The Mandela Washington Fellows
The Future Face of Africa
|Abdihamid Ibrahim (l) from Somalia and Bena Tertoliano from
South Sudan were two of the 25 Mandela Washington Fellows
who spent six weeks in Madison this summer.
“We had close to 20 years where we had no government at all,” Ibrahim said. “It was all about the community, working with each other and
supporting each other. And we survived. The business that was going on inside Somalia without government strengthened the communities in
a way. People came together. The lack of government wasn’t something good. Everyone was trying to appreciate what formal government had
done for us and the country. But the Somalis are also a community of people who are close to each other. They supported each other. The
Diaspora, those living in the Western World including the U.K. and the U.S. kept supporting their families back home. We’ve survived through
the difficult period.”
Beginning in 2000, Somalia had four transitional governments before finally establishing a federated central government in 2012. And it is theis
federal system of government that Ibrahim hopes will provide stability for Somalia.
“We’ve had almost a centralized government where everything was coming from the capitol,” Ibrahim reflected. “I think that is why people
fought each other. They could not share resources in a fair manner. This time around, we were able to agree for now on that the government is
going to be federalized. We have had so far almost 5-6 state governments that have been established. We’ve also had our current constitution
changed to become a federal constitution. It’s going to be like here whereby the service delivery is going to be the functions of the states. It’s
not going to be the role of the central government. The central government’s role is going to be more of developing policies and oversight and
the raising of resources. More power is going to be decentralized to the states and to the regions.”
It’s not easy creating a nation where none existed before.
“We are moving in the direction of a federated system, but the functions and roles are not yet clearly defined between the federal government
and the states,” Ibrahim said. “They keep colliding and they keep fighting sometimes. But right now, we have about five state governments that
have been established. Some of them in the north part of the country have been established almost 15 years before. They are very strong. They
are working. They are doing work. Others that have been established in the south are trying to replicate what has happened well in the north
and are moving forward. It will take time, but right now, we are moving towards that federalized state where the states are given more
responsibilities to take care of basic things. I think it is going to be like the United States, a federalized system.”
And so, it made perfect sense for Ibrahim to come and study in Madison about the relationship between local, state and federal governments.
Ibrahim was totally awed by how Mayor Paul Soglin and the Common Council conducted its work.
“When I saw the mayor and the city council meeting in the city hall and the public coming to that place looking at how things are done and
asking questions and has been aired live on television, this is something we’re missing,” Ibrahim said. “It doesn’t happen in my country. That
is what we call public accountability and transparency. I was emotional that night. I saw the director of finance for city management presenting
the entire resources there while everyone was working. It gives the country legitimacy. Unless you are a legitimate country, you will never win
and succeed if you don’t have the trust of the citizens. In order to have a legitimate government, you need to have that confidence in your
citizens. That is what is missing right now in my country.”
Ibrahim has learned how to be a leader.
“As a leader, you need to lead your people by example,” Ibrahim emphasized. “You have to be respectful. You have to be very much
disciplined. You need to be working as a team member. You have to respect your colleagues and make sure that you motivate them and have
the bigger picture in mind. Always have a clear vision and mission. At the same time, a leader, in order to be successful, he has to have some
fellows. And the only way to have fellows is to be a good leader. You have to show integrity. You have to show discipline. From there, I think
you will be able to get fellows who will work with you, who will listen to you and who will be willing to work with you. And I think one of the
most important things is you need to be accountable for what you are doing and how you are doing it. So accountability and transparency are
important. This is something that is going to be very helpful when I get back to Somalia.”
Ibrahim also hopes to take an immunization data collection system back home with him as well.
“It has been used not only within Madison and Wisconsin, but it has also been used in almost 25 other states in the U.S. I’m trying to take it
back home, contextualize it and try to make it applicable to my country and then use it. We’ve had a big problem concerning the collection of
information from the facilities, particularly with the immunization information management system. What they have here is wonderful.”
Through the sharing of information, Madison and Wisconsin have assisted Somalia in developing its health systems to better serve the Somali
people, something that Nelson Mandela would be proud of.
By Jonathan Gramling
As a part of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the
Mandela Washington Fellowship was started in 2014. Each summer, 1,000
up and coming young African leaders spend six weeks in an American
community where they learn technical and leadership skills. During this
past summer, 25 of the Mandela fellows stayed in Madison where they
learned from professionals and educators from UW-Madison and state of
Wisconsin government departments. They also had the chance to visit
Chicago, Milwaukee and areas in rural Wisconsin.
Abdihamid Ibrahim is a fellow from Somalia, which has had more than its
fair share of governmental challenges. Ibrahim is the director of the
Ministry of Health’s policy planning and strategic development department
where he directs a staff of 18-22 professionals. He looks very young
reflecting the overall youth of Africa’s population as a whole. According to
Ibrahim, 70 percent of Africa’s population is 38-years-old or less.
From the date of their independence in 1961 until 1991, they had a central
government. And then their central government collapsed, leaving the
governance to individual communities or regional leaders who maintained