U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellows Departure Reception
U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa
May 24, 2019
(As prepared for delivery)
It’s wonderful to see so many past and present Mandela Washington Fellows here tonight, and to have this chance to send off the latest group for what I hope will be a life-changing exchange program in the United States.
Congratulations to our 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship finalists and alternates.
This flagship program under the United States’ Young African Leaders Initiative is one of the most competitive programs we have.
After the effort you put into the difficult application process, you probably know this already.
But I want to reinforce that for Ethiopia, the 35 finalists and 10 alternates we have here tonight represent less than one percent of those who started the application process.
And not only do you represent the best of Ethiopia’s young leadership, you also represent its diversity as well.
The 2019 Fellows come from nearly every region of Ethiopia, with a similar number coming from the capital.
And it’s wonderful to have here the Fellows who applied through the U.S. Mission to the African Union, and a special greeting to our Mandela Washington Fellow from Eritrea as well.
All of you have demonstrated that you have what it takes to be part of a growing network of young African leaders, who will lead your countries and this continent into a more stable, prosperous, and democratic future.
Nearly one-third of Africans are between the ages of 10 and 24.
In Ethiopia, about 70 percent of the total population is below the age of 35.
Giving hope and opportunity to these young people – creating jobs and offering constructive outlets for their potential – that’s a huge job.
And who better understands the challenges facing youth, and how best to overcome them, than young leaders themselves.
That’s the whole idea behind the Young African Leaders Initiative.
The YALI program was launched in 2010 to recognize and support the critical and growing role of African youth in strengthening democratic institutions, increasing economic growth and prosperity, and enhancing peace and security across Africa.
As part of YALI, the Mandela Washington Fellowship seeks to identify some of Africa’s most promising young people, who’ve already demonstrated their capacity to lead in business, academia, public health, and civil society.
I’m talking about you guys.
And here in Ethiopia, your country needs you now more than ever.
We’re excited by the direction set by Prime Minister Abiy’s administration, and by the eagerness we see among the Ethiopian people for constructive change.
We share their optimism for a brighter future.
But this transition, like any other, has its challenges.
And some of those challenges are huge.
Taking advantage of the opportunity at hand is not a one-person job.
It’s a job for all Ethiopians, and to mobilize that kind of engagement, Ethiopia needs leaders throughout the country, who can show their fellow citizens the way forward.
This is a heavy burden, but it’s one I’m confident you can bear, because you’ve already accomplished so much.
This evening you’ll have the chance not only to talk with each other, but with some of our alumni who’ve already benefited from this unique experience.
I encourage you to ask them for advice about how to make the most of your time in the U.S., and about how to translate your experience as Fellows into even greater impact in the days ahead.
You’ll also have opportunities to interact with these alumni at tomorrow’s conference called “Mandela Washington Fellows in Action,” which celebrates the fifth anniversary of the fellowship.
We hope tonight’s reception and tomorrow’s conference will provide you with additional energy and excitement to make the most of your experience in the United States.
I look forward to welcoming you back in a few months, and to seeing the amazing things you’ll accomplish.
I wish you a wonderful time in the United States, and will count on touch in the days ahead.
Thank you very much, and congratulations again.