Why I Established The ALA Model African Union

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I have often been asked what prompted me to establish the ALA Model African Union (ALAMAU) in 2013. Truthfully, I cannot take sole credit for the idea. The bottom line is that I was inspired by the passion of the young people whom I found at African Leadership Academy when I arrived in August 2012.

So, let’s rewind.

I was born and raised in Ibadan, Nigeria and there were a few things constant throughout my childhood: poor electricity, poor drinking water, bad roads, military coups, teachers and doctors on strike, endless complaints about the government, and newspapers. My dad brought newspapers home from the office every single day and they were the delight of my life. I craved the hours after dinner when I could sneak the papers from my dad’s bedroom and consume the contents from back to front. My political consciousness was built in those evening hours and I quickly developed a keen understanding of the world as well as a strong sense of discomfort with the way things were done. However, the most prominent lesson learned in my childhood was the knowledge that politics was a no-go area; one could aspire to be anything imaginable, but definitely not a politician.

However, my journey took me through journalism into education then non-profit management and back to education and I got involved with several organizations and projects along the line. I got interested in leadership and enterprise development, public speaking and mentoring. I spoke at several conferences and had the privilege of travelling the world, but my search for deep meaning continued. Then I heard about African Leadership Academy and decided that I needed to fold everything up and move to Johannesburg, which I did. Within a week of arriving at the Academy, I had started down the path of establishing the International Relations Council which has since become the home for the Model African Union.

So, why exactly did I establish the Model African Union? I knew that something needed to shift in the way that citizens approach their governments. I was raised on a system of fear which ensured that I expected little from governments and cared even less about them. I however realized that no matter how hard I tried, I could not ignore governments and public officials – their actions and inactions influence education policy, healthcare, elections, and all manner of social services. I realized that we would all be better off seeking to understand how governments and multilateral organizations work, and perhaps seek means of engaging with them better. So I combined all my skills and passion for education, writing, public speaking, international affairs, mentoring and project management and begun to design a program which I believe will prepare the next generation of effective public sector leaders and global diplomatic leaders.

Four years down the line, and having just concluded our biggest and most successful conference yet, the dream is very much alive. I have been privileged to teach several classes, supervise countless research projects and work with more than 200 outstanding leaders in developing this program. I have seen the delight in the faces of more than 400 delegates and 90 educators who have travelled from the ends of the world to attend ALAMAU, and I have seen the tangible outcomes that these conferences have created.

Above all else, I believe that ALAMAU is an educational experience. The solutions that are outlined at the conference might not be very applicable immediately to the many challenges confronting the continent, but the discipline and focus that are exerted during the conference constitute part of the preparation that Africa’s future leaders must undergo. No one becomes great immediately they start, but they must start to become great. I have seen more than enough these past four years to believe that we work we are doing truly matters and Africa’s future will be much brighter than its past if we persist in doing the right things.

I truly cannot wait to see what the future holds for ALAMAU. It is one of the greatest privileges of my life to be able to walk this journey of helping to prepare the generation that will truly transform Africa.

This is our time. This is our chance. Let’s make it count.

African Leadership Academy Model African Union (ALAMAU) is an annual leadership conference for young leaders around Africa and across the world, simulating the activities of the African Union. ALAMAU was established in 2013 as a platform for young leaders to develop implementable solutions to African development challenges through diplomacy and international cooperation, in a format inspired by the Model United Nations and the African Union.

Delegates to ALAMAU serve as representatives of various African governments on organs of the African Union, affording them the opportunity to study complex African issues, understand the positions of African countries, and learn to successfully negotiate without compromising national interests. By assuming the roles of African leaders, ALAMAU aims to empower young leaders to model international cooperation for development while celebrating diversity.

Change Is Possible; Consensus Requires Effort

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I have just returned from a three-day experience in Istanbul, Turkey, where I had the great privilege of attending the third edition of the annual Al Sharq Youth Forum, and to network with leaders of some of the world’s foremost youth organizations. My insights from the weekend supersede the fact that global change is indeed possible, and that consensus on any issue of worth requires immense effort; I walked away with several questions about what it will take to design the futures to which we collectively aspire, regardless of our location, history or beliefs.

Source: Al Sharq Forum

I was inspired by the many young people (about 500 of them) from around the Arab world who gathered in Istanbul because they believe in the possibility of uniting the region ideologically for political, economic and social liberation. They gathered to design a new era for the Middle East, under the umbrella of Al Sharq Forum. I met young people from Algeria, Tunisia, Qatar, Turkey, Palestine and several other countries who were much less concerned about the realities of today, but much more focused on designing the future. I was inspired by the courage, depth and focus of Mr Wadah Khanfar, under whose leadership the conference was convened; I have had the honour of listening to Wadah speak on a few occasions, and there is an underlying fire that lights him up – a desire to hand over a better world than the one in which he has grown. I was inspired by the many volunteers – students and young professionals – who worked tirelessly to coordinate a spectacular event because they believe in the merit of their investment. Change is indeed possible, and consensus requires effort.

Source: Al Sharq Forum
Source: Al Sharq Forum

For much of my time in Istanbul, I was nestled within a group of international changemakers; each of us representing global hubs of youth leaders and activists ranging from Junior Chamber International to AIESEC, One Young World, Enactus, World Economic Forum Global Shapers, Impact Hub, TEDx, Social Good, Ethical Leaders, Ashoka and African Leadership Academy. Taking the advantage of a well-structured forum, we explored the intersections between our various missions and activities, and the possibility of uniting on areas of common interest. The camaraderie within the group was palpable, and so was the excitement when we concluded on action steps for the near future. With hundreds of thousands of young leaders from 200+ countries and territories in our collective network, our collaboration could be of immense proportions.

However, there was a much more specific flame being kindled in my heart; here I was in the Middle East, an outsider to the region and its politics, being awed by the resolve of its youth to design a new future for its peoples. I couldn’t help but wonder who was convening the same for the region that I understand much more than others; I still can’t help but wonder who is aggregating Africa’s best brains to collectively design our future and lobby decision makers for action. Oh yes, there are hundreds of efforts in small silos, and there are thousands of “youth-led” organizations seeking endorsements from existing governments and political structures, but I seek something more than that. I don’t want to continually attend feel-good conferences where smart people agree on the myriad challenges before us, and walk away with ideas tucked deep in our hearts but no courage to voice them and collectively act on them. Conferences are fabulous, but only beneficial if they lead to concrete action. I don’t want to be a part of the generation that prioritizes cheap talk and the illusion of social change above the reality of grinding out results. I fear particularly for young people who are currently caught up in a wave of either unsubstantiated optimism or endless cynicism. Our world deserves much more, and change requires dedicated effort.

I am fully convinced that the responsibility of young people is to actively prepare themselves to lead the future rather than agitate mindlessly for recognition. I will like to sleep peacefully every night knowing that Africa’s future is safe within capable hands (mine included),but I am not of that conviction yet. So, while consensus might require immense effort and inter-generational collaboration, I choose to run with the belief that change is ultimately possible. My flame is alight; there is work to be done!

Nigeria’s Renewed Optimism and the Role of Catalytic Leadership

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Here is the summary: before the 28th of March 2015, Nigerians could be classified as an unhappy and distressed group of people. This was not just a passing wave of depression; the national mood had been continually dampened by wave after wave of Boko Haram attack in the north and the growing suspicion that the deadly group could strike somewhere else in the country. Nigeria was equally tense because of the failure of the federal government and military to re-capture the over 200 kidnapped girls from Chibok in April 2014, the recent sharp decline in the value of the national currency, the evident ineptitude of the Goodluck Jonathan led-government, and the sudden postponement of national elections by six weeks apparently to ‘fight Boko Haram’.

However, since the 28th of March, life has returned to Nigeria; everyone seems optimistic about the country’s future and the national mood can be best described as boisterous. The obvious reason for the quick turnaround is the crumble of the much-talked-about power of incumbency and the emergence of an opposition party candidate as president. Goodluck Jonathan’s defeat in the presidential elections and the ascendance to power of Muhammadu Buhari has been vaunted on every global medium as previously unthinkable in Nigeria, and indeed it is; but there is an undertone to Nigeria’s transformation that has not been trumpeted as much as it could be – the importance of catalytic leadership. Nigeria is not a changed country because a new president was sworn-in on the 29th of May, it is a new country because catalysts in positions of authority demonstrated exceptional leadership in the days leading up to and succeeding the 28th of March, 2015.


The first of the catalysts is the incoming president of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari. A self-confessed converted democrat whose reputation for discipline and integrity were insufficient to earn him national recognition and success at the ballot at three previous attempts suddenly ascended to the level of messiah. Much can be said about the political machinations that resulted in his emergence, but there is much more to be said about the man. Unlike his opposite number, he exuded calm and tact throughout the campaign process, always looked assured and presidential, campaigned solely on ideas, employed a youthful team of media experts, and chose a class act (Professor Yemi Osinbajo) as his running mate. Unlike Namadi Sambo (Jonathan’s running mate), Osinbajo hit the ground running and connected easily with the common man. His credentials stood him out, but his demeanour elevated him even further; it was as though the people by themselves had chosen him. Even more dignified was the fact that the Buhari campaign team hardly ever engaged in any form of negative campaign, which was the trademark of the Jonathan campaign team championed by Messrs Femi Fani-Kayode, Ayo Fayose and Doyin Okupe; they seized every opportunity to rubbish the personality of General Buhari and to predict all manners of mishap if he ever became president. On the flip side, there was no hint of desperation from the Buhari camp, and this singular trait endeared him even more to the people; from interviews on Al Jazeera and CNN to a world class speech delivered at Chatham House, London, he looked and spoke like the incoming Nigerian president, and now he is.

Another Nigerian whose serene character calmed a tense nation is the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega. His task was never an easy one and it was made much more difficult by the endless allegations of electoral fraud all over the country. Nearly everyone expected that the will of the people will be subverted, especially when the long-confirmed election dates were shifted. Many assumed that this was a ploy by the ruling government to adjust conditions in its favour, while others guessed that it was an opportunity to force Jega to proceed on extended leave. In the end, Jega successfully marshalled a team of over 170,000 people across the nation to implement the use of electronic card readers for the first time in Nigeria’s history which went a long way in easing the fears of citizens about the outcome of the elections. Even when complaints begun to filter in from all over the country about under-age voting and electoral violence, Jega never appeared flustered or overwhelmed by the job; rather he took responsibility for the onerous process of data collation. He was extremely meticulous in verifying numbers and cross-checking results, and even took the time to school an unruly party chieftain about the intricacies of decorum in public settings. If he wasn’t already a national hero, Jega was crowned on the 31st of March, 2015. He was the definition of calm under pressure.

Screenshot_2014-12-14-17-06-40Finally, perhaps the most significant catalytic leader in Nigeria these past few weeks is the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan. Suffice to say that he was way in over his head with the job of a lifetime, he was verbally assaulted and insulted for the better part of six years by an insatiable population demanding good governance. He was often deficient in tact throughout his presidency, but it can be argued that his greatest act as president was performed the night of March 31, 2015 when he placed a congratulatory call to his opponent before the last votes were counted. Such statesmanly actions have been so rare in Nigerian politics that even members of his political party criticized him for conceding so cheaply. By requesting a meeting to begin discussing transition plans before his opponent had been officially declared winner, Jonathan singlehandedly forestalled the shedding of innocent blood, endless court cases and utter chaos in his country. He has been deified in several sections of the country, and while that might be a stretch too far, he definitely should be commended for preserving the best of Nigeria’s democracy and laying the standard for his peers across the continent.

Nigeria has come a very long way as a democratic entity in 16 short years, and the promise of democracy is only just beginning to yield its first bud. It is very imperative to congratulate the entire nation for an uncommon outcome, but also to specifically congratulate the youth for their invaluable role in the process through social media mobilization and their full involvement. Lastly, the de facto leader of the opposition party, Bola Tinubu must be applauded for defining a credible opposition party and strategizing endlessly to break the chokehold of the Peoples’ Democratic Party on the national life of Nigerians. This is a new season of catalytic change, and may the ripple effects of these elections long live in Nigeria and help in transforming the African continent.


This article was first published on Applause Africa