Hallmark moments are like the beautiful photos which we save for the photo albums. They affect and define us so that from time to time, we are moved to take them out, to remember them and relive the wonderful memories. My acceptance into, and participation in LSE’s Programme for African Leadership (PfAL) certainly deserves many pages in my memory album.

I came all the way from Nigeria to study MSc African Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and I certainly succeeded in getting an education. I gained this education on two fronts: formally in the lecture hall and informally through PfAL engagement. In class, I was entranced as we studied the historical evolution of Africa’s Political Economy, the domestic-based challenges to development for African countries and the intersection of African issues in the broader global context. Those classes were certainly interesting and for me, a young woman with a background in botanical science and not nearly enough awareness of such development issues, I have come to learn so much.

However, it was my PfAL colleagues who helped me to shape my classroom knowledge from still texts on paper into real issues. Those 59 young people, my cohorts for PfAL 6 came to the LSE for study and with them, they brought their diversity, passion and intellect from their different countries. These young women and men with their bold voices who were not afraid to speak up helped to bring colour and humanity which shaped my reality and study.

Participants in the Programme for African Leadership | Photo by Owen Billcliffe (owenbillcliffe.co.uk)

And so, in my mind, Ethiopia became less a country in the Horn of Africa which I had never been to but rather came to mean Halle’s home. For Halle is a passionate man and it was impossible to experience a man speak of a place with love in his eyes and fire in his gesticulating hands and fail to see Ethiopia through his eyes. Zambia, a country of which I also knew little, developed shape and form in my mind’s eye as Muna and Ranelle spoke familiarly of Zambian politics and the path to development. Ghana became the country that birthed brilliant and beautiful women like Efua, Priscilla and Josephine as strong black women versed in their country’s heritage and history. Uganda, home to Phionah, Job and Hillary became a warm place full of lovely people that have given me itchy feet to visit and do so soon. Natacha gave me the colour of Angola, Otshabile showed me the beauty of Botswana and Maudo shared with all of us the integrity of The Gambia. I experienced Kenyan politics and entertainment through the boisterous conversations of Martha, Linet and Jackie so much that it came to seem that I had walked the streets of Mombasa and Nairobi in another life.

My PfAL experience was filled up with debates, discovery and a lot of laughter. The immense generosity of Firoz and Najma Lalji who sponsor the programme left me speechless. Firoz Lalji would often attend PfAL programmes, standing at the back quietly with a smile on his face so that we would not realise he was even in the room until much later. Such goodness of heart is as uncommon as it is indescribable. The managers of the programme, Gerald and Ingrina are two of the best people I met at LSE. As the late poet, Maya Angelou once said, people will never forget the way you made them feel even if they forget everything else. I will certainly not forget them both for they treated us all with warmth and from the very first time I met them, it was already as if I had known them forever.

Zainab Haruna at the Programme for African Leadership | Photo by Owen Billcliffe (owenbillcliffe.co.uk)

One thing that I take away from PfAL and LSE is the need to constantly deconstruct and unpack whole summaries to prod at the parts. Now, I no longer see Africa as one homogeneous geographical bloc but as a colourful continent of people who are strong and determined. I have always been passionate about my home country, Nigeria, and I came to PfAL to see that passion replicated many times over in other young Africans from all corners of the continent. Despite all I have learned on the hurdles of African development, there has never been a time when I have been more optimistic about our future for I have seen the currency of Africa and it is reflected in the people who call it home. The gift of PfAL is that I see growth ahead and I believe in it, for all of us.

Zainab Haruna | Photo by Owen Billcliffe