Promoting Free Societies
African Solutions for African Problems
Where do leaders come from? We all have our own ideas about how the world could be improved, but it’s a much smaller group of individuals who choose to take a stand to actually change their countries and communities.
Linda Kavuka has dedicated her career to finding those with the potential to become leaders and helping them aim higher. Many members of the liberty movement know her as “Mama Africa,” a nickname she earned for her personal connection to the activists she works with and her passion for helping them grow into their roles as tomorrow’s leaders, not just in her home of Kenya, but across the continent.
Linda joined African Students For Liberty, the local branch of the international Students For Liberty (SFL) organization, in 2013 while attending the University of Nairobi. She soon found that SFL provided an excellent platform to pursue her passion—mentoring other young people.
Like many members of African Students For Liberty, Linda was inspired by Dr. George Ayittey, a groundbreaking Ghanaian economist who advocated for free enterprise and political freedom in Africa. He often lamented the fact that poverty in Africa was not a reflection on the people of the continent, but of the poor standards of integrity and ideas among Africa’s largely authoritarian leaders. Dr. Ayittey advocated the rise of what he called a “Cheetah Generation”—young, freedom-minded Africans fed up with corruption—to take the reins from the “Hippo Generation,” the old guard of crooked bureaucrats and ruling elites.
Linda’s job is not an easy one. Now as director of African Programs at Students For Liberty, she travels between many countries to visit university campuses, which sometimes requires long trips in packed buses, stays in dingy hotels, or taking risks at locations that are not always safe.
But Linda says it’s worth it to meet the hundreds of young people who possess the potential to be the Cheetah Generation that Dr. Ayittey hoped for. She and her African Students For Liberty colleagues have spent years building a program that provides the resources those young Africans need to transform the continent.
Many of African Students For Liberty’s programs focus on introducing young people to the core principles and philosophies of classical liberalism. Linda said that broadening their scope to include leadership development was a natural growth for the organization.
“The focus for Students For Liberty in the beginning was setting up groups on campuses,” she said. “When we achieved that goal, we started to see how it would be beneficial to focus on individuals and the impact that we can make on these individual students. When we began focusing on individuals, we saw a real impact where Students For Liberty have alumni setting up think tanks across Africa and growing the liberty movement here in Africa way bigger and larger than what we would have imagined five years ago.”
African Students For Liberty’s success lies in their ability to develop talent. The organization’s own leadership structure relies on finding capable individuals among the campus program participants and offering them the opportunity to develop their skills through the coordinator program. Participants can apply to become local coordinators, who lead programs in their community. In this role they can develop leadership skills, and some graduate to national and, eventually, regional coordinator roles responsible for activities in their portion of the continent of Africa.
Many who graduate from Students For Liberty join its sister network, Alumni For Liberty, which continues to engage rising leaders during their careers. Building on their experiences in the coordinator program, alumni can take advantage of additional training and mentorship to prepare them to lead organizations of their own.
A Continental Impact
The effect of this model has been astounding. Almost two dozen think tanks across Africa were founded by alumni program participants, many of them Atlas Network partners. In fact, the majority of classical liberal organizations in Africa were founded or are led by one of the over 500 alumni program participants.
Linda said that it has been a long and arduous path, but the impact their work has had on the individuals they have worked with makes it all worth it. She said the example of Aimable Manirakiza, CEO of the Burundi-based Atlas Network partner Centre for Development and Enterprises Great Lakes, shows what individuals can achieve with the right tools.
“We have so many stories of trial and error,” she said, “but never did we give up. We were sure that these guys would make a real impact on a larger community in some time to come. And Aimable Manirakiza is just one person who understood the ideas of liberty, believed in the mission of SFL in advocating for the ideas of liberty throughout the world. And he envisioned it, lived it, and learned to use the platform very well. Today he has a think tank. He has employed a number of young people who are from SFL. He has done so many projects impacting his community, and he’s changing lives by changing laws.”
For their unmatched role in growing Africa’s liberty movement, African Students For Liberty was named the winner of Atlas Nework’s 2023 Africa Liberty Award, and a finalist for the 2023 Templeton Freedom Award.
Linda said winning the Africa Liberty Award was an acknowledgement that although their work takes a different form than traditional think tanks, it’s having a valuable impact. “It feels like our work is finally validated,” she said. “We matter even though we are unique and don’t do the same kind of freedom movement job that other organizations are into.”