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“Together for a New Africa” Pioneer Group Graduate at a Colorful Ceremony

Together for a New Africa graduation in Burundi. Credit: Together for a New Africa

The first group of participants in Together for a New Africa (T4NA), a network of former students of Italy-based Sophia University Institute and other young leaders across Africa, have graduated after completing a three-year leadership course.

In an interview with ACI Africa, Ernst Ulz, a Focolare Movement member involved in the leadership initiative said that those who had graduated from the initiative would strengthen the networks in their native countries. 

“This is a dynamic process,” Ulz said when he was asked what the graduation meant for those who had undergone the training.

He explained, “We have launched some ideas for those who have graduated. First of all, we invited them to become tutors for the next project cycle. We invited them to form a graduate association who are going to support the project in future intellectually, financially, or in any other way they can.”

About 100 students from seven countries graduated from the program that was started in 2014 to equip young people, especially those graduating from Sophia University Institute and other universities abroad to go “back to Africa”, to take responsibility for their societies of origin and “to shape a new Africa together.”

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Participants in the Thursday, January 6 graduation were drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan.

The pilot phase of “Back to Africa - Together for a New Africa” was conducted at various levels, allowing the young leaders to participate in three regional interdisciplinary, intercultural and multi-perspective leadership trainings of 6-10 days.

With the help of volunteer tutors, the trainees then organized local activities, involving their fellow youths in their respective countries or communities, ranging from social and ecological grassroots activities to leadership awareness campaigns in schools and universities.

The participants attended four Summer Schools, with the last one involving a series of online trainings that were conducted between January 3 and January 6, culminating in the graduation. 

A section of the topics that were delivered in this year’s series of training were woven around Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, and included Integral Ecology, Governance and Climate Change and Ubuntu and Climate Change.

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T4NA graduation in DRC. Credit: Together for a New Africa

In his presentation on ‘Ubuntu and Climate Change’, Prof. Justus Mbae who is the chair of the project board of T4NA reminded the trainees to relate with the environment with respect, love, and other divine principles of Ubuntu that have always guided how Africans relate with each other.

“Africa has always had the spirit of Ubuntu. In the world view, we talk of how a person relates with other human beings. But now, we must talk about how a person relates with nature,” Prof. Mbae said.

He added, “In the spirit of Ubuntu, we care and respect other people. But we must also care and respect nature and the environment.”

From Sophia University Institute, Prof. Declan o’Byrne underscored the importance of long-term thinking in leadership. 

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T4NA graduation in South Sudan. Credit: Together for a New Africa

In the interview with ACI Africa, Ulz disclosed that those who graduated from the T4NA project will also be responsible for national groups in coordinating the initiative’s upcoming project cycle.

The Development Coordinator of the Focolare Movement Eastern Africa also said that those who have financial stability will be called upon to support the incoming students. 

The next T4NA project outlines a number of activities, including the plan to establish a Centre of Excellence from where the project will be coordinated.

“For the Centre of Excellence, we are going to form a group of researchers who will deepen, professionally, some of the topics which will be delivered to the students. We’ll also look into having some online exchange meetings on certain topics,” Ulz said.

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T4NA graduation in Rwanda. Credit: Together for a New Africa

Those who graduated from the program have expressed a need to continue staying in touch with each other, the official of the Focolare Movement Eastern Africa said, and added, “We welcome them all, intellectuals, researchers, Religious people… everyone will find their place to drive this partnership.”

He informed ACI Africa that the next project cycle will start in September this year with the training of tutors followed by the Summer School of participants who will apply on the initiative’s online platform at www.togetherforanewafrica.org.

The next cycle, the native of Austria said, will be a cycle of three years with participants who will be drawn from 12 countries instead of the previous seven.

Selection of participants will depend on the situation of the pandemic as well as the availability of resources, the official said, and added, “This is an expensive project because we always have to move many young people attending Summer Schools around the continent.”