Why young Africans should participate in UONGOZI Institute essay contest

UONGOZI Institute recognises that knowledge and learning is necessary for the progress of youth in Africa. Therefore, we consciously provide opportunities for the “future generation” to grow and develop through various regional initiatives. In April 2019, we challenged young Africans between the ages of 18 and 25 years to write and submit essays on the following topic: 

“If you were an African leader, how would you promote sustainable use of the renewable natural resources for fostering socio-economic transformation in Africa?”

This was organised as our seventh African Youth Leadership Essay Competition: A component of our flagship forum (African Leadership Forum), chaired by H.E. Benjamin Mkapa, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania. 

Similar to previous contests, our aim was to provide a space for the youth of Africa and the next generation of leaders from the region to contribute to important discussions on leadership for sustainable development, and suggest solutions that would resolve the issues identified. 

“Knowledge and talent are valuable resources that African nations can possess,” says Kadari Singo, Acting CEO of UONGOZI Institute. He adds, “The progress of future generations has implications on the sustainability of natural resources. Therefore, it is necessary to harness and cultivate today’s youth by setting impactful foundations for them.”

We received over 2,000 essays from young Africans. A panel of judges rigorously evaluated these essays on the basis of originality, organisation, creativity, appropriateness to contest theme and the use of language. Finally, four winners were announced in early August. 

The overall winner was Panashe Gombiro, a 22-year-old Zimbabwean pursuing a Bachelor of Law at the University of Zimbabwe. His essay, “The Educating, Adjudicating, Communicating and Executing Ants” depicted good principles for sustainable use of natural resources, as well as his ability to see things from a different perspective and spice it up with humour. 

In an interview with UONGOZI Institute, Gombiro revealed that the missed opportunity to take part in previous competitions inspired him to enter the 2019 contest. He said, “I had learnt about the competition in 2017 but failed to participate due to some chronic procrastination issues. In 2019, when I received an email about the competition from my brother, I knew I had to participate.”

The 22-year old recalled the urge to check his email every few minutes around the time that results were set to be released. He said taking the top prize reassured him of his competence among other young and gifted Africans.  

In recognition of their achievement, Gombiro and three runners-up from Tanzania, Nigeria and Ivory Coast were invited to attend the plenary session of African Leadership Forum on August 29. The four also attended the Forum’s Gala Dinner, where they were presented with their prizes by H.E. Thabo Mbeki, former President of the Republic of South Africa. 

Apart from receiving a certificate and cash prize of $2,000, Gombiro had the opportunity to present his essay before an audience of about 100 high-level African leaders, including the Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania, H.E. Samia Suluhu Hassan, and former Presidents of Madagascar, Tanzania, Somalia and South Africa.

Gombiro used two words to describe his experience at the Forum, “Captivating” and “Unforgettable”. 

“The most outstanding part was the plenary session, where former African Heads of State shared their thoughts on managing natural resources above the ground. It was gratifying to note the wisdom, candour and ingenuity in their suggestions,” he added.  

The 22-year old later admitted that contemplating the importance of preserving natural resources and its connection with empowerment was something he had never done before. He said the research he conducted when preparing his essay “awakened” him to the centrality of natural resources to development.

“I believe that all young Africans should take part in the contest. The research and preparation involved in writing your essay is the most rewarding part of it. Through this, we gain knowledge, awaken to and engage with the realities of our Continent. The contest becomes a sustainable pedestal to equip youth to take the action needed,” said Gombiro. 

Gombiro’s advice to all young Africans interested in participating in the contest was: 

“Be you, it is your essay after all but never ever write without planning. Read widely, and think about your essay over time and jot down the ‘little’ ideas you may think of on the bus or whilst having a meal. Chill and rest in the ever-helpful advice to any writer: It always gets better after editing, so just write. Lastly, proofread and revise your work. You may request someone to proofread and seriously consider their suggestions.”

Gombiro aspires to pursue a master’s degree in criminology, and become an advocate in his country. He is passionate about writing good stories, ending poverty, and justice. 

Gombiro as he presents his essay during the award ceremony. 

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