Remarks by Ambassador Matt Harrington Young African Leaders Initiative Welcome Reception

Khotsong bo-‘m’e le bo-ntate and welcome.

Thank you for joining us this evening. Before we proceed, I would like to pay my respects to:

His Majesty King Letsie III,

The Right Honorable the Prime Minister,

Members of His Majesty’s Cabinet, in particular those who have joined us here this evening,

Her Ladyship, the Chief Justice,

The Governor of the Central Bank,

Our special guest, visiting from Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Colleagues in the diplomatic community,

2016 Mandela Washington Fellows,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good evening and thank you for joining us tonight.   Many of you were here in this room in June, when we gathered to congratulate 16 very impressive young Basotho leaders for their selection as Mandela Washington Fellows, and to wish them good luck as they headed off to the United States for their program.  And tonight, it is a real pleasure to welcome them back.

This has been a very special year, one that has marked both 50 years of independence for Lesotho and 50 years of partnership between the United States and the Mountain Kingdom.  For the last half century, our two countries have achieved important milestones together – progress against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the building of 138 clinics and a water supply systems under the first Millennium Challenge Compact, and contributions of Peace Corps Volunteers, who have served in communities around this country since 1967.   And one other noteworthy element of our partnership is exchange programs like the Young African Leaders Initiative that create lasting connections between our two countries.

President Obama launched the Young African Leaders Initiative – better known as “YALI” – in 2010  to invest in the next generation of African leaders and to strengthen partnerships between the United States and Africa.  YALI’s flagship program is the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which supports young Africans by building leadership skills, bolstering entrepreneurship, and connecting them with one another, the United States, and the American people.

The first part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship is the 6-week academic component in the United States, from which the Fellows here tonight have recently returned. That experience concluded with a presidential summit in Washington, D.C. where all Mandela Fellows had a chance to meet President Obama and other prominent American figures, including Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield. Two Basotho Fellows also were invited to participate in a professional internship after the Summit.

While this time in the United States is an important element of the program, this Fellowship is not just about going to the U.S.  Fellows are chosen because they are poised to make a real difference back home.  When they return, Fellows are provided support to do just that, including internships, professional mentorships, travel grants to speak at high-level conferences, and funding assistance for project ideas.  Here in Lesotho they have the added benefit of access to our YALI Leadership Innovation Hub at the State Library. This space, which is part of the Embassy’s American Corner, is a place for Mandela Washington Fellows and members of the broader YALI Network to continue developing themselves professionally.

The 16 Fellows we are celebrating tonight were selected in a rigorously competitive process, from among 318 applications nationwide.  They represent some of the brightest, most talented young minds in this country and they are already making a difference, only two months after coming back.   Let me give you just one example.  Phelane Phomane (Pe-la-nee Po-ma-nee), Stephen Monyamane, (same as Minister of Health) and Khabele Mofelehetsi (Ha-bay-lay Mo-fay-lay-hay-tsee) have organized a week-long entrepreneurship expo in November, during Global Entrepreneurship Week.  The Expo has been named “Start Local, Grow Global,” and will include panel discussions, speed mentoring, an innovators fair, an investors forum, and a hackathon.  Now, I must admit the word “hackathon” did make me a little bit nervous, but I am assured it’s a completely legitimate activity.   This event is the first exposition initiative of its kind in Lesotho, and it will compliment other support for entrepreneurs from institutions such as, BEDCO, MMB, and Vodacom Foundation.

This year’s Fellows follow in the footsteps of their eleven compatriots who participated in the first two years of the program and now become part of the wider YALI alumni community.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I have been able to spend with all of Lesotho’s 27 Mandela Fellows.   I have been inspired by their personal stories, their passion, and their determination to make a positive and lasting contribution.   One only has to spend a little bit of time with these impressive young leaders to feel very optimistic about the future of Lesotho and the African continent.  Welcome home, Mandela Fellows, and best of luck to you.

Thank you.