The Smith Fellowship, one of the many programs of Atlas Network’s Leadership Academy, brings up-and-coming leaders from around the world to Washington D.C., where they receive varied training in marketing, fundraising, management, and other relevant skills.
A recent alumna of the Smith Fellowship, Linda Kavuka, is African programs manager at Students For Liberty (Africa), a partner organization with coordinators located throughout Africa. She is based in Kenya and was one of the Cornerstone Talk presenters at Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner 2017, and she completed Atlas Network’s Smith Fellowship in October 2018.
Atlas Network recently conducted an interview with Linda learn about the fellowship’s most impactful moments and how it has helped her in her work, in addition to the challenge of overcoming the rampant corruption that exists in Africa today.
Atlas Network: How did African Students For Liberty grow into the organization it is today?
Linda Kavuka: African Students For Liberty (ASFL) was created by Olumayowa Okediran, after he joined the Students For Liberty International Executive Board in 2011. Olumayowa traveled across Africa recruiting students who accepted the classical liberal ideology and like him, yearned to make a difference, by creating a freer Africa. African Students For Liberty was formally launched in 2013, having grown in 5 African countries including Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Gambia, and Malawi. In about 6 years, ASFL has grown far and wide, to regions we could not imagine we would get to! Today, ASFL is present in 24 countries in the entire continent, has 375 current trained leaders, and over 10,000 contacts.
What programs is ASFL currently working on?
- Local Coordinator Program — This is the entry point for interested students and young professionals to join the organization. Students are trained and afterward are given a chance to develop the skills to become ideal leaders for liberty. This fiscal year, we received a total of 1,585 applications from 38 countries in Africa, by far the highest number of applications we have ever received in one year since the beginning of African Students For Liberty.
- Leadership Fora — After completing the online training, we give our leaders the chance to meet with like-minded colleagues face to face at Leadership Fora. We host these events to reiterate the online training, and to give these future leaders hands-on experience with what it means to be a leader for liberty.
- Regional Conferences — We host 4 Regional Conferences for African Students For Liberty in Kenya (Eastern African Conference), Nigeria (West African Conference), Burundi (Great Lakes Conference) and Tanzania (Tanzania SFL Conference). Our conferences are our largest events, where we reach out to hundreds of students and teach them who we are, classical liberal ideas, the current state of liberty in Africa, and libertarian solutions to the issues facing the continent
What are the biggest challenges that Kenya in particular and Africa, in general, have faced recently, and how does your organization's work help in addressing those challenges?
Barriers to movement and trade
Africa has minerals and natural resources in abundance. Surprisingly, African countries export to the world more than they trade with each other. The reason is the lack of proper infrastructure, very restrictive laws, protectionism, corruption, negative competition and very high taxes.
Tea and coffee are grown in a number of East African countries on large scales like Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya. However, if you visit a store in Nigeria or Ghana you may easily find a European brand of the product than an African one. West Africa is home of cocoa, shea butter, and yams yet you cannot find these in a Kenyan or Tanzanian store. If you do, the price will be ridiculous because of the cost of getting the materials. Had Africa been trading internally, the continent would certainly not be at its current position of despair.
We have a low percentage of domestic tourism in Africa. One of the contributing factors is the cost and requirement of acquiring travel visas. The cost is high and for some countries the process very stressful which does not guarantee that you will be granted the visa. Countries also charge Africans higher prices for tourism thanks to taxes. These factors have demoralized Africans from traveling and migrating within the continent. Some countries are stable however make it impossible for one to migrate and work, and also for refugees to be given citizenship.
We teach our students about free markets and how they can affect the progress of the continent and the quality of the lives of locals. We give our students material from the best free-market advocates around the world, and they then go into their societies, relating the ideas of free markets with local challenges in their societies.
Corruption is one of the major challenges to good governance and progress in Africa. African people suffered under the hand of colonialism and were eager for Independence because of what this would mean to the native African who had been discriminated, tortured and driven from their homes. Independence in many African countries was a dream that was never really achieved. To date, there are dictator presidents who have been in power for over 30 years. Their imperial styles of presidency has been one of nepotism where government jobs are given to family members and close allies, looting of public money, and limiting any form of opposition.
Many African people languish in abject poverty because of corruption. Tax is collected from the public and goes into the pockets of politicians. News headlines in Nigeria report the stealing of millions of dollars by former government officials, and in my country, Kenya, it is the same story.
Corruption has become accepted by the people, and unfortunately appears to be the system. It is both in the public and private sectors. Young people have been raised in a society that condones the vice. It is easier to pay a bribe to get your services, or products or tender on time.
We at African Students For Liberty speak to students and young professionals in our seminars and conferences where we bring in experts on the subject, to raise awareness of the dangers of allowing corruption to reign. The struggle is tough, but with a commitment from the people, change will come our way.
How has the Smith Fellowship helped your organization to address those challenges?
The Smith Fellowship was an opportunity for me to step out of my comfort zone and usual work cycle. It provided the chance to clearly and honestly review our work structure, our successes, and our challenges. With the help of my trainer Tarun Vats, I was able to figure out what my challenges were and was able to come up with a number of options to improve our work in Africa. I have been able to craft a plan where I have reorganized our current structure. The new system will grant us the ability to explore more opportunities, train and develop many more leaders and most importantly produce top leaders who are the future personnel at existing think tanks and also entrepreneurs and creators of ventures for the sake of making Africa a free continent.
What challenges has your organization experienced? How has the Smith Fellowship helped prepare you to address those challenges?
The Ideas of Liberty are fairly new in the continent. Therefore, we have had to train students and young professionals from scratch on what we mean by classical liberal and free-market ideas. We have had to win over once heavily socialist and communist individuals to the side of liberty and to train them to be advocates for a free society. We face a number of challenges with this, top of which is a language barrier. Originally, we could only reach out to English speakers but have improved our services to reach out to the French and Portuguese speakers with our materials and programs as well.
Travel In Africa is very expensive due to very high taxes and lack of options due to lack of infrastructure which means we cannot reach out to all the young people with interest in our activities and to organize for in each of their countries. Being a fairly new organization we have very limited support in terms of funding and it has been a challenge for us to successfully garner support and raise funds in Africa. Through the Smith Fellowship, I have considered a number of strategies we had not tried before and look forward to significantly improving our work in Africa.
What was the highlight of your time in the U.S. during the fellowship?
My most exciting time was getting to meet with the staff and executives of great think tanks based in DC. I was able to get inspiration from their work, state my challenges and get firsthand advice on how to make improvements. Being selected to be a Smith Fellow was such a great honour, considering that the selection process is very competitive. The time at the Atlas Network office gave me perspective and time to meditate on the work we are doing at African Students For Liberty. Our journey has been a very interesting one, have grown far beyond our imagination in a short while, and for my colleagues and me this has been a beautiful journey of growth. I look forward to implementing the plans I worked on and winning even more this time in Africa for the sake of liberty.