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Mandela memorial service (Michael Rajzman)
Mandela memorial service (Michael Rajzman)

Craig Kielburger

A nation of next Mandelas Add to ...

“There can be no other Madiba.”

I could attribute this phrase to dozens of South Africans I’ve met during and after the memorials to this country’s universal hero.

Back home, if you asked a hundred North Americans who they most look up to, you’d get close to a hundred answers: Celebrities, athletes, family members, entrepreneurs, activists, musicians, movie characters, reality TV stars.

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In South Africa, there is only one name that every child knows, every leader invokes, and every grandparent tells their grandchildren about. Madiba.

But while Nelson Mandela’s work is sadly done, his dream is unfinished. The search for “the next Mandela” is on.

It’s been said that we can’t see this “next Mandela” because he’s in a prison cell somewhere, branded a terrorist. Or she’s on a tightly controlled watch list, her cell phone and e-mail tapped in the name of national security. This may be true, but thanks in large part to Madiba himself, there are countless more “next Mandelas” here who are both free and visible.

As much as this nation of mourners insists that there will never be another like him, they are equally resolute in carrying his legacy forward.

Helping to harness this collective energy is Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in the outskirts of Johannesburg. The 36-year-old Ghanaian entrepreneur leveraged the connections he made working in California’s Silicon Valley to launch a residential secondary-level school that aims to keep African students and future leaders in Africa.

One in nine Africans — 30 million — have migrated to the world’s most developed countries to study or work. Mr. Swaniker linked this outflow of talent to the deficit of effective, ethical and visionary leaders in Africa, and started the ALA to identify, train and connect a generation of exceptional young Africans to make a difference on their home continent.

This year, the ALA awarded its Anzisha Prize for “initiative” to 21-year-old Best Aiyorworth, who started a micro-lending network in Uganda that provides start-up or continuing business capital to women who can in turn invest in school fees and materials for their daughters. Aiyorworth has so far empowered 400 mothers and helped advance girls’ education on a continent where 30 million girls don’t go to school.

Ms. Aiyorworth is one of many Africans of all ages who stand out and give hope for Nelson Mandela’s dream of a united, peaceful and prosperous society.

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg is empowering the next generation of African women leaders through Akili Dada, a continent-wide network providing mentorship, skills training and financial support to African women seeking to impact their communities.

Farai Maguwu documents human rights abuses in Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields so that international authorities can bring justice to victims. His extraordinary courage in exposing torture, forced labour and killings of local villagers has put him at risk of imprisonment and personal harm.

Eskinder Nega and Agnes Uwimana Nkusi are journalists who have been jailed for writing critically of their governments in Ethiopia and Rwanda, inspiring global campaigns for their release and shining the international spotlight on abuses in their countries.

Ory Okolloh is an activist and one of the tech world’s most influential women, as creator of Ushahidi, a revolutionary crowd sourcing utility that enables citizen journalists and eyewitnesses all over the world to report incidences of violence through the web, mobile E-mail, SMS, and Twitter.

There may never be another Madiba. But instead of waiting for the next Nelson Mandela to emerge, those whom he universally inspired are now looking to themselves and each other to build their own dream together.

Craig Kielburger is an international activist and co-founder of Free The Children

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