Valedictorian Speech by Lydie Uwantege Communications Team November 27, 2023

Valedictorian Speech by Lydie Uwantege


Good evening to you LéO Africa Institute Board Members, Faculty Members, LéO Africa Institute Network Fellows, Fellow classmates, Dear Guests and Friends,
I am deeply humbled to be here today to deliver the Valedictorian Speech of the YELPX Class of 2023.

It is a bittersweet moment. On one hand, there is the fact that the journey has now come to an end; on the other, there is the hope that this day marks the commencement of the never-ending journey of leadership. Or perhaps, a more appropriate way to put it would be to name it: the next phase of the ever-continuous journey of leadership. Or as the young people would say (a certain generation at least) this is the time; to level

Having been equipped with the knowledge, and gained profound insights, from moderators, speakers, and “Leaders”.

Yes! Leaders. For it, would not be doing you justice to merely address you as speakers. You are change-makers who were before most of us, who have been challenging the status quo. Honor to you who have graciously imparted your intellect, shared your experience and challenged our minds to think differently.

Honor to you Awel, and those who stand with and alongside you. Those who make what I characterize as a “Windmill” work. I have had the pleasure of interacting with Kwezi Tabaro, behind the scenes coordinating, via emails, and phone calls, coming to the rescue of some of us here, and still making the time to be present in the room as well.

Nelson whom I got to meet through emails, following up and consistently check-ins. Amr; sending messages, and reminders. I remember I nearly would have missed one session by a whole hour had it not been for you.

I am not sure about everything you have done and have been doing but I know all of us appreciate you. Eve, the team of people taking pictures and capturing memories tirelessly. And so many behind the scenes.

My Classmates and Brilliant Fellows,
Yesterday, when Kwezi asked us what were our expectations coming into the weekend; my answer was that they had already been met. Not just yesterday, but from the very first seminar we had. Each and every one of you, is leading, breaking barriers, braving obstacles, dare I say disrupting. But disrupting for the better.

Disrupting for the change you want to see. To be among you, learning from and alongside you has been an inspiration. Nothing short of a blessing. Actually, the program has exceeded my expectations.

Allow me to mention you by name. So, brace yourselves. Here goes:
Leila Ali; a fountain of knowledge you are. When you speak, you make the room want to pause and listen. So, I do hope you get that podcast started. I will be cheering you on as you break the airwaves. Better yet, you could lead that study group we were talking about earlier.

Zainab Mohamed; there is a fire in you, and not the kind that is destructive, the kind that burns like a torch. The kind that burns silently but burns bright. The kind that is not satisfied by burning alone, the kind that lights up torches around her. So fan that fire. It’s impressive to watch.

Ivan Koreta; I don’t remember a time I showed up to a session and you didn’t have a smile on your face. Your charisma coupled with your passion for advocating for what you believe in has been refreshing.

Mary Mutula; I admire your fierceness, the brave woman already carving the path for so many around you; an African woman ready to break out the norms of society.

Peter Mulira; your passion, your inner fight, that is apparent through the screen and in person; your optimism is the kind that is needed to finish a race that most people would give up on.

Memo Some; an impressive woman, determined from such a young age. I think when I learned that you have been advocating for wild conservation since you were a
teenager; I was blown away. You are a woman of guts, even when you are calm and quiet, when you do speak you bring real value to the table.

Ivan Magomu; I applaud you on your recent achievement, a champion, an MVP, I suspect it is the fruit of many hours of hard work, and grit.

Rita Uwamahoro; compassionate, empathetic, a woman who is set on fighting any injustice that you are given to witness, a shaper in words and actions;

Arnold Kwizera; dedicated, unapologetically you. One who does not back away from a challenge. I believe your parcours has been quite an enduring one but somehow you make it look easy and you are consistently kind.

I have been listening to all of you. Every session. Every seminar. And I hope I have not told any lies in my reflections.

Members of Faculty,
There is a lot that, my classmates and I have gained through the program.
For some, they have found the program thought-provoking and enlightening. It enhanced leadership skills and cross-cultural understanding through empowering interactions with accomplished peers where they could be themselves.

The concept of “Leading self” resonated with some, underscoring the paradox between self-care and appearances. This sparked reflection for them on whether leaders devote enough time to themselves amidst service. Others in the program gained new perspectives on informed decision-making and courage.

Though everything cannot be mentioned I have tried to highlight a few insights that emerged from the seminars.
For instance, during the first seminar, there was a very passionate conversation on leadership and aid in Africa.

On aid, there were mixed views. Some felt aid breeds dependency and Africa should strategize to graduate from it as Singapore did. Others argued aid is not inherently bad if used properly. There were calls to understand each African country’s context rather than treat Africa as one block.

The second seminar,
Hashim Mulangwa mentioned something that left a powerful impression: “Leadership is a dangerous business”. And indeed, it is.
I was reminded that to be a leader one must be ready to create tension,

As Kassaga Arinaitwe highlighted in Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter – challenging oppression requires strategic tension, not conflict for its own sake. Leaders are shaped by challenges and must demand freedom, not wait for it.

To quote a passage in the letter“Let us not be afraid of the word Tension” Not Violent tension, but the type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth.

Lucy Nshuti Mbabazi stressed that self-leadership and self-care are foundations for effective leadership. Leadership requires showing up with excellence, not mediocrity. But one must nurture well what’s within to pour out what is of value.

Awel underscored that true success lies in finding purpose, embracing diligence, and creating a positive impact through our work. “To be of Use” to our community.
In the same context, the poem “To be of Use” particularly challenged me.

At first, I do confess that my passion for poetry might have influenced my interest but then, I went on to ponder this: If we are not Of Use, then what’s the alternative? I fear to even say it out loud. But I do hope it is not a statement that defines us now, or in the future to come.

Lastly during the graduation seminar,
The importance of legacy was stressed. Whatever we do now will not only impact the wider society, but our families as well. So we must leave a legacy of value.

Today particularly, a Malcolm Gladwell reading fuelled yet again a fiery dialogue that spilled into the different events happening in the world. To paraphrase the words of William Babigumira, “We must understand the anatomy of the tools that are available to us, to use them effectively.”

One particular thing that led me to reflect, and how the conversation ended on the subject of diplomacy vs radicalism. I point this out because later on, I had this revelation. I will describe it as such, and I’ll ask for your participation.

Turn to your neighbor and shake their hands. Now, close your fists and give them a fist bump.
What do you notice? Pop quiz!

I will share my reflections and let me know if it sparks something within you or if it aligns. When you shake hands, there is cohesion. But when you fist bump (and not in a friendly way) there is obstruction.

There is another exercise I didn’t make you demonstrate but, what if we mixed both together as a “cool handshake” as the cool kids do it? It becomes then a compromise. Giving both; the fist bump and the handshake; keeping their value but creating space where both can exist.

I believe there is a time and space for each, but there is wisdom in knowing when one can be used and not the other, or both can be used simultaneously.

This afternoon, during the last session, we heard from Mzee Ruzindana, who emphasized that “to generate value; we must acquire knowledge. We must master the system before we attempt to change it or reset it all together. All while maintaining integrity.”

Dear Yelpees, let us strive to be people who “harness themselves, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again.”

At times fear can lurk in telling us that we are small, that our contribution is too small to bring in real change but we cannot be confined to that thinking. In the recent words of my President His Excellency Paul Kagame; “The Country can be small but the value we create can be very high.

So I have no problem trying to punch above my weight.” To you all here yelpees, let’s keep on punching above our weight. Knowing it is not just for us that we do it, but for the generations behind us and the generations to come.

There is a need to build each other for the good of all.
From the reflections by Ali Mufuruki, on Nkrumah’s legacy, “Authentic African heroes uplift their people.”

To quote an excerpt “We must craft a form of African unity that works for Africa today.” We must join forces to be the change we want to see. Be willing to collaborate, be it in trade, be it in facilitating entry as Africans.

Another quote by H.E. Paul Kagame:
“Africa’s story has been written by others; we need to own our problems and solutions and write our own story.”

Achieving change does not begin and end with one person. It might begin with one, but I believe it will take a number of people who are emitting at the same wavelength, to make a lasting impact.

Awel Uwihanganye, you have pioneered the Leo Africa Institute, you have joined hands with many, and the fruits are all around to see: a network of fellows, an undeniable strength in numbers.

We have a task ahead of us. First, do unto others what has been impressed on us. Those who will come after us. Whether in this setting or in our respective areas of influence. Second, continue to position ourselves to advance our countries, our society, and the African Continent as a whole.

I will end with this poem, and I hope it lights a spark within:
To be change makers,
One needs not to assimilate Yet one cannot disassociate. One must integrate, however, To replicate needs be seen.
One must join hands with Other
And bring change for all others
With bold dreams, excellence and collaboration, we can build the Africa we aspire to.

Thank You all. Murakoze cyane