It’s always impossible until it is done – Nelson Mandela
In 1952 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela faced long odds. A Xhosa lawyer born in the village of Mvezo in Umtata, Nelson was an activist who believed in a free country where all its citizens – blacks, whites, and coloreds – were entitled to inalienable rights of life and liberty.
Unfortunately for him and other black South Africans, the white-only nationalist government of South Africa had established Apartheid, a system of racial segregation that privileged whites, in 1948. Worse yet, this government had the support of many of the Western powers. Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) party committed themselves to the overturning of the apartheid system.
He had been appointed president of the ANC’s Transvaal branch, and organized a defiance campaign against the government. He was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and even tried for treason in 1956; but he was acquitted. In 1961 he led a sabotage campaign against the government and was arrested. In 1962 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the government.
His odds changed from long to impossible. How was a single black lawyer supposed to achieve the transformation of an entire country of thirteen million people and overthrow a system of government that was supported by global Western powers from a prison cell?
In 2006, Barack Hussein Obama faced impossible odds. The product of a torrid and brief affair between a lily-white American woman and a Kenyan man, Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, His sense of social responsibility and justice was influenced by his experiences in multi-racial settings. He harbored a vision for an America that would live out its fullest potential for all of its people, and not just a privileged few.
This passion for bringing hope to the disadvantaged led to him eschewing the entreaties of prestigious firms after completing his first degrees at Columbia University in favor of working as a community organizer in the south side of Chicago, Illinois, setting up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants’ rights organization. Six years after gaining recognition as the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review during his time at Harvard Law School, he ran for Illinois State Senator and became a Senator in 1996. Eight years later he ran successfully for US Senator and became a US Senator in 2004.
However, being a junior senator was miles away from running for President…yet this is what Obama resolved to do in 2006. To many, the idea was ludicrous. Obama was a black man, and the USA had never before elected a black man to be President or even Vice-President. The odds were long, bordering on impossible. Additionally, the consensus favorite and darling of the Democratic Party was Hilary Clinton, a veteran Senator and national figure who had dutifully stood by her husband for eight years in the White House and had massive support from most of the major power brokers in the Democratic Party.
And to top it all off, Barack’s middle name was HUSSEIN, and he was running for President of the USA barely five years after Muslims had perpetrated the worst attack on USA soil ever…September 11, 2001. It was impossible to imagine that the American people would ever vote a black man with a Muslim middle name and a last name that rhymes with “Osama” to the highest office of the land.
What did these two men have in common beyond the obvious (facing astronomical odds, lacking the resources to achieve their goals)? They both BELIEVED in the power of a determined human being with a vision. They believed that they had sufficient influencing capability to marshall visible and invisible forces to push their vision into reality. They believed in a higher power that would honor their vision, dedication, determination, and faith to make the impossible possible. They understood that anything worth doing appears to be impossible until it gets done.
On the 14th and 15th of June, 2023, the fifth Made in Africa Leadership Conference (MLC) came to a close in a pulsating ceremony that encapsulated the energy created by over 200 leaders from 19 countries and 26 cities who had enjoyed two days of leadership learning, awareness-raising, powerful networking and awe-inspiring insights from some of Africa’s brightest and best minds.
From insights on what Africa will look like in 2050 by Patrick Awuah of Ashesi University to images of what is possible with technology with Jacques Jean of Tech Fides to explanations of how to create a national compact by KY Amoako of ACET, participants feasted on a buffet of knowledge and insight on organizational developmental and leadership issues that affect their companies today and will affect them in the future.
Leaders learned about effective corporate governance from the Chairman of the Church of Pentecost and about the culpability of middle-class Africans in the demise of Africa from Dr. Sangu Delle of CarePoint and challenged reports about the progress made in the implementation of the AFCFTA by Beatrice Chaytor. Learning visits to innovative companies like Zipline, Ashesi University, Delta Paper Mill and Kasapreko added to the exposure and knowledge that the participants gained as they saw examples of African entrepreneurship and innovation that inspires them to do more.
MLC 2023 showcased technology in practice with security and registration tools from Margins Group used to monitor and inform the guests about what was happening in the conference. It was a dream come true for the founder, as he listened to the participants marvel at the conference and effusively describe their glee at having attended this conference and excitement as they look forward to MLC 2024 in Nairobi next June. It was a far cry from the angst and desperation felt in 2019, when the odds of getting Africans together to learn together at a pan-African conference not sponsored/controlled by non-Africans seemed impossible.
Indeed, in 2019, I, Modupe Taylor-Pearce, faced long odds. I recall sharing with one of my uncles my vision of bringing African leaders together to learn from each other and inspire each other to higher levels of leadership performance. I outlined for him the need for such a service and the lack of such services in Africa.
He nodded sagely, and agreed with me that there was a need. Then he looked at me with eyes of concern and said “Modupe, how are you going to be able to pull this off? Which backers do you have? Who will fund this?” I knew what he meant. Organizing a Pan-African conference is a bold undertaking that requires significant resources and as a result is often only accomplished with funds that come from non-Africans.
And unfortunately for Africa, the saying is often true: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Events funded primarily by non-Africans are influenced by the agenda and goals of the funders, which may not always align with the best interest of Africa and Africans. Despite the overwhelming odds, we proceeded to plan and execute the first conference in Kigali.
There are many willing volunteers and unsung heroines and heroes who deserve credit for investing their time and talent and treasure into the first conference, including Mireille Karera who tirelessly worked to make the conference successful. By MLC 2023 standards, MLC 2019 was a modest conference (71 attendees) but it was hugely impactful on the people who attended and laid the foundation for progress towards the vision.
The next conference (MLC 2020) was scheduled to be in Ghana but due to the Covid pandemic it was held completely online, as we learned how to organize online conferences while doing online conferences.
For MLC 2021 we stayed online as the pandemic raged, and were finally able together in person again in 2022 in Lusaka, Zambia. By 2023, the Made in Africa Leadership Conference had developed a following with leaders across Africa who had been impacted by amazing speakers including Ambassador Arikana Chihambori Quao (former AU Ambassador to the US), H.E. Dr. Saulos Chilima (Vice-President of the Republic of Malawi), Prof PLO Lumumba, Dr. Amina Moghe-Hersi, Mr. Ashish Thakkar (Atlas Mara and Mara Phones), Ms Mukwandi Chibesakunda (CEO of Zanaco), Justice Chifunde Kachale (Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Malawi) and Mr. Victor Williams (CEO of NBA Africa). All of these amazing speakers and learning experiences contributed to the success and impact of MLC 2023.
Today, my uncle does not ask anymore whether it is possible to pull off a pan-African conference because that which seemed impossible has been done. The lesson I have learned from this experience is one that every African should learn.
You are enough.
Whatever change you wish to accomplish; whatever the dream/vision is that you have for your community, country, company, organization or family, it is possible to achieve that vision if you are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make it happen. You may not have the resources that are needed today to accomplish it and you may not even know the resources that you need to accomplish your dream.
However, do not allow the current perception of insufficiency in resources to disillusion you, discourage you, deter you, or delude you into thinking that it cannot be done and you cannot be the one to do it. The greatest con game that non-Africans have played on Africans is fooling us into believing that we are not sufficient. All you need is you and FAITH. Faith is believing to a point of surety in that which you cannot see and being confident in the reality of that which you hope for.
Dear African leader, remember that no matter your age, your economic status, your lineage, your nationality, your gender…you can achieve whatever you dream of if you BELIEVE FOR IT.