Washington Fellow Rumbidzai Dube from Zimbabwe inspired a packed audience in the Wren Chapel during a remarkable ceremony commemorating the closing of The Presidential Precinct YALI program at William & Mary.  Rumbi challenged her peers to have courage as they pursue the ideas they believe will make their countries better.  Read Rumbi’s inspirational speech below.

YALI 2014 Presidential Precinct: Closing Ceremony Speech
Prepared by Rumbidzai Dube
YALI Fellow-Zimbabwe

When the 25 of us arrived, we were tired, jetlagged and sleep deprived! But behind the fatigue we had one thing in common. We had come here for a purpose, asking ourselves: “How can I become more effective at what I do? How do I advocate better, or teach better, campaign more effectively, become a more effective communicator, a more renowned TV personality, or a more astute litigator. Today, we can safely say we all achieved what we came here to do but we all got more than we had bargained for.

Yes we all received leadership training, equipping us with tools to become outstanding in our spheres of influence. But above all we learnt to become better human beings; more empathic and sympathetic, even towards the things we did not believe in. We learnt the value of effective communication which does not only involve saying what we want to be heard but also actively listening to what other people say. Our daily lives became one long lecture in internalising patience; from the time we sat waiting for those who came onto the bus late, to the time Scott would decide to make announcements, at 5 pm about the evening’s compulsory programme, taking us into the wee hours of the night. We learned respect, listening attentively through every class even those that could have easily put us to sleep, paying attention to each and every one of us’ contributions, even though we may not have agreed with all the opinions expressed. We exercised maturity, in making decisions for ourselves as a group. We learnt how to negotiate and what it means to lose in order to win.

But who ever expected to leave here a mini-expert in American history; or having escapades at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier and James Monroe’s Ashlawn Highland? And who knew that the current state of most countries on the African continent; about 30-50 years after independence is a mirror image of America-50 years after independence – a nation in the process of asserting its independence and sovereignty, trudging through war and devastation, conflict and distress.

Who would have thought that we would sit in a council meeting in Scottsville and actually see how local government leadership works in a transparent manner? Did anyone amongst us imagine that during our stay scenes from Julia Roberts’ “Pretty Woman” where men on horses would be chasing a single tiny ball in a game they call polo which I like calling “sophisticated hockey on horseback” would come alive or that they would run on the pitch during the break and start stomping the ground to level the playing ground disturbed by the horses’ hooves? Ok, maybe some did. But who, even those among us with really wild imaginations, ever imagined sitting in a crowd, cheering on humans trying to do the darndest thing- stay on the back of a ferocious and angry bull for all of 8 seconds? Serious lectures, community outreach, house tours, wine tasting, rodeo, horse- riding, canoeing, polo- we did it all-after all they say all work and no play makes Jack and Jill dull children.

For all this we thank everyone who made everything possible. We thank the government of the Unites States of America and its people for creating and supporting this platform to enhance young Africans’ leadership capacity. We thank AECOM who invested so wisely into Africa’s future. Above all we want to thank our hosts; the Presidential Precinct (The University of Virginia, The College of William and Mary, Morven, Monticello, Montpelier and Ashlawn Highland).To the faculty staff, resource persons, administration and the lovely interns’ thank you all for your creativity in designing the programme and for your wonderful hospitality.

To my fellow Young African Leaders, as we are going back home, we can proudly say we did not subscribe to the banking concept of education that Freire talked about in his “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” The Presidential Precinct and all the people we met on this journey will not remember us as the passive group that sat as we were taught, thinking that the lecturers knew everything and would deliver their sessions in the way they had planned. Rather, they will remember us for being the opposite. They will remember us as the dynamic group of young African leaders who learnt new things and taught others what they already knew. They know us as the group that challenged issues as much as we were challenged as practitioners in our different fields.

Back home, the context we left behind has not changed much in the past 6 weeks. Njeri from Kenya is going back home to continue her work promoting LGBTIQ rights in a homophobic society. Chris from Uganda is going to continue fighting corruption in the oil industry. Those who fuel and benefit from the corruption are going to be watching his back. Martine from Central African Republic has to contend with going back into a civil war a war that many are struggling to define-is it a religious war or an ethnic war. But what difference does it make, people are dying the fabric of a society is being torn apart. Martine’s job is to rebuild that fabric and regain the youth’s hope in a peaceful and prosperous country.

We all now know; nation building takes time. Building democracies is a hard and arduous job. It needs visionaries, intellectuals and practical implementers. That is what Jefferson, Madison and Monroe represent in America’s history. We see the same values in our own fathers, the likes of:

Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana- a revolutionary, resolute in his belief of a united African continent, who declared that he “was not African because he was born in Africa but because Africa was born in him.”

Julius Nyerere of Tanzania-a freedom advocate who declared that “there must be freedom because every individual is not served by the society unless it is his.”

Samora Machel, a service leader who understood that the state must be organised and totally committed to serving the interests of the people.

Thomas Sankara, a true humanist who believed in gender equality and that women’s emancipation is at the heart of the question of humanity itself.

Patrice Lumumba- A visionary of African development who held the conviction that Africa would transform its potential positively for its people. He declared that Africa would write its own history and we are a part of fulfilling his declaration.

Nelson Mandela; the selfless conciliator who left us the big lesson of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation, whostated that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

These selfless, resilient, conciliatory, visionary leaders changed the face of our continent. And it is to them that we should look for guidance on the kind of leaders we must become.

In concluding, let us apply our mind to Kwame Nkrumah’s words when he declared that “Revolutions are brought about by men, by men who think as men of action and act as men of thought.”

Vision. Intellect. Action. That is what it takes to bring about change. That is the task we have today as we go back home to make history.

Remember, to dream- because dreams turn into visions, visions become plans, plans can be turned into designs and designs can be implemented and spring forth the change we want to see.

Thank you.