Rabat – Three Moroccans gathered in Johannesburg last week to begin the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a one-year leadership training program sponsored by the Obama Foundation to “inspire Africa’s future leaders.”This year, three Moroccans were part of the carefully selected group of 200 young leaders from 44 African nations: 27-year-old Zineb Lahbabi, 31-year-old Hayat Essakati, and 34-year-old Ayman Cherkaoui are all young entrepreneurs or activists fighting for “a better Morocco.”“My goal is to raise civic awareness. I am convinced that social justice and economic development have a lot to do with how our civic behaviors,” said Lahbabi. On July 13, President Obama took to his Facebook account, writing: “This week, I’m traveling to Africa for the first time since I left office…. In South Africa, the Obama Foundation will convene 200 extraordinary young leaders from across the continent and I’ll deliver a speech to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.”‘A Master’s degree in just five days’“The program’s diversity is its primary richness,” Lahbabi, an activist and young leader, told Francophone outlet Telquel. Lahbabi extolled the program’s spirit, describing it as a platform that brings together bright youths who, despite their multiple backgrounds, are like-minded in their ambition to be drivers of change in their countries and communities.“The program focused on soft skills like leadership and storytelling, but it also entailed some more technical aspects like lobbying and public policies. I feel like I’ve just completed a Master’s degree in just five days.”Ayman Cherkaoui compared the program to spending a nice time in a “fabulous” holiday reserve in Greece. “I feel rejuvenated,” the 34-year-old said, speaking of the program’s training sessions as an energizing trip to re-engage with what inspired him in the first place.Inspiring line-up and speechesCherkaoui was especially grateful for the unique opportunity to meet some of the most recognizable names in African politics, including Sudanese- British businessman Mo Ibrahim, Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan, Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote (Africa’s richest man), and former president of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.In his Mandela lecture in Johannesburg on July 18, President Obama spoke about the inescapable necessity to commit to democracy, putting a special highlight on the rise of “strong men politics”—politicians who brazenly lie and undermine democratic institutions, he said. Later speaking to the Obama Leaders, as the YALI participants are called, President Obama urged them to be strategic in their thirst for change and to never give up on their aspiration to make an impact in their countries and in Africa as a whole. “Be bold, but be realistic,” he said.“It was a very powerful moment. He [Obama] gave us practical pieces of advice on the challenges that we will encounter. He gave us examples from his own political career and encouraged us to persevere in the pursuit of our missions,” said Lahbabi.