Dede's Mandela Washington Experience- #MWFTZ


Well, Hello there! My name is Adella January Msoffe (and you can call me Dede for short). I am guest blogging today, and seeing as summarizing has never been my strong point, you can grab a tea, beer or whatever tickles your fancy, have a seat and enjoy these several minutes of a peek into my journey.

“Who is Dede?” You may ask. Well, she is a law graduate from the University of Dar es Salaam class of 2015; and as of recent a fairly new member of the Bar of Advocates in Tanzania, since June 2017. In my professional ‘journey’ (yes we get to call it that, as short as it may seem), I have worked at a corporate law firm - Norton Rose Fulbright as an intern and later worked as a volunteer legal officer in Kigamboni district, providing free legal aid services on land, matrimonial and labour issues. Besides that, Dede is a sweet charming girl who absolutely loves community work and seeing people prosper, hates rape culture and all sexual offences to go with (and will soon put on her big girl panties and be more vocal about this). Dede is a sucker for good music - LOUD music, good food, nicely braided hair, teas, beaches, good reads, movies, and all things pampering!

But I’m here, not to share Dede’s entire life story *ahem* but my journey as a Mandela Washington Fellow this year. The juicy parts if you let me. I’ll skip the part when I got the confirmation email and all the cartwheels I did, the million phone calls to anyone who would listen that “I AM GOING TO AMERICAAA!”, the part where I near missed my flight (again) for being on the wrong terminal gate (yohhh!) and I’ll jump right in to the minute I landed at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC. This was my second time in DC, the first being when I went for the Jessup International Law Moot Court competition, but it didn’t reduce my excitement one bit. I was happy with the warm summer weather, and meeting the rest of the Fellows from other countries that I would be with for the six weeks stay at Howard University, or ‘the Mecca’ as we will now call it. Our drivers were VERY. fine. gentlemen! Now as they loaded our bags into vans and asked us to jump in, I unknowingly walked over to the driver’s side and opened the door wanting to get in, and that ladies and gentlemen was lesson #1 about the US of A! It’s a left hand drive state. I wouldn’t mind this lesson but why did it have to be infront of the fine gentlemen named above? They brushed it off with a joke “Wanna drive us there?” And so the journey began!

I will probably never forget the first night at the Mecca because of the power outage we had in our designated sleeping areas – The Towers. Yes, apparently this happens even in the States. I wish you saw how apologetic the Howard team was, and I couldn’t help but think, “hey relax! this is totally normal where I’m from. It’s okay.” So we moved to a different hall that had power for the night. I still have the apology email sent out and I will probably keep it to always remember that one time someone terribly regretted a power outage which was beyond them by the way, and was saddened to the core, so much that we had to move locations because of this black out. But it will remind me that, I shouldn’t let challenges be a ‘norm’. I should break the ‘business as usual’ mindset, and be proactive in finding solutions.

Being a Fellow at Howard, I was under the Public Management track, alongside 24 other vibrant young leaders from 19 African countries, with just one other Tanzanian in the same institute. Some of these people are educators, policy analysts, lawyers, founders of organizations dealing with chronic challenges Africa faces and think tanks on policies suitable for Africa; we had a filmmaker, financial analyst, auditor, engineer, president of the pharmaceutical association, women rights activist, a chef, nurse, and so much more even beyond these titles. Collectively, wherever we went they simply introduced us as the crème de la crème. Even just for this blog post, I will agree with them! (that ‘humble-with-a-hint-of-Kanye’ life). Okay okay, they called us Fellows but I’m trying to say I was with the movers and shakers of Africa for six weeks.   

The Fellowship offers training in a threefold structure, formally. First, we had academic sessions where we were taught in class on several topics such as servant leadership, grants writing, communication strategies in public management, African women in politics, the role of the diaspora in the development of Africa and seeeveral other topics, I could not possibly name all. This was very effective because the teachers are extremely friendly, and it is a fairly small class so we could ask as many questions as possible. Secondly, we had site visits. Being in Washington DC had its advantages, because there a lot of offices situated there so I can say I’ve been to Capitol Hill several times, and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Karen Bass (and that one time we almost saw Kamala Harris), and several other offices like the Department of Labor, Department of State, US Diplomacy Center, the African Union, National Democratic Institute, U.S Government Accountability Office, Africare, Oracle, Brookings Institute, Bureau  on African Affairs, Congressional African Staffers Association, Motir, and and and! Here we get to learn how these institutions work and see how we can use their best practices to suit our African context. Also, these were good networking opportunities.

Third, we had to take part in community service, and so we volunteered to clean at Anacostia Park on Mandela Day. We also volunteered at ‘A Wider Circle’. My biggest lesson here was how everything ready for donation had to be in a good condition. No one deserves bad things, even if they are freely given.

There was informal learning too in so many networking galas, dinners, mixers that we attended. Heck, our teachers are so cool so they too have had us over for parties at their homes. There’s that one pool party we went to. Ahhh! So cool to be able to dance and drink and unwind with your instructor as they spill general knowledge, and still be formal in class on Monday.  

We also had Peer Collaborators. These are people who have similar interests professionally and even socially, whereas we would find time atleast an hour a week, to just sit and talk on the best way forward, how we can collaborate, or even simply where to shop, nice restaurants, big life decisions and so forth.

Umm – all work and no play makes Jack a mere boy. We had our night outs. Sometimes it was random so we walked down the road at U Street (Ohhh U street! The fond memories my sweet U street *insert dreamy eyes here*) and sometimes, we planned ahead and partaaayeeed! One thing, always carry your ID on you. And when they say, dress to impress they mean you have to atleast try. The gents will tell you how you can be stopped at the door for wearing sneakers. True story! We also went to museums, like the National Museum of African American History which is out. of. this. world! And we went there twice, once for a tour and once to celebrate the 4th of July. I know for a fact, I would be the happiest bride if I had fireworks on my wedding. I cried buckets just seeing the fireworks go off you guys! We took a tour around DC’s spots such as the Washington monument, Lincoln memorial, MLK memorial, Kunta Kinte memorial etc. Also, I would be insaaane if I left out the VIP tickets we had to the Baseball game we went to (Orioles V. Rays). And of course, the Barcelona Vs. Manchester United match at FedEx Field (Again-VIP). I was excited, but I will never forget the boys’ reaction. Surreal! That was probably the happiest I’d seen most of them during the Fellowship.
I also went to church some Sundays. A different one every time. This was the first time I went to a church other than Catholic. It was nice to wear casually and still fit in, and see how welcoming everyone was, so I enjoyed this too. And ofcourse, going to stores. TJ Maxx, Ross, JCPenneys for good prices. H&M and Macys also did it for me. Zara had sales, so that too. MAC and NYX but I barely do make up so I wouldn’t know much there. And any and every store that caught our eyes, because you never know! On food and culture, I honestly have no complaints; I enjoyed the American food unlike most people. The only bummer was how coffee is everywhere, but tea not so much. I also enjoyed tasting food from other Fellows cultures. And so if you ask me which Jolloff rice is the best, Senegalese, Ghanaian or Nigerian? That’s easy – nothing beats Pilau na Kachumbari!!! But maybe the Ghanaian and Senegalese Jolloff come close.  

My biggest lesson came from preparing an event that is 100% conceptualized and organized by the Fellows alone, as a prerequisite to graduating from Howard. Ours was a Forum themed “Africa, My Perspective” It was a chance for us to tell the African narrative. The conversation can now be, ‘How does America collaborate with Africa’ and not necessarily ‘How does America help Africa’. For that one day, we decided we’d share the beautiful stories of Africa and the way we are shaping Africa despite the challenges faced. It was about how Francine, from Senegal has started a women’s investment club to give financial leverage to fellow women, how Yuvi from Kenya has co-founded a think tank that formulates policies while taking humanity in consideration so that they are better implemented. It was about how Angela from Uganda has started a project ‘Kitabu Buk’ to allow more school children to get books - and last we spoke after the Fellowship, she had received a shipment of books from Netherlands (partnerships!). It is how Nelson Mandela, (yes, that’s his real name) from Burundi, once a refugee himself, is giving back by raising several children himself, and plans to start an orphanage are underway. These are just a few examples. In the words of Akinyi, an educator from Kenya “We had hope in the 1960s when African countries were getting independence. Time for hope alone is over, now we are acting. If we depict Africa only with pictures such as that of a child begging for food, we forget the bigger picture - that of Africa feeding the world. This will remind us all that Africa isn’t a beggar, Africa is an equal player, a partner!”

As you can tell, I went to America to learn about the best practices we can contextualize and use at home, but I got more than that. I learnt so much from the other Fellows I was with. And I feel like I am using the wrong term – they are no longer just Fellows, they are friends. They are a new home I have in 19 other countries. They are my brothers and sisters. And that is probably the biggest win in all this. We learnt of our different cultures, broke some stereotypes and I left wanting to know more of Africa than ever before.
This wouldn’t have been possible without the U.S Embassy in Tanzania for deeming me worthy to participate this year, the U.S Department of State for funding this and IREX for organizing, the Mecca and all it’s wonderful people – Jeronimo, Dr. Lucinda, Dr. Bailey, Dr. Scott, Daniel, Anthony, Jade, Elton, Nana etc (who in six short weeks have a very special place in my heart… H.U? YOU KNOOOOW!!!), and the amazing people who sponsored so many of our activities, eg. Senator Mitchell. The Tanzanian Embassy in DC for being my Kiswahili speaking haven which made me feel right at home away from home. And my amazingly supportive family and friends who haven’t disowned me for my silence over the six weeks when I told them I’m mighty busy or used the time zone difference excuse. I love y’all so much!
Mostly, I’m grateful to God, where it all begins.

What’s next? Well, Dede has to get her career life in order. But also, PAYING THIS FORWARD. And luckily, the 41 other Tanzanian Fellows are with me on this. By the way, I’m the youngest Fellow from Tanzania – let me have my moment! Ujana raha! I’m amped to take on the tasks as a YALI Alumni, making my Tanzania a bit better and hopefully, we can get everyone involved in this. It takes a village! Lastly, I never imagined that I could be a Fellow but let’s all just dare greatly and never let the fear of striking out keep us from playing the game. (Quoting Babe Ruth on that line)
So hey, tell your story, will you?
Over to you, My Lord. Let’s write another victory story… Amen