Obama Leaders: Africa – Leadership lessons from Barack Obama, Mo Ibrahim, Kofi Annan, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Graca Machel to those hoping to following in their footsteps.

From 14 to 19 July 2018, African Leadership Academy was privileged to host what was perhaps the most impressive collection of African leadership role models on a single stage in recent memory. They came from all over the world to meet, engage and inspire a new generation of 200 young change makers who had been selected for The Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa program. We’ve pulled some of the key lessons and quotes from the plenary sessions, and encourage everyone in the ALA network to watch the videos.

(And Yes! – That’s the ALA auditorium in all the photos! There was a wonderful transformation of our campus spaces to host the Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa program. All photos here are courtesy of The Obama Foundation.)

In his town hall address on the final day of the program at African Leadership Academy, President Barack Obama had powerful advice for the young leaders his foundation had convened.

‘Worry less about what you want to become and worry more about what you want to do.’
US President Barack Obama


On the first day of the program and in a wide ranging interview on Ethical Leadership, Mo Ibrahim (Sudan) was candid and forthright, challenging young African leaders to see leadership as a responsibility, not a privilege. He passionately advocated for the need to see new light shone on the good work being done to change the global narrative on African governance. This is what the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership seeks to achieve.

‘It is high time that African countries share stories about our heroes & not villains only. Our job is to bring those heroes out of the shadows. A complete and truthful story of Africa needs to be told.’
Mo Ibrahim


In a powerful showing of the quality of ethical leadership that has emerged from Southern African states in recent times, Graça Machel (South Africa/Mozambique), Minister Bogolo Kenewendo (Botswana) and Prof. Thuli Madonsela (South Africa) held a discussion on Leadership in the Face of Adversity. They gave the young leaders in the room a clear mandate to act, and act now. All panelists spoke clearly about the need to work with others in order to succeed in any leadership agenda.

‘It is your time to redesign systems, redesign the institutions, redesign the agenda of where we need to go.’
Graça Machel

‘We don’t all have to be inside government to make change. You can do so through other institutions.’
Thuli Madonsela

‘You are not the future of tomorrow, you are the now leaders.’
Bogolo Kenewendo


In a panel of The Elders intended to pass the baton to a new generation of leadership in the room, Kofi Annan reflected deeply on some of his experiences while leading the United Nations. He made very clear to the #ObamaLeaders that difficult change does not come quickly. Lakhdar Brahimi talked of how the collaboration was critical for leadership across geographic boundaries and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf explained how she felt a deep responsibility to model ethical leadership for other women.

‘Change is a process. It can take a long time. It is not an event.’
Kofi Annan

‘I had to do it as a woman, to set the example for other women.’
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

‘Cooperation across the continent is vital.’
Lakhdar Brahimi


We are grateful to The Obama Foundation for partnering with ALA to deliver their inaugural program and bringing these voices and so many others – including those of 200 young changemakers – to our campus community.

Want to know more about The Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa Program?