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.
to separate from the oppressors, which is Sudan. I’m really happy to say that we are an independent country.”
Mark received her undergraduate degree in psychology in 2012 and has a master’s in gender and governance.
“I worked as an activist in the civil society,” Mark said. “That was my first work and I worked mostly with women’s issues and rights and then
I worked on human rights in general. When I say women’s rights, I am not denying other people like men. Mostly I am concentrating on women’
s rights because women are vulnerable in South Sudan. They are denied by their culture. They are denied by the system of the government and
the constitution. I am part of those who are working to uplift women so that their rights will be known at all levels. When I talk about women, I
talk about myself too.”
South Sudan is an exciting place to be right now, although there are risks and challenges associated with this infant country standing on its
own as it separates itself from Sudan emotionally, politically, socially and economically. It is a country that is experiencing some infighting as
it develops its own direction.
“Since we gained our independence, we have our own agenda in our country and we have our own affairs as an independent country,” Mark
emphasized. “We are running our own affairs, although we have our own problems. But those are ‘household’ problems. No one will interfere.
I am happy to be alone. If we shout within the family, no one should interfere. Since we got our independence, there was one political party, the
boat. I’ll say the boat because we always describe our journey through the boat in the water. It was quite interesting to note that we have only
one political party, which is leading the country. And it is quite sad for other global countries to recognize that one party is leading the country.
It is surprising to me that although we decided to come out from Sudan, some agendas are not clear. And that work actually shows the world
what is happening in South Sudan. But that view doesn’t give an indication that we regret coming out from Sudan. What is happening within
our midst is giving us hope of everlasting peace in South Sudan. We’ve been hoping for that. We have some people who say, ‘You should
have stayed with Sudan so that you wouldn’t fight among yourselves.’ No it’s not bad. We have a lot of fights in Sudan, different kinds of war.
But what is happening in South Sudan is something different. It’s the birth of political parties.”
In essence, before South Sudan gained its independence, it was a land that contained the Arabic cultures of North Africa and the sub-Saharan
cultures of Dinka, Nuer and other indigenous groups. All aspects of Sudanese life were dominated by Arabic influences, which led to the
suppression of the culture and religions of the sub-Saharan people. The South Sudanese wanted to be free to practice their own beliefs.
“What I would like to say about our separation from Sudan is now we have a lot of freedoms,” Mark said. “We can practice our culture. We do
whatever we want. This is what makes differences. And whatever happens in our country, we are free in religion. Whoever wants to practice
his or her own religion is not restricted like in Khartoum. When I go to Khartoum, I have to cut off my hair and that’s not a part of my culture. If
you go to South Sudan and you want to practice your own culture, no one will restrict you. So my country is a free country for every human
being alive. We host a lot of races in South Sudan. We host a lot of nations. Are nation is the land of freedom for everyone. It’s isn’t only for
Now Mark is heading up the psychology department at Juba University in South Sudan. And it is experiencing some of the same growing pains
that the country as a whole is experiencing: finding its own academic independence after years of being dominated by Arabic academia.
“The university was established in the 1980s,” Mark said. “Before the separation, the university was relocated to Khartoum in the 1990s. After
we became independent, we came back to South Sudan, the university’s original place. So we started functioning in South Sudan after
independence. We are now five years in our homeland. We are practicing on our own. We are function as normal as usual although we have
facilities that were not brought back to South Sudan. We have partners who have donated some books, helped us in developing our skills and
promoting our teachers and lecturers to a greater standard of education. There is nothing wrong in that. We are at home. We are trying to
recreate our university because when we had the former curriculum, it was mixed with the culture. The history of Arabs was not used in our
country. We love talking about African history. We also touch on some Middle East history. But what is much more important is to know the
background of South Sudan so that we can teach to the generations that are coming up.”
In some ways, they want to rebuild the university from the curriculum on up.
“There are a lot of systems that need to be changed,” Mark said. “We have our own lecturers or professors from Khartoum that are going to be
considered as international professors. We also have our own nationals who are professors, lecturers and TAs. And we have our own staff.
This will give us the recreation of the university. We have a lot of opportunities. We have different curricula to be changed from Sudan to South
Mark is a part of the new face of leadership for Africa. She wants to be a part of the change that is occurring in South Sudan and the rest of
Africa. And Mark realizes that she needs to develop her leadership skills to be a part of that change.
“I became a Mandela Washington Fellow because I have a vision,” Mark said. “I am inspired by the work Mandela did in Africa and the whole
world. Based on that inspiration, I am a leader. I recognized that I had potential to become a leader, although I am now paving my way to insert
myself in the political wing. This is the right path for me to start rearranging myself and start thinking, ‘How am I going to be in the future?’ The
Mandela Washington Fellowship gives me a lot about leadership in different situations.”
The program is also putting her in touch with that new face of Africa.
“We share a lot of problems that they are facing in relation to the system of government in their countries,” Mark said about the fellows. “I
found that South Sudan isn’t the only country with these problems. I found solidarity in the experience. It gives me a lot of hope that what is
happening in my country is going to last. Like my friend Abdihamid who wants to be president of Somalia, I want to be president of South
Sudan. One day, we will meet at AU. ‘We met in Wisconsin in 2016.’ I want to promise him that we are going to meet at AU.”
The Mandela Washington Fellows reflect a new prototype of leader for South Africa, trained, educated and passionate with a burning desire for
service. They have the potential to lead Africa to its rightful place in the 21st century economy.
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.
The Mandela Washington Fellows reflect a new kind of leader rising to the
fore, reflecting the youthfulness of the continent’s overall population. Bena
Mark, a fellow from South Sudan, which gained its independence in 2011,
is reflective of that rising leadership.
“I contributed to the independence when I was doing my undergraduate
work and I was not regretting becoming independent because I was born
in war,” Mark said. “And I grew up in war. So to come out from that, I had
to take part in peace building in my country. Through peace building, I had