On Friday, 30 June, I set my feet on Egyptian soil for the first time in my life. Of course, I found this very exciting, not only because of the extraordinary story of ancient Egypt, but also because of my participation in the inaugural class of the African Presidential Leadership Programme (APLP), an educational and cultural exchange programme organised by the National Training Academy (NTA) for future leaders from 29 African countries.
After several weeks of application review including interviews and background checks, 100 outstanding young African leaders were selected from a pool of about 11,000 well-qualified candidates to attend this six-week leadership training programme. Before leaving Lagos, Nigeria, where I live and work, for Cairo, I had a number of expectations, but they have all been surpassed. So far, my experience in Egypt has been phenomenal. Words are not enough adequately to describe it.
The NTA team members were truly amazing both before and after our arrival in Cairo. From the airport to the hotel and classroom, I saw in them love, dedication and great leadership. Everyone would greet us with a smile on their faces and show up every time we beckoned. Despite the logistical complexity of managing 100 young people from diverse backgrounds, they hardly looked stressed. The more pressure they were subjected to, the more they felt renewed. Needless to say, they love what they do in building the lives of other young leaders.
I have also interacted with a number of ordinary Egyptians, mostly young and middle-aged, and the experience has been the same: they are all very nice people. Above all, they love their country and would do anything to make it greater than it is.
Another interesting part of the APLP is the quality of the instructors and the serene learning environment. The curriculum is highly comprehensive. It is pan-African, and the skills and knowledge taught are some of the most sought-after in the 21st-century world. In my opinion, every graduate of the APLP is qualified to hold a leadership position anywhere in the world and especially in Africa. From leadership and negotiation skills, gender equality and women’s empowerment to emotional intelligence, positive thinking, the African economies, the sustainable development goals (SDGs), climate change, the media, the African Union and the African Agenda 2063, the curriculum is a perfect fit for future leaders. Moreover, learning is enjoyable because of the efficient instructors who know exactly how to impart knowledge; they are fun, engaging and vast in their interests. I have already connected with most of them for lifelong learning.
In the course of the programme, we have visited many interesting historical places in Egypt and valuable lessons have been learnt. Some of these places include the Great Pyramids in Giza, the Egyptian Museum, the Al-Rifai Mosque, the Sultan Hassan Mosque, the Centre for the Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage, the Religious Complex, the Gamal Abdel-Nasser Museum, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Suez Canal. We also had the opportunity to watch the final of the 2019 African Cup of Nations (Algeria vs Senegal) at the Cairo International Stadium, and it was such a memorable experience. Memories of the singing, dancing and cheering are so exciting that they are not likely to go away anytime soon.
After our visit to the Alexandria Library, Jewelry Museum, Roman Theatre and Qaitbay Fortress, we had a brief meeting with governor of Alexandria Abdel-Aziz Qonsowa and his deputy, who I learnt is a graduate of the Presidential Leadership Programme (PLP). Listening to the governor, I was inspired by his vision, competence and oratory. He has a firm grasp of every detail in his jurisdiction.
One other moment that swept me off my feet was the visit to the Suez Canal. We were briefed by Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority Mohab Mamish on how the New Suez Canal was built in record time and was fully built and funded by Egyptians. The new canal reaches 72 km in length and was completed in 8,760 hours by about 50,000 Egyptian workers. Its estimated cost of $8.2 billion was raised in eight days by the Egyptian people. This is no mean feat, and I was overwhelmed by the passion of the Egyptian people and their leaders.
However, for every beginning, there’s an end, and after five weeks of rigorous yet exciting leadership training, it was time to graduate. Adorned with academic regalia and the flags of our individual countries, we all gathered at the New Administrative Capital for the graduation ceremony with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and other notable personalities in attendance. Some of them included Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli, ministers, the ambassadors of many African countries, as well as Executive Director of the NTA Rascha Ragheb.
Throughout the day, I listened to President Al-Sisi and was inspired by his vision and commitment to develop Egypt. He has a full knowledge of all the necessary facts and figures typical of a competent leader. By the time I left the graduation hall, I realised why Egypt was making so much progress and why the Egyptian people were so proud of their country: they have a visionary leader.
The lessons I have learnt and the people I have met through the APLP will help me to scale the impact of my work back home. My leadership organisation, the GLP, is working assiduously to raise transformational leaders in government, business and the civic and corporate sectors from across Nigeria. During this programme, I have met great young leaders from my country, Nigeria, and the other 28 African countries, including Egypt, which are rebuilding our continent. They are smart, passionate and ready to bring down the barriers that have been holding Africa back for centuries. It is such a great time to be alive.
The story of Egypt has further validated the timeless mantra that where there is will, there is always a way. The impossible can be achieved in Africa. And that is the lesson I am taking back home from this great country. I love Egypt, and it is undoubtedly a superpower in the making. Africa will be great again, I strongly believe. Shukran!
*The writer is the founder of the Generalkopho Leadership Programme (GLP), an organisation preparing the next generation of Nigerian/African leaders, and a 2019 African Presidential Leadership Programme scholar.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: How I see Egypt