AFRICA: Continental leadership centre launched

Africa's drive towards improving its governance has received a shot in the arm with the launch of a continental leadership training centre in Kenya's capital Nairobi. The African Leadership Centre will teach and mentor the next generation of leaders.

A joint initiative between King's College London, the University of Nairobi and other African partners, the centre will be partially supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The idea is to nurture young people with leadership potential who will help to provide solutions to Africa's challenges based on African realities.

The institute will offer young and mid-career professionals a programme of study and practical experience tailored to the African context and built around the themes of peace, security and development. On completion of fellowships with the centre, women and men will be equipped with the know-how to address important policy issues on the continent at national, sub-regional and regional levels.

Experts believe the training venture could help to improve Africa's battered governance and leadership status, which has been blamed for continued under-development, poverty and war.

"Africa's leadership is in limbo in most countries and therefore there is a need to train a new breed of leadership," said Caleb Njau, a political analyst in Nairobi. The centre's host Kenya, for example, is smarting from the effects of leadership and governance lapses that saw an election outcome throw the country into chaos in December 2008.

"Africa needs its talented, creative young people to become the next generation of leaders and bring real change to their communities," said Dr Funmi Olonisakin, Director of the Conflict Security and Development Group at King's College and head of the African Leadership Centre.

The centre, Olonisakin added, would help young leaders "develop the skills they will need to take on that responsibility and shape the future of their continent, while embracing values of excellence, integrity and respect for diversity".

An initiative to train a new generation of better leaders could not come at a better time for Africa.

The latest Ibrahim Index of African Governance has shown that the continent's governance and leadership credentials continue to wane. Widespread corruption, insecurity and poor economic management dent Africa's investment climate. Six of the bottom 10 nations in watchdog Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index were in Africa. The corporate world has also been suffering with governance issues including poor leadership, leading to corporate failures.

While Africa may have been an innocent bystander as the crisis ravaged developed economies, troubling similarities hinging on greed, corporate governance loopholes and unethical business practices make the continent a ripe spot for future crisis, analysts say.

Project sponsors said the African Leadership Centre would also help to address challenges such as the brain drain and African security and development.

"It delivers one of the most inspiring and enriching leadership programmes for peace, security, conflict and development in Africa, bringing together the best of international training with local knowledge, and is well positioned to play a leading role in developing African voices, leadership and knowledge," said Tade Akin Aina, who directs the Carnegie Corporation's grant-making in Africa.

The African Leadership Centre has grown out of an earlier initiative launched by King's College in 2005. By last year it had provided more than 30 graduate fellowships to young African men and women working in the areas of peace, security and development.

The centre will place particular emphasis on developing the potential of young African women and will offer a special fellowship programme to provide women with opportunities to develop skills in the field of peace and security.

"The programme will help create a pool of leaders able to reflect on the dilemmas facing their communities and seek new ways to understand and improve responses to the critical security and development issues facing Africa," said Stephen Del Rosso, Carnegie Corporation's Programme Director for International Peace and Security.

Fellows of the centre will complete masters courses in conflict, security and development, or in international peace and security at King's College. The programme will offer intensive course work, supervision for research, institutional visits and exchanges, professional placements and mentoring provided by African leaders as well as experts and scholars from around the world.

The African Leadership Centre will develop a network of African universities to develop and sustain programmes on peace, security and development. On completion of fellowships, the leaders will be expected to serve as mentors to future fellows - contributing, over time, to a critical mass of security and development experts.