My Mandela Rhodes Experience

Well, I have received tons of messages from you guys reminding me I promised to share my Mandela Rhodes experience before the end of the year. So, let us get down to it.

There are few people who fascinate me; people whose historical precedence and contemporary stories inspire me so much. People like Barack Obama, Morgan Freeman, Nelson Mandela etc. This piece is definitely not about the high-flying achievements of these people or how they carved a niche for themselves. This discuss is about an experience that I believe is a worthwhile legacy that has seen the fusion of two dissimilar  but strong personalities (a discussion for another time): Nelson Mandela and Cecil John Rhodes. This experience is the Mandela Rhodes experience.


In my opinion, the Mandela Rhodes scholarship is the most prestigious scholarship for Africans tenable in Africa. It is designed to select potential leaders across fields whose blend of character and intellect, Africa will take pride. I love the scholarship because it emphasizes academic and leadership excellence. The scholarship seeks for scholars with precedence that reflects: leadership capacity, entrepreneurial spirit, philanthropism and act of reconciliation that embraces human diversity.


So how on God’s green earth did I got to know about the Mandela Rhodes?

In early 2014, I was completing my undergraduate program, so I applied for the Mandela Rhodes (MR) scholarship to do an MPhil program in Financial Mathematics at the University of Cape Town. At that time, you had to send your application via email (but now the application is done online). Well, I simply applied without any expectation. In August 2014, while at the National Youth Service regimented camp, I got an email from the Mandela Rhodes Foundation (MRF) team requesting I submit an essay on: the lessons from the life of Nelson Mandela Rhodes and Cecil John Rhodes…. Well at the end, I came up with something before the deadline and sent it to them. Then, I got to the next stage and was invited to South Africa for the final interview. However, thanks to the Synagogue building saga in Lagos that strained the bilateral relationship between Nigeria and South Africa. I could not get a visa and so that opportunity flew out of the window. Believe me I was devastated, but in the words of Nelson Mandela “the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”

Okay…going forward in time. After my service year, I got another scholarship (Africa Institute for Mathematical Sciences post-graduate scholarship) to South Africa. In the cause of my program, I had the opportunity to meet some of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation team, it was lovely meeting them in person, it felt I had known them for so long. So, when I heard the scholarship was out, I gave it a second shot in 2017. This time you had to go through four selection stages and I learnt over 9000 applicants had applied…Well for those who believe in God, I did my best and left the rest for God to handle. I got through every stage down to the final stage where I was invited again to South Africa (Nelson Mandela residence). I was anxious to meet the 90 people who had made it to the final stage and also to be inspired by the residence of a man I admire.

The room was filled with scholars from different parts of Africa; it was an engaging time for everyone discussing philosophy, science, politics, literature etc. as each person got invited to the interview room. I love some of the conversations that permitted some level of heated factual disagreement without necessarily resulting into conflict. After the interview, we (the five scholars selected from Nigeria) went back to Nigeria and waited anxiously, calling each other to know who was selected and who was not. Luckily for me, I got a call one busy morning at the office. The caller introduced herself and requested if I had some time to talk — Hmmm – — Why won’t I? LOL. I excused myself and went to the conference room to answer the call. Then she dropped that precious line I have waited to hear for 2 years: “You have been selected as one of the 2018 Mandela Rhodes Scholar.” I could not scream because I suddenly loss my voice…. Yeah, you most likely know what I mean.

I never knew it was going to be a very decisive week for me, because I also got another scholarship in Europe for a doctorate program. It was difficult but I had to decline the Mandela Rhodes scholarship. A friend asked me: What if it was a masters in Europe, would I have decline the MR scholarship? Well, I do not think there would have been anything to think about, my choice would have been the Mandela Rhodes scholarship. The reason is simple: University of Cape Town is better than most schools in Europe and the Mandela Rhodes leadership training package is one that is unique. You have a very generous full bursary + unparalleled networking + customized leadership development program + the prestige of being associated with two iconic names. Please what else can you ask for? I strongly believe that in years to come these crop of scholars will seat in the same room someday making decisions that will affect Africa.

So what is the formula to win this scholarship? I am sorry there is no FORMULA! Sorry, I have to disappoint you, but that is the truth, “NO FORMULA”. However, my observations interacting with some of these scholars show that they are rounded, they have a good understanding of what they are passionate about and have followed through this passion meticulously. Therefore, for those interested in the scholarship, be on the look-out early 2018, take your time to write a very good essay, and have an objective friend criticize the essay. Most importantly be yourself, but that does not mean you project your stupidity and say “I am being myself”. Keep it simple, think of practical experiences that distinguishes you. If you do not have any, start building one. It is never too late.


So am I in the best position to talk about the Mandela Rhodes experience? Hell No! Listen to these wonderful scholars and aspire to be a Mandela Rhodes scholar.


The Story so far:



Nelson Mandela’s legacy and leadership style:


What my Mandela Rhodes scholarship mean to me:







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