“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” These words by William Shakespeare meant little to me as I sat on the plane on my way to the United States in September 2005. But a good two and a half years later, and with a substantial number of life-changing experiences on hand, these words have formed the core of what has become my educational and life experience.

I have always been an individual with a wide variety of interests and as such I prefer to operate in an educational setup that allows me the flexibility to explore and brainstorm. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had to leave the shores of my homeland in order to find such an academic setup. Ghana has one of the best educational systems in Africa and has paved the way for young Africans to realize their dreams and contribute substantially to society. The unfortunate aspect of this ‘success’ story is the fact that the country is operating an educational system that was put in place decades ago. Consequently, despite the fact that there are educational facilities in place, many youth complete their secondary and tertiary education without the skills, knowledge or exposure necessary to take up positions in society as leaders and agents of change. The simple explanation for this is the fact that the educational system in Ghana does not meet the current needs of the Ghanaian society.

Mount Holyoke College is a private women’s liberal arts college in the United States. It is also a turning point in my life, perceptions, understanding of global issues, and most especially in my comprehension of the power of choice. In many African societies there is the widespread idea that only ‘elders in society’ can take important decisions or make substantial contributions. This notion, as well as many other misperceived ideologies, contributes to our inability to effect sustainable developmental change on our continent. We would rather listen to and implement the directives of foreigners than listen to what the people and youth – who coincidentally form a greater percentage of our respective populations – have to say. There have been past efforts aimed at introducing liberal arts components such as critical thinking into the educational systems of African countries. But these efforts have been thwarted with the excuse that we are imbibing western culture and values, and that providing a platform for young people to question authority is akin to providing youth with the tools to stage a rebellion. Unless we take a strong stand to involve young people and set up institutions that encourage critical-thinking among youth, we will remain in the canker of our current situations.

Is it possible to think outside the box and operate outside of what has been the norm in society for centuries? The answer to that question rests in our own backyard. In March 2002, Ghana’s first liberal arts-based university started operation with a pioneer class of 30 students on a small campus in Accra. What started as a mere dream of Patrick Awuah – a US-based Ghanaian citizen and former Microsoft employee – is a shining, real-life example today of the possibilities available to us as Africans and the power of young people in society. Ashesi University has made great strides in advancing education in Ghana and has formed strong and important partnerships with other educational institutions and agencies across the globe. Some members of Ashesi’s first graduating class went on to set up Dream Oval – a computer software development firm that is making important contributions to the information technology sector in Ghana.

The Ashesi example is one of many and has received international recognition. It is my fervent desire that there will be a replication of the Ashesi experience not only in Ghana, but across the African continent and in the Diaspora. In order for this to happen however, we need to realize four things as young leaders. First we need to realize that we do have the power to contribute to and change our current situations. We are the masters of our own destinies. Secondly, we ought to remember that we always have a choice regardless of obstructions. It is our responsibility as young leaders to inform ourselves and examine our situations so as not to be tricked into thinking that we have no choice in a matter. Deciding not to choose is choosing. Thirdly, we need to work towards being the change we want to see. Finally and most importantly, no contribution is too small. Strive at being the best you can be and doing the best you can do. So long as there are young people working towards a positive goal, the hope of Africa and the Diaspora continues to burn strong.

*This article was written by Jemila Abdulai and is an excerpt of the YOWLI 2008 Magazine.