- Zalli Foundation
A Gift for Africa. How the Obama Leader Scholar is Making an Impact in Zimbabwe
Updated: Jan 31
Gift Ostallos Siziva is a political scientist who is passionate about youth participation in democratic and developmental processes. He is currently serving as the Youth Secretary General of the biggest opposition in Zimbabwe, the MDC Alliance. Gift graduated with an MSc in International Relations from the University of Zimbabwe and he is currently working on his PhD. at the University of Johannesburg. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow class of 2020. Gift introduced President Obama at the Democracy Forum.
Good morning, Gift! It is an honor to have you with us today! I see that we have many parallels in our personal stories. Your beginnings were humble in Zimbabwe, and you had to fight tooth and nail to get an education. Can you tell us a bit about your personal story and what motivated you to become the international figure you are today?
I grew up in the Southern part area of Zimbabwe, which is essentially one of the marginalized regions in the nation that inhabits the Ndebele speaking minority. Growing up was extremely tough for me since my mother worked as a housemaid and my father came from the countryside to work as a gardener in the city, but he found it vital to support my education because he believed in the value of education in securing ones future. Due to the privatization of education, accessing it has become increasingly difficult. I started working at grinding meal so that l fund my education and after getting good grades l was awarded the Joshua Nkomo scholarship which funded my tertiary education which became my gateway to a world of possibilities.
You were selected to participate in the Obama Foundation Leaders Program in 2022. The Foundation´s mission is to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world. The program is designed to help international leaders hone their leadership skills through coaching by other leaders and by introducing them to a network of international experts, thus capacitating them to reach new horizons as leaders in their home countries. As a recent graduate of the program, what are the most important takeaways that you have gleaned from this opportunity, and how will you implement them in your country?
The first and most essential lesson for me is about leadership within the community. I believe the aspect of servent leadership that teaches us on the importantce to serve and to put the collective first rather than the self. When we are in a position of leadership, we begin to view ourselves as leaders without necessarily understanding that the most important thing we are doing is helping people.Changing the lives of ordinary people.
A component of recognizing the variety of cultural traditions plays a key role too. Our ability to instill our traditions and principles into the fabric of a society comprised of other nations is an integral part of our role as leaders. And the community of nations is extremely important for me because, as the fourth pillar, I was able to interact with leaders from across the African continent to exchange cultures and realize that the struggle in Ghana is our struggle. So for me, it's an important element of the foundation’s training and programs that has opened my eyes and connected to a world of young people in whose hands the future of Africa lies.
Let´s talk about your plans for educating the youth of your country. You have said that a clear program of action is key for mobilizing young people, who must be politically informed, and that justice and equality are at the center of all community movements. Could you tell us some of the specific actions that are being implemented in two of your campaigns, namely #ZimbabewelivesMatter and #OneMillionVotes?
I initiated the "1 Million Youth Campaign," which aims to mobilize a million voices for change in Zimbabwe. In this campaign, we have asked how to organize and activate the young population. This specific demographic group should be allowed to register and vote in accordance with their rights and civic duties. Therefore, the objective of this business is to ensure that young people are mobilized. We compel them to engage in this specific activity. We do this so that people have a government in which they have faith. In fact, our public outreach organization focuses on problems of efficient economic justice. Young people believe that young people should unite and speak truth to power. Therefore, it is a movement for social and economic justice that focuses on social and economic rights in Zimbabwe. Consequently, these are some of the concerns highlighted. The objective is to raise a generation of young democratic crusader driven by the agenda tobrig change and transformation.
Returning to your experience at the Obama Foundation, you were recently chosen from amongst your peers to introduce former President Obama at the first-ever Democracy Forum in NYC. As a child, did you ever dream you would meet an American president, much less receive the honor of sharing the stage with him? What are some lessons you have learned through his mentorship?
Yes, I've thought about it, and I've had discussions with larger groups; however, when I visited the foundation, I had the opportunity to engage with President Obama. I also had a firsthand conversation with him during a session in which he gave a presentation to our Africa group.
I gave an interview to CNN, and talked about my journey, my experience during the felowshi and how ypung people across the world are inspired by President Obama. When the Obama team, a very incredible team asked me to if l could take up the task to introduce President Obama- l could not believe, l could not talk to anyone becase at the time it was a private inquiry. I was thrilled! I teared up because I couldn't believe even though it was writted to me in bold letter. That this is even a possibility on a global scale wa surprising to me.
Barack Obama is the image of a leader. He is a global leader who welcomed me. President Obama inspired me, and it made me see that the world is full of possibilities. I learned a vital lesson from my political group, the president, and others' willingness to share their tales: that our heritage does not determine our testing, since when individuals like myself taught history and demoted us out of this specific input, a national and international platform was provided, which was a fantastic opportunity for me to tell my narrative and mix with President Obama.
You define yourself as a "man of ideas." Is there a particular quote from another man or woman that has inspired you on your journey to leadership?
Former South African President Nelson Mandela supports the concept of establishing a society in which all men may coexist. Mandela is a celebrated South African politician. A leading advocate of multiracial democracy, Mandela delivered rights to millions of oppressed South Africans. He is widely regarded as an international icon of peace. As the first black president of South Africa (1994–99), Mandela's governance was marked by racial reconciliation with white Afrikaners. In his advocacy of multiethnic democracy, he also urged the creation of a society in which all people were equal.
One of the hottest topics being discussed today is mental health. You said in your speech to the Democracy Forum that you would use the power of ideas and the beauty of language to speak on behalf of the oppressed people of Africa, and I quote: "I decided that in spite of my youth, I would use my abilities, knowledge, and conviction to speak truth to power." "If we use our voice, we can find our power, and with our power, we can change the world." Would you like to share your views on the importance of speaking openly about mental health? Could you share some of the ways you keep your own physical and mental health in balance?
Mental health is a crucial part of overall well-being. It enables us to cope with the stresses of life. Good mental health also translates to a more positive sense of self-worth. I think that people who are able to manage their mental health better are more productive. When a person's mental health is in tip-top shape, he or she can navigate challenges and setbacks with greater resilience. This translates into a better work experience, higher productivity, and happier employees. In addition, a positive mental state of mind translates to increased creativity and resilience against setbacks. If a worker's mental health is in a state of turmoil, he or she is more likely to miss work, make poor decisions, and be passive-aggressive. People who are not mentally healthy have a negative impact on both their physical and psychological wellbeing. They are less likely to make good decisions, have poor communication, and miss meetings and deadlines.
As a role model for young Africans, what advice would you give to the young men and women on the continent of Africa who are fighting for their dreams of education and a better future?
One of the most important factors in life is education. Education helps people develop skills and achieve their dreams. It also opens more doors for them to move forward. The more education you have, the more opportunities you can have. Students need to see how classroom learning is relevant to their lives. In addition, they need to have the freedom to try new methods and techniques. These will allow teachers to customize their approach to the needs of each student. Education is power! Once you have earned it, it can't be taken away from you, that’s the beauty of ideas!
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being with us today, Gift! I look forward to seeing your leadership grow, and I know you will make a positive impact on your community and your country in the future!