Reflecting on the 2018 Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program [Johannesburg, South Africa]

5 years ago, I was sent on a journey to mentor and empower youth in Northern Uganda. Youth that had been affected by the war in Northern Uganda, led by the Joseph Kony and his Lord Resistance Army. Most of the youth were orphaned and left to head households during their early to late teens (13 to 17), a responsibility that no child should be forced to take on. They should have been taken care of and enjoying life as a child in school. Working with them and watching them shape their dreams into reality gave me the belief that everyone can change their destiny once they were given the opportunity this is when my passion for youth mentoring was ignited.

However, mentorship alone can only put a dent into the problem, the challenge lay in the fact that the conflict needed to end.

I was then inspired by the story of Prashan De Visser (Founder – Sri Lanka Unites) to start Uganda Unites, a youth led movement that seeks to connect youth from different religious and ethnic backgrounds across Uganda, equip and inspire them to be agents of change in their communities through peace building and leadership development skills. We seek to promote a culture of nonviolence, peace and nationalism among the youth in a nationally diverse platform. In the long term, Uganda Unites is committed to developing future nationally diverse leaders from the grassroots level.

It is with this background that I felt compelled to apply to the Obama Foundation Africa Leaders Program. In April 2018 I received a communication that I had been selected among the 200 Obama Leaders in Africa. On the 13thof July I was off to Johannesburg, South Africa. The 5 days of conveying with the leaders were nothing but exceptional.

As I prepared to travel to Jo’burg I was warned of the winter, but I was too excited by the opportunity, that I didn’t pay much attention to it, I paid quite a bit for my luck of winter experience when I got there. I could blame my luck of preparation on the 200 Leaders Videos, prior to the trip a portal was set up by the Obama Foundation where all 200 leaders posted videos about themselves, this was really exciting and pumped up the anticipation of the conference also this was really helpful because it gave me a chance to learn about the different leaders. We didn’t get the program of the conveying earlier, however what gave away the seriousness of the conveying was when we were tasked with designing a program that would address a social issue in our communities. I fell back on the Uganda Unites plan of reconciliation centres that address both the issue of conflict transformation through providing a safe space for youth dialogue and youth unemployment through youth mentorship and skilling. This idea was selected in the top 70 out of 200, and eventually in the top 40 to be used in the idea fest exercise that was done in at the convening. I can tell you that the excitement boiling over that a Uganda Unites idea had been selected way before I even showed up at the conveying. On a Friday afternoon passport and yellow fever card in hand with my mugugu (luganda for luggage), i set off on a trip that would literally change my life.

Over the next few days, I shall be recounting my experience as an Obama Leader, the things that I learned, my experiences as well as my hopes and dreams going forward.

Remember, to solve our problems…


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Amos Kiyingi is a Ugandan committed to reconciliation and youth empowerment in Uganda. Amos, is the National Director and Founder of Uganda Unites, a Youth led movement that seeks to connect youth from different religious and ethnic backgrounds across Uganda, equip and inspire them to be agents of change in their communities through peace building and leadership development skills. We seek to promote a culture of nonviolence, peace and nationalism.

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