US selects 15 Basotho for Mandela fellowship

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Rethabile Pitso

UNITED States Ambassador to Lesotho Matthew Harrington yesterday urged 15 Basotho youths participating in this year’s Mandela Washington Fellowship Programme for Young African Leaders to make a positive impact when they returned home.

Mr Harrington made the remark while introducing the group at the American embassy in Maseru. The fellowship is a flagship programme of US President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

Mr Obama launched YALI in 2010 to support young African leaders to spur growth and prosperity across Africa, as well as strengthening democratic governance, peace and security.

Relebohile Sehapi, Pulane Mphatśoe, Matseliso Khesa, ‘Masello Molato, Khotso Masheane, Lerato Lesoetsa, Billy Ntaote, Mookho Moqhali, Keneuoe Semphi, Karabeleo Tśosane, Joalane Mohobane, Khabele Mofelehetsi, Thabo Stephen Monyamane, Phelane Phomane and Likeleli Mphutlane were picked ahead of about 330 applicants, according to Mr Harrington.

They will next week join 1 000 other Africans in a six-week academic residency at US universities consisting of leadership seminars, mentoring, and networking sessions, followed by a Presidential Summit in Washington, DC.

Mr Ntaote and Ms Mphutlane are set to stay behind for six more weeks of professional internship.

According to Mr Harrington, the selection process was rigorous. Eligible applicants were between 25 and 35-years old, with proven track records in public administration, business and entrepreneurship or civic leadership as well as demonstrating a strong commitment to contributing their skills and talents to building and serving their communities.

“It began with each candidate applying individually online, after which the embassy received from Washington a ranked list of all the candidates and copies of their applications,” he said.

“Our embassy in Maseru then reviewed the applications, interviewed 39 finalists, and made our recommendations to Washington. In the end, we believe strongly that the 15 Basotho who made the final cut represent some of the brightest, most talented young minds in this country.”

Mr Harrington stressed that the fellowship was not just about going to the US, but about making a difference when they returned home.

“When they return, the fellows would be provided with support for engaging in skill-enhancing initiatives that include internships, professional mentorships, travel grants to speak at high-level conferences and funding assistance for project ideas.”

He said the fellows would also be able to access the YALI leadership Innovation Hub at the State Library which is part of the Embassy’s American Corner.

“It is also a place where they can meet and interact with other up-and-coming Basotho leaders. This space provides high-speed internet and video-conferencing capability, as well as a physical platform to give presentations, lead discussions, and conduct workshops.”

The programme, Mr Harrington said, was meant to groom leaders across political, social and business sectors.

“Our hope is that when these YALI Fellows have all gone on to be ministers in government, or leaders in business, or pioneers of social change, that they will still be connecting with each other, that they will still be learning from each other, and that together, they will be reaching back and helping the next generation,” added the ambassador.

On behalf of participants, Ms Mphutlane said the programme would equip them with leadership skills.

“It was clear from the questions that were asked in the applications that in designing the programme, the US government was looking for people who not only demonstrate excellence in their individual professions and trades, but who are driven by the need to solve visible problems in their communities; individuals who are not just interested in advancing their own personal interests, but who are passionate about transforming their communities and contributing to advancing this country,” she said.

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