“A story does many things. It entertains, it informs, it instructs.” – Chinua Achebe
Leadership comes in many forms – and nowhere is this clearer than at African Leadership Academy, where students go through a rigorous application process that does not depend only on high academic grades as a mark of future potential. Talent abounds at ALA, in all spheres of life, and our alumni are testament to that, making their mark on politics, industry, social development and the arts. We take pride and pleasure in introducing 3 thrilling ALA alumni storytellers…
Rosa Soares, Class of 2015 (Angola)
A Film and TV Production student at City Varsity in Cape Town, South Africa, Rosa spent the 6 months after graduating last year and while waiting for college to start, by honing and expanding her writing repertoire. She published her fourth book Flores não são para os Mortos (Flowers are not for the Dead) in December 2017. “It’s a novel about depression, the value of life and the relationships between mothers and daughters,” she explains. Published in December 2017, the book was a bestseller in Angola.
Writing, says Rosa, is “as natural as being who I am; it allows me to heal myself while I heal others around me. Writing is a way of experiencing the world, understanding the flow of things, why are they the way they are and why shouldn’t they be different… it is revealing the unknown.”
She launched her literary debut with Uma Versão Diferent da Vida (A Different Version of Life) in 2013 when she was just 17, followed by Met(Armor)Fose (Metamorphosis) in 2015 and, the following year, O Nosso Natal(Our Christmas).
In June 2016, she founded ”PAPU – Literature is cool”, a project aimed at raising awareness amongst Angolan youth about the importance of literature for personal and collective development. “It is a way to provide learning in a playful and safe way, while allowing the new generations access to critical thinking and values such as honesty, respect and integrity,” notes Rosa. In less than two years, PAPU has already impacted more than 270 teenagers in both private and public schools.
Rosa takes her inspiration from the life of women around her, she says. “Just growing up and seeing my mother and how she dealt with her job while trying to be a ‘good wife’ – or seeing my sisters growing up in a foreign country… the say they dealt with love, fear, passions and society’s expectations. I’m also inspired by the untold stories, the battles I face with myself… My father was murdered in 2013, and it is my source of inspiration every time I write about the value of life. By my writing I hope to connect people and be a voice to them.”
Rosa is working translating her books from Portuguese to make them accessible in other countries, and hopes her film studies will help her writing further. “It is allowing me to explore my talents and new ways of storytelling. By studying Film, I plan to be a scriptwriter; I want to adapt my books to films use cinema to share narratives of African women, in order to empower them – and to impact the lives of people around me.”
Did you know? Akinwande Oluwole “Wole” Babatunde Soyinkawas the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, followed two years later by Egypt’s Mahfouz, Naguib.
Eunice Mwabe, Class of 2013 (Kenya)
Eunice is completing her junior year at Harvard, where she is studying Social Anthropology, with a minor in Romance Languages, focusing on French. She wrote her first play, Gunned Down – about police brutality and extrajudicial killings in Kenya – in 2011, while in high school.
Her love for the theatre took hold when she first started acting. “Then I started to write and direct plays, and chose to focus on the latter,” she recalls. “I always found telling stories so powerful, and growing up I always found it so compelling to experience or participate in theater shows that completely shifted the way I thought about the world. It’s almost as if you were thinking one direction, and then you watch a show and it completely disrupts everything about what you think you knew. I love that feeling. I love seeing others go through that. And more importantly, I love to create work that gets people to experience that too.”
Eunice’s work is inspired by her lovefor philosophy and social theory which, she says, can feel inaccessible to others. “Most people do not have the time to sift through the jargon, neither do they enjoy the heavy text; yet philosophy is at the core of everything that shapes how we think and act within the world. So I use theater to transform the theory I enjoy engaging with into engaging stories, into poetry and song, into action, to allow audiences to be provoked to think about the world more critically.”
Eunice wrote, directed and produced two plays while at ALA: Scarlette depicts a world where everything is flipped around for a girl who wants to be a scientist while her parents want her to be a dancer; andEast African Cultural Exchange, a spin-off of Big Brother, which played around with stereotypes, with contestants from all the countries in Eastern Africa. She followed this up in 2017 with Table Manners, a play focusing on family relations, grief, and a woman hiding behind her faith to deal with a marriage falling apart, which was shown at the Harvard Playwrights Festival in April 2017.
“I also think that there is room within theater to write pieces for people to enjoy together, to laugh and simply have a good time. I’ve always valued community and celebration, and my work tries to create spaces for that,” she says.
Eunice quickly dispels the theory that her writing may appear to be far removed from her studies – she is applying to PhD programs in the US, to continue studying anthropology and literature. “My work in these fields largely informs the work that I produce, and so going deeper into academic work while still writing and directing plays feels like a cohesive fit!” she exclaims. “I’m excited to produce more, read more, and hopefully inspire other artists with the kind of work I produce.”
Mohamed Echkouna, Class of 2009 (Mauritania)
Mohamed is a native of Mauritania. His passion for film and believe in its power to guide emotions and reshape perspectives are the main drive of his career. His multicultural background plays a huge impact on his work also. Mohamed joined the African Leadership Academy in South Africa for two years of entrepreneurship and leadership training program, and graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in the United States with a BFA in Visual Effects and Technical Direction. He is currently working as a Junior FX Technical Director at the Bafta and Oscar-winning creative studio, Framestore.
After graduating from ALA in 2011, Mohamed studied Visual Effects at Savannah College of Art and Design, graduating with a BFA in Visual Effects and Technical Direction. While there, he worked on his award-winning short film, Tarigh Al-Amal(Trail of Hope). It tells of Abdallahi, an abusive and self-centered taxi driver who meets Mariam, a young woman on the deserted highway to Nouadhibou. Minutes after he drops her home, he realizes that Mariam forgot Baccalauréat-prep papers in his car. He drives back to give them to her, but only finds her parents – who reveal the shocking truth of Mariam’s life.
The film received global recognition, winning Grand Prix (first prize)at the Nouakchott Short Film Festival andthe Jury Prize at the Carthage Film Festival. It was shortlisted for the BAFTA Student Awards and made the official selection of various prestigious film festivals, including a screening at Cannes Film Festival.
“Trail of Hopeis the story of many young girls in Mauritania who find themselves pressured into marriage at an early age with no regard to their education whatsoever,” Mohamed reveals. “It is the story of many women around the world who are subjected to physical and emotional abuse within their surroundings.”
It is the kind of stories Mohamed feels driven to tell. He is inspired, he says, by West African music and traditions, and the work of various arts and artists of other cultures. And he is driven to “reshape how we Africans perceive each other’s stories and cultural differences.”
“We need to reduce our consumption of our own stories told from dominant foreign perspectives,” says Mohamed, adding his ambition is to find talent and tell our own heroic, sad, tragic and happy stories by ourselves, for ourselves – and change the image of the continent globally.”
Film, he says, is the medium he aims to do so with. “I found it to be the most powerful in reshaping people’s perspectives and connecting their emotions to various issues in the stories being told. I believe that a well-crafted film experience stays in the subconscious and becomes part of a person’s decision making just like any real experience, or even more at times.”
Mohamed now works as a Junior FX Technical Director at the Bafta and Oscar-winning creative studioFramestore in London, while developing a few film projects. “One involves spiritual music/chanting around the globe, another sheds the light on the migration of villagers to the cities in Mauritania, and a historic story taking place during the Empire of Mali,” he reveals.