ALC at 10 years: Celebrating the dream and the journey


 ’Funmi Olonisakin

Professor of Security, Leadership & Development

African Leadership Centre,

Vice-President and Vice-Principal International, King’s College London

Founding Director, ALC (2010-2014)


 ALC at 10 years: Celebrating the dream and the journey

In the early 2000s, it seemed only in the realm of dreams, that an initiative such as the African Leadership Centre could get off the ground let alone survive an entire generation without the backing of powerful and wealthy elite.

Against all odds, the ALC was launched in Nairobi, Kenya, on 24 June 2010 as a joint initiative of King’s College London and the University of Nairobi. And its journey continues. This tenth year anniversary of the ALC offers a chance to celebrate our achievements and to take stock.

What began as an idea, which was piloted and incubated at King’s College London in the form of a Fellowship programme for young African women from 2005 to 2010, was built on hope:  HOPE that Africa’s youth – it’s future – will shape their own destinies and realise their potential in peaceful African societies without fleeing, living in apprehension and insecurity or wallowing in obscurity. Realising this requires that youth have a role in shaping decisions about their future security. Giving them this possibility was vitally important.

The context of the new millennium framed the need for a project like the ALC. Africa was looking to recover from the deadly conflicts that raged after the end of the Cold War. The new African Union (AU) along with the regional institutions brought renewed energy and expectation of peace and stability. And there was excitement at the global level, not least at the United Nations. Notwithstanding the promise of a new, vibrant Union that might bring much needed transformation, the work of inclusion needed to be done.

Africa’s youth, particularly its young women, were marginal voices in the regional and global conversation. The energy, innovation and aspirations of African youth were not centre stage in the regional and global conversation. The central focus was on ending the armed conflicts and resourcing the African Peace and Security Architecture that emerged from the transition to the AU. The mention of youth in that period was typically associated with violence as opposed to peace. It was understandable to some extent given the challenge of child soldiering but it was inexcusable. African youth were barely present in African or global organisations.

Most critically, it was important to locate that this vision and programme in the very continent that it seeks to affect. Following a five-year incubation period at King’s, the ALC was officially launched as a joint initiative of King’s and the University of Nairobi. Registered as an Educational Trust under Kenyan law, the ALC also exists as an academic unit at King’s.

Our underpinning idea of change is a marker of ALC’s purpose and its distinctiveness: if in the course of a generation, cohorts of African youth undergo a programme of self transformation and commitment to certain core values; produce new forms of knowledge relevant to Africa’s security and development realities; and build a community with a distinctive leadership vision, they will transform discourses and influence decisions on Africa’s security and development. From the start, we were clear about our commitment to 6 core values: Pursuit of excellence, African-led ideas of change; pursuit of excellence, independent thinking; youth agency; respect for diversity in all its forms and integrity.

Mid-way through this project of a generation, we know that we have not travelled half the journey but what we have achieved is self-evident. At this tenth year anniversary, we note with pride that:

  • We can boast of a community of more than 100 thriving ALC alumni. Out of 126 Africans that have walked through our doors, only 5 did not complete the programme and 9 are currently in training in 2019-2020.
  • ALC alumni are a clear reflection of the ALC brand. They are growing within academic and policy institutions, think tanks and civil society organisations and their voices are emerging. We can distinguish many of them by the core values that define the ALC, their intellectual products and what they choose to add value to. They are also building a cohesive community which is becoming visible.
  • The ALC is providing a model of leadership – conceptually and practically. It is demonstrating the quality of change that it advocates for Africa and other places. It’s concept of leadership is emerging as a body of academic work on peace, security and development and provides intellectual leadership within and outside the ALC. Since the inception of ALC’s programmes, there have been two leadership transitions. It is instructive that its current director was a Fellow on the ALC programme (2009-10).
  • ALC’s mentoring programme is unrivalled. This mentoring element of the ALC Fellowships is a key instrument of individual transformation and it has been sustained by a committed group of dedicated mentors who give of their time and personal resources in some cases. ALC’s Alumni now number among these mentors.  
  • Inter-generational transfer of knowledge. ALC is also home to eminent practitioners in the field of security and development whose experience serves as a testing ground for young African scholars and analysts on ALCs Fellowship programmes

The work that remains to be done is no easy feat. Things have evolved on the African and global stage on questions of peace and development. Actors and policies have multiplied amid rapid global change. We are pioneers and have set an example; and thus other organisations apart from the ALC have also emerged with a focus on training young African leaders albeit without the same mission and method. In the last decade, we have seen increased participation of youth including women, in peace and security work at civil society and inter-governmental levels. The African Union, regions, and the UN have also dedicated agendas to youth including on questions of peacebuilding. ALC is present in these spaces – pushing a cutting-edge agenda and setting the bar for a common agenda relevant to all.

However, the quality of participation is yet to change significantly. Neither has the dominant discourse about peace, security and development altered or transformed African realities. We are yet to locate new African voices with alternative ideas for transforming Africa’s structures and processes toward sustainable peace and development. None the less, the ALC has seen what is possible, from the bubbling energy and innovation of young Africans crying out for engagement.

Achieving all of this is not the work of one person or team, but the collective effort of a community. The ALC is able to celebrate these ten years because of the belief and dogged commitment of a whole range of actors:

  • The small team of ALC staff and Associates many of who work on part-time and/or volunteer basis.
  • ALC Trustees and mentors whose personal dedication, resources and collective energy gave the project lift-off. They continue to shepherd it through tough times.
  • Donors such as the Carnegie Corporation of New York that made the launch of the ALC possible in the first instance and their continued support through the years; African Women’s Development fund whose support along with the Sigrid Rausing Trust and Open Society Foundations, provided initial funding for the Women, Peace and Security Fellowship programme and many other individual givers.

Every fellow selected to the ALC each year is a firm indicator of how much more talent, ideas and commitment lie in Africa and its diaspora communities. As we look ahead to the next 10 years, there is much work to be done to realise the ambition that led to the creation of the ALC. I believe that the ALC has so far contributed a small but critical mass of people, who share this dream and will pursue it with passion. They will reach more likeminded Africans – their ideas and values, the knowledge they produce and the work of their hands will project their voice and place them on the stage to influence Africa’s future direction.

Each ALC Fellow and Alumna represents infinite possibilities that Africa’s turbulent experiences will one day be history; but its future can be paved in gold.



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