaders, and access to resources such as YALI Network Online Courses and #YALILearns events!

YALI Voices: Building a sustainable tomorrow through fiscal transparency

By: Saied Tafida

Challenged by the need to change the poor living conditions surrounding him while he was growing up in the North Eastern Nigeria, Saied Sulaman Tafida made the decision to walk the path of improving transparency. He started volunteering, with NGOS when he was 18. He observed that most of the Sub-Saharan countries are rated very low by the World Bank in the ease of starting a business and paying taxes. This is, in addition to the complex opaque budgeting cycle these countries operate. Thereby creating haven for corruption as an impediment to the expected growth and development in the region.

Saied decides to work on civic engagement and taxpayer education in Nigeria, by opening the system and educating taxpayers on their rights and obligations. He guides citizens on how their taxes are accrued and expended by the government and how to follow the government and ask questions. He believes that achieving a corrupt-free and transparent system that increases revenue will help reduce poverty in Nigeria. To expand his reach he established a volunteer platform – for people with like minds to reach a broader target. The platform works to enhance tax knowledge as a weapon against bribery and corruption; train entrepreneurs on basic financial literacy, record keeping, and taxation; provide tax guide to a start-up business that cannot afford a professional and follow the taxes collected and ask questions.

They use the website to reach wider coverage, using English in Nigeria and French in Togo to redefine participatory governance by presenting government data in fetching formats: simple tweets, interactive format, and infographic displays. They have hosted radio programs and market shows in local languages to reach their audience who leave in the rural areas that do not have access to the internet. And they use pamphlets, poster designs, and community engagement to engage people around them.

They believe that, for sustainable tomorrow, every citizen has the right to know how his/her taxes as expended in the delivery of public infrastructure and services. It is important also for everybody to pay his/her taxes and engage the government on transparency as a stakeholder. Their website will very soon offer toll-free mobile and online feedback solutions, to trigger discussions around the taxation and budget. With the aim of taking the budget beyond being a news item, to becoming a focal point of debate among Nigerians.

Saied sits on the fiscal transparency and citizen engagement working group to help Nigeria on her journey to implement the Open Government Partnership National Action Plan and he work further to strengthen democratic institutions in Nigeria with to OpenKaduna Kaduna State Government Budget in Nigeria. An open budget project that aimed at bringing people closer to the government by improving citizen engagement.

No wonder he was selected to join the Mandela Washington Fellowship of Young African Leaders. A network of young Africans with the skills and motivations to spur growth 2014 by President Obama, and he as singled-out by Secretary of State John Kerry as a youth worth emulating in Norther Nigeria, when the secretary Visited Nigeria in August of 2016.

Contributed by Saied Tafida. The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.

A TV contest makes officials famous for doing good

Group of people standing in front of banner that reads “Integrity Idol Mali” (Courtesy of Integrity Idol Mali)

Integrity Idol Mali winners pose with Kondo Moussa (fourth from right) and members of the Accountability Lab (Courtesy of Integrity Idol Mali)

The globally broadcast TV show Integrity Idol makes rock stars out of public officials who have done good.

The show works like other prime-time televised contests but selects a winner not based on singing or dancing talent, but on how much he or she has done as a public official to help people.

The contest creates “a national conversation about corruption and shows the importance of honesty, integrity and personal responsibility in public affairs,” said Kondo Moussa, who was involved with Integrity Idol while working at the Accountability Lab in Washington as a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow from Mali.

The thinking behind the show is that the best way to stop corruption is not by shaming, but by rewarding those doing the right thing.

Integrity Idol began in Nepal in 2014, spread to Liberia in 2015, and then moved on to Nigeria, Pakistan and Mali.

Moussa brought the contest to Mali in hopes of building a national conversation around how to lead with honesty and integrity. “We want to help this younger generation of Malians come together and collectively push for the change they want to see,” Moussa said.

How the contest works

Military officer Issa Dia won the 2106 contest in Mali. Dia created a community initiative called LAYIDU that provides children with venues to learn and play sports together.

Integrity Idol said his “devotion to his job and helping his community, as well as his honesty and hard work, make Issa Dia a man of great integrity.”

Nominations are being accepted for the 2017 contest.

Country of the Week: Togo

This week we’re celebrating Togo, as well as three Togolese individuals who support and advance individual rights and civic engagement. 

David Gilmour, the U.S. Ambassador in Togo has a special message for Togolese members of the YALI Network:

Pour lire le message de l’ambassadeur en français, cliquez ici.

A smiling audience of young Togolese sits with the U.S. Ambassador.

U.S. Ambassador David Gilmour and YALI

The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is very special to me. Before I was named Ambassador, I was part of the team in Washington, D.C. that created the YALI program, and I have watched with pride as it has grown over the past several years. Since arriving in Togo to serve as U.S. Ambassador, I’ve seen first-hand the incredible work that our YALI members are doing to bring positive change to their communities and build a brighter future for Togo.

This week, on the occasion of Togo being named the “YALI country of the week,” my message to you is this: Thank you!

YALI’s success, throughout the continent, but especially in Togo, can be attributed to you, the members. By embracing your role as young leaders, you’ve improved your community and grown the YALI Network in Togo to over 3,300 members, (and counting!) – imagine what can happen as that number, and your commitment, grows!

YALI members wear matching t-shirts and pause for a group photo during a cleanup activity.

Mandela Washington Fellows in action.

There are so many examples of how YALI network members are making a difference in Togo. Take, for example, the recent series of civic engagement activities organized by YALI members in Sokode, Kara and Dapaong. During two days in each region, YALI fellows (including Sylvie Mensah, Aboubakar Douti, Nadege Afoutou, Emefa Kpegba, Charles Akakpo, Hombe Kafechina, and Grace Kudzu) trained class leaders from several high schools in leadership and community service. They then put their words into action by cleaning public venues such as hospitals and schools together with the young participants, staff members and parents.

A man and woman speak in a library, a screenshot from a tv program.

RLC participant Rolande Azakia sits with U.S. Ambassador David Gilmour on her program.

Another great example of a YALI member who is creating positive change is Rolande Azakia. Rolande, who is a graduate of the YALI Regional Leadership Center in Senegal, created an online television platform dedicated to exploring environmental issues and sustainable development. She has interviewed numerous public figures for her TV program, including me.

I can also highlight the great contributions of Kakpo Kossi, a member of our YALI network who attended the Embassy-sponsored “Agri-Tech Camp” in Kara. This event was designed to put young farmers in contact with young entrepreneurs and software developers, to devise innovative solutions that will help unleash the potential of Togo’s agricultural sector. Kakpo manages “Agri-Focus” a consulting firm focused on agriculture development in Atakpame. Our Agri-Tech Camp gave him a chance to expand his network and grow his business to meet the needs of this rapidly developing sector.

There are many more examples I could give but I would run out of space! Suffice it to say that members of our YALI network are doing great things all over Togo.

So to all members of the YALI network, I encourage you to keep being active in your communities and to keep sharing your successes, no matter the size, to empower and inspire each other through your work.

Our embassy wants to be a partner with you as we continue our efforts to help strengthen democracy and good governance in Togo, foster economic growth, expand opportunities, and promote peace and security.

I have said many times that I see Togo as a country on the move. But for Togo to really take off, it depends more than anything else on a rising generation of leaders. It depends on you.

Group photo of young Togolese leaders with a banner in the front reading Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

Mandela Washington Fellows in Togo

You’re smart, you’re talented, you’re optimistic and full of energy. You’ve already shown you can make a difference. I have no doubt that each of you will “pay forward” the small investment that the U.S. government has made in you 1,000 times over by the contributions you make to your communities, from Dapaong to Sokode to Atakpame and Lome.

Keep up the great work!
Yours sincerely,
David Gilmour
United States Ambassador to Togo


These YALI Network members have also done great work in their communities and were featured on the YALI Network Facebook page this week. Read inspiring member stories below, and you’ll see why Togo is this week’s #CountryoftheWeek!

Denis Dola hosting a #YALILearns event where he shared the YALI Network’s Online Course “Focus on Understanding Climate Change.”

Denis Dola hosting a #YALILearns event where he shared the YALI Network’s Online Course “Focus on Understanding Climate Change.”

Our first featured YALI Network member, Denis Dola, comes from the capital city of Lomé. As an active YALI Network member, he hosts #YALILearns events to introduce online courses and share educational resources with his community. “I see the enthusiasm of my people, who are eager to learn new skills and improve their lives,” Denis notes.

Topics at these events range from book talks to English language training to conversations about democracy and elections. Denis believes that these discussions are valuable for Togo’s youth and provide “an amazing experience to broaden their ambitions and boost their self-confidence.” His impactful participation engages many men and women with the YALI Network. “I positively impact my community by sharing relevant information and educational tools.”

Denis has completed many YALI Network Online Courses, receiving certificates in areas of climate change, civic engagement, and leadership. His passion for driving change is evident, and his outlook for Togo’s future is wholeheartedly positive. “Exposing people to education inspires them to dream and improves personal resilience when faced with a challenge,” he states.

Akouavi Nora Topou teaching civic leadership skills to nearly 70 students.

Akouavi Nora Topou teaching civic leadership skills to nearly 70 students.

Our next featured member, Akouavi Nora Topou, also comes from Lomé, where she initiated a program to enhance gender equality and empower females in her country. “I implemented a project called Men As Partners,” she explains. Her program reaches 30 young students with weekly interactions. “We also mentor 10 girls, providing support in their general studies and teaching them about sexual health.”

Akouavi Nora’s work also includes extensive volunteer projects where she devotes her time to spreading awareness about sexual health issues. “I want to build a helpful environment for young people to claim and access their sexual and reproductive health rights.” She educates 10 adolescents about their rights with the ultimate goal “of reducing the number of early and unintended pregnancies among girls ages 10-20.”

In addition to her focus on the rights of women and girls, Akouavi Nora works to share civic leadership skills with students. She has created several clubs, called Patriots Junior, in three private schools, explaining, “this project aims to promote a new generation of Togolese youth who promote democratic values and principles.”

Hezouwe Moise Akebim speaking about the importance of networking and civic engagement at a Youth Forum.

Hezouwe Moise Akebim speaking about the importance of networking and civic engagement at a Youth Forum.

Hezouwe Moise Akebim’s lifelong passion for community service started while he was in primary school in his home of Lomé. After extensive participation serving and leading educational clubs, Hezouwe Moise began taking YALI Network Online Courses while at University. He strengthened his leadership and motivation skills, explaining that “these courses have positively impacted his work with Amnesty International Togo and partner NGOs.”

“The YALI community has been a driving force for me,” he says. Hezouwe Moise’s work includes addressing human rights, and he helped start the Association Justice Accessible Togo (AJA-Togo), which is committed to making justice accessible for all, particularly women and impoverished communities. “I have organized assistance programs and awareness campaigns to eliminate stigmas about women and children in hospitals and orphanages.” His work has provided hundreds of birth certificates and substitute birth certificates to women and children in Lomé, Agoè, Sagbado, Kétao, and Atakpamé.

Most recently, Hezouwe Moise began working with Africa Team Up, a program that addresses common challenges in African communities. “We are coordinating youth and youth organizations that are committed to building impactful change and positive outcomes for Togo and Africa as a whole.” He truly believes that effective leadership can inspire communities to achieve important goals.



David Gilmour, l’Ambassadeur des Etats-Unis au Togo a un message spécial pour vous cette semaine:

L’initiative «Young African Leaders » (YALI) est très spécial pour moi. Avant d’être nommé Ambassadeur, j’ai fait partie de l’équipe à Washington, qui a créé le programme YALI, et j’ai observé avec fierté comment il s’est développé ces dernières années. Depuis mon arrivée au Togo pour servir comme ambassadeur des Etats-Unis, j’ai moi-même vu le travail incroyable que nos membres YALI font afin d’apporter des changements positifs dans leurs communautés et de bâtir un avenir meilleur pour le Togo. Cette semaine, dans le cadre de la sélection du Togo comme « pays YALI de la semaine », mon message à vous est le suivant : Merci !

Le succès de YALI, sur tout le continent, mais surtout au Togo, peut être attribué à vous, les membres. En jouant votre rôle en tant que de jeunes dirigeants, vous avez amélioré votre communauté et développé le réseau YALI au Togo à plus de trois mille trois cents membres, (et plus !) – Imaginez ce qui peut arriver au fur et à mesure que ce nombre, aussi bien que votre engagement, s’accroît.

A panel sits in chairs taking questions from an audience.

U.S. Ambassador David Gilmour and YALI

Il y a tant d’exemples qui montrent comment les membres du réseau YALI font une différence au Togo. Prenons, par exemple, la récente série d’activités sur l’engagement civique organisée par les membres YALI à Sokodé, Kara et Dapaong. Pendant deux jours dans chaque région, les boursiers YALI ont formé des chefs de classe de plusieurs lycées en matière de leadership et de services communautaires. Puis, ils ont concrétisé leurs mots par le nettoyage de lieux publics comme les hôpitaux et les écoles avec la participation des jeunes, des membres du personnel et les parents.

Un autre bon exemple d’un membre YALI qui crée un changement positif est Rolande Azakia. Rolande, qui est un diplômé du YALI Regional Leadership Center au Sénégal, a créé une plate-forme de télévision en ligne dédiée à l’exploration de questions environnementales et du développement durable. Elle a interviewé plusieurs personnalités publiques pour son émission de télévision, y compris moi.

Je peux également souligner la grande contribution de Kakpo Kossi, un membre de notre réseau YALI qui a assisté au camp de technologie agricole parrainé par l’ambassade des Etats-Unis à Kara. Cet événement a été conçu pour mettre des jeunes agriculteurs en contact avec des jeunes entrepreneurs et développeurs de logiciels, dans le but de concevoir des solutions novatrices qui aideront à libérer le potentiel du secteur agricole du Togo. Kakpo gère « Agri-Focus » un cabinet de conseil axé sur le développement de l’agriculture à Atakpamé. Notre Camp de technologie Agricole lui a donné une chance d’étendre son réseau et faire croître son entreprise pour répondre aux besoins de ce secteur en développement rapide. Il y a beaucoup plus d’exemples que je pourrais donner, mais je ne disposerais pas d’assez d’espace ! En bref, les membres de notre réseau YALI font de grandes choses à travers le Togo. Donc à tous les membres du réseau YALI, je vous encourage à continuer vos activités au sein de vos communautés et à partager vos succès, peu importe la taille, à responsabiliser et à inspirer les uns et les autres grâce à votre travail.

From Emb Togo 6Notre ambassade veut être votre partenaire pendant que nous poursuivons nos efforts pour aider à renforcer la démocratie et la bonne gouvernance au Togo, favoriser la croissance économique, élargir les possibilités et promouvoir la paix et la sécurité.

Je l’ai dit plusieurs fois que je vois le Togo comme un pays en mouvement. Mais pour que le Togo décolle vraiment, il dépend plus que toute autre chose, d’une génération émergente de dirigeants. Il dépend de vous. Vous êtes intelligents, vous êtes talentueux, vous êtes optimistes et pleins d’énergie. Vous avez déjà démontré que vous pouvez faire une différence. Je ne doute pas que chacun de vous « paiera au-delà », du petit investissement que le gouvernement américain a fait en vous, mille fois au-delà par les contributions que vous apportez à vos communautés, de Dapaong à Sokodé, et d’Atakpamé à Lomé.

Continuez votre excellent travail !

Sincères salutations
David Gilmour
Ambassadeur États-Unis au Togo

Country of the Week: Namibia

Did you know that Namibia is home to the world’s oldest desert?

Geographically vast, Namibia is filled with spectacular natural attractions. As a result, the landscape entices visitors with a thriving ecotourism industry. From lodges and reserves to extreme sports, Namibia welcomes the adventurous spirit within all of us!

Apart from breathtaking scenery, Namibia has a burgeoning set of media and entertainment options, including TV stations, radio stations, and daily newspapers, in addition to several weeklies, and specialty publications. Citizens value their media freedom, and embrace state-run, independent, and foreign coverage alike.

While The Republic of Namibia has much to offer, its most valuable quality rests in the character of its people. Namibia’s vibrant cities are brimming with transformative thinkers, yet its endless horizons keep communities deeply connected to a rich, cultural past. For this reason, we’ve named Namibia the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek.

Read on to learn more about the impact Namibian members make in their communities every day!

Man and group of yound students standing in front of bus (Courtesy of Hans Haikali)

“I always believed that I wanted to have my own school,” says Hans Haikali (Courtesy photo)

Our first featured member, Hans Haikali from Onheleiwa. After losing his parents at a young age, Hans dreamed of empowering less-fortunate youth, who experienced similar hardships.

That dream became reality when Hans opened his very own school, teaching Kindergarten through Grade 6. “I always believed that I wanted to have my own school,” he recalls. Despite limited resources, Hans makes an impact in the lives of hundreds of children each year.

Hans even ensures that 10 percent of his school’s students receive tuition assistance. His efforts are recognized and appreciated throughout the community, and Hans hopes that “young people in Namibia, SADC, and Africa at large understand that it does not matter where you started in life. With hard work, you can follow and succeed in your most ambitious dreams.”

Hans notes the school’s overall pass rate of 93 percent, and he credits YALI’s excellent resources in helping him with such an ambitious project.

Young man teaching YALILearns course (Courtesy of Deon Mandume)

(Courtesy of Deon Mandume)

Our next featured member, Deon Mandume, has been part of the YALI Network since 2014, completing a wide array of YALI Network Online Courses.

Living in Windhoek, Deon’s active participation in the YALI Network includes taking the #YALIGoesGreen and #Africa4Her pledges, as well as hosting #YALILearns events. “The YALI Network supported my interests in socio-economic development and allowed me to tap into a collective wealth of resources,” he notes.

Inspired by YALI resources, Deon continuously contributes to community discussions on important topics like human rights and climate change. He even worked with a national radio station to discuss the importance of Earth Day.

Deon considers the power of leadership invaluable to communities, and he believes that YALI teaches “vital skills such as networking, communication, and civic responsibility.” Most importantly, the YALI Network members encourage him to take action “knowing that I am part of an active and growing force of positive change.”

Auditorium full of people (Courtesy of Josaphat Tjiho)

(Courtesy of Josaphat Tjiho)

Our last featured Namibian member this week, Josaphat Tjiho, also comes from Windhoek. Like Deon, he has completed many of the YALI Network Online Courses.

With an interest in community development and civic engagement, Josaphat focuses his energy on important issues such as climate change, building youth self esteem, and puberty education. He and a colleague initiated a campaign called “HERE4HER that manufacturers and distributes reusable sanitary pads for disadvantaged school girls.”

His ambitious efforts are truly transforming his community, and he was “selected to become the country coordinator for the YALI RLC Namibian chapter, as well as the country coordinator for the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning.”

He credits YALI for many opportunities, and says, “I would like to thank YALI for helping me become the change I wish to see.”

Country of the Week: Seychelles

Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands situated 1,500 kilometers east of mainland Africa in the Indian Ocean, is blessed with beautiful beaches, mountain rainforests, and a modern society that blends the many immigrant cultures that have made the islands their home since the 1700s. Yet, despite all this diversity, the picturesque nation is the smallest in Africa!

However, young people from Seychelles don’t let their country’s small size stop them from making a big impact. By joining the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network, Seychellois youth have joined forces with over 400,000 young leaders across Sub-Saharan Africa to make a difference on the issues that matter to them most, such as climate change, civic engagement, and the rights of women and girls. That’s why Seychelles is this week’s YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek!

Read more to learn how the YALI Network has helped one Seychelloise bring together young leaders from across Africa, and use the form on this page to join them!
People gathered around a table and smiling (Courtesy photo)
This week’s featured member, Anael Bodwell, lives in Seychelles’ capital, Victoria. Anael is an alum of the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF), the flagship YALI program that helps outstanding young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa hone their skills at a U.S. college or university through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking.

After returning from her fellowship experience, Anael was eager to connect with other MWF and YALI Regional Leadership Center alumni to begin tackling the issues that matter most in her country — so she hosted a meeting in September 2016. “I started with a committee of just six people,” she says (pictured).

Under her leadership, the committee planned an expanded reunion “of all beneficiaries of U.S. programs in Seychelles,” she says. “The event took place in November 2016 and was attended by [a] U.S. Embassy official from Mauritius.”

“The reunion served to reconnect older members to new ones, as well as to strengthen the network,” Anael says. “Some of the resolutions established during the meeting were to increase the visibility of islanders throughout the YALI Network and to facilitate exchanges between ‘islanders’ and ‘inlanders.’” She says, “I personally introduced a regional concept… in partnership with YALI alumni of the Indian Ocean to organize the first ever Regional Business Innovation Forum.” Anael’s hard work has also secured the support of several local non-governmental organizations, including the Seychelles National Youth Council.

Are you a young leader in Seychelles? Join Anael and YALI Network members like her by signing up using the form on this page. You’ll receive email updates, opportunities to collaborate with other young leaders across Sub-Saharan Africa, and access to helpful products and programs such as YALI Network Online Courses and #YALILearns events!

What constitutes ‘dangerous speech,’ and what can you do about it?

In the United States, courts have repeatedly protected the rights of those who make hateful comments and post racist images.

But the allowance of hate speech doesn’t mean there is unlimited free speech. The courts have also ruled that if someone makes a direct threat against another person or incites people to commit imminent violence, the speech is not protected and the government can intervene.

Susan Benesch, a professor at American University in Washington who directs the Dangerous Speech Project, clarifies that the difference between hate speech and dangerous speech (which can be text or graphic as well as spoken) largely depends on the context, where it is said, who is saying it, and to whom. Specifically, she looks out for:

Benesch’s research points to notable examples of speech that helped incite violence, such as Rwandan Hutu propaganda in 1994 that claimed Tutsis posed an existential threat to Hutus, as well as Nazi assertions that Jews were planning to wipe out the German people before the Holocaust. She refers to incitement in the name of self-defense as “accusation in a mirror.” The target group can also be given dehumanizing labels such as “pests, vermin, insects or animals” or referred to as “foreign” or “alien” to make atrocities seem acceptable.

How to fight back

It is common to encounter dangerous speech online, such as in the form of tweets, Facebook postings or comments. In her paper “Considerations for Successful Counterspeech,” Benesch offers some advice on what to do when responding to it:

It may be too much to hope that the original speaker would recant or apologize for the remarks. A more likely sign of success is if the speaker alters the discourse or even deletes the social media account.

Most often, the best answer to dangerous speech is more speech. If your response provokes a civil and robust debate, it can help dispel falsehoods and inspire others to take a stand against incitement.

Is there an art to mediating conflicts?

Being a mediator is not really about trying to understand someone else’s conflict in order to help resolve it. It’s more about working with the parties to get them to understand their own conflict, said Peter Sampson, who works at the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) as the head of mediation support.

Sampson explained the role of mediation by using the story of two children fighting over an orange and destroying it in the process, only to discover afterward that one wanted to eat the fruit while the other wanted the peel as a baking ingredient. The conflict was needlessly caused by their failure to understand each other’s objective.

“Mediation is about helping people to understand their own conflict and to recognize that to continue to pursue the conflict may have negative effects,” Sampson said.

“People in general know how to resolve their own conflicts. It’s really just a question of listening to them, and it’s really a question of understanding what are the mechanisms in place to resolve conflicts,” he said.

Existing mechanisms can be groups or individuals who carry moral authority, respect, and the capacity and skill to bring people together. Religious groups, trade unions, former or current officials and dignitaries have served as mediators. It comes down to what Sampson calls their “convening power.” For example, to prevent or reduce election-related violence, an electoral commission can convene rival political parties, security forces, police, government and others to explain the rules.

Not seeking a mediator shows a desire to continue the conflict. According to Sampson, the only time parties don’t need a mediator “is when one of them thinks they can win and get what they need by force or continuing the conflict,” and “when they don’t see continuing on that path is actually detrimental to them.”

Professional mediators can help with technical aspects like setting a common agenda, framework, and follow-up mechanism to make sure any agreement is respected.

But, Sampson said, getting an outsider to mediate is not always the best approach, even if they are usually seen as the most neutral party. Instead, “the people that can affect the conflict the most are the ones that are actually in part involved,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges is reaching a consensus within a group itself on what their goals are and how they can translate their grievances into a political agenda that their members can support and the other side can address. Sampson believes insiders are better equipped to help a group articulate these kinds of objectives than third parties.

In reality, he said, you want people to be able to resolve problems on their own. He said a more lasting resolution is created when both sides are directly able to provide assurances to each other without the need of a third party.