In Conversation with Anne Mosle and Dele Olojede

May 8, 2024  • Ascend at the Aspen Institute

In the second of a series of conversations with global leaders and thinkers held at Aspen Institute in Washington D.C, Aspen Institute Vice President Anne Mosle spoke with Dele Olojede, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for his coverage of the Rwandan genocide and an Aspen Global Leadership Network fellow.

As former foreign editor of Newsday, Dele had a front row seat to South Africa’s transition from Apartheid when Nelson Mandela was elected president. 2024 marks 30 years since the end of Apartheid in South Africa and the violent genocide in Rwanda.

“Can we recognize each other’s humanity?,” asked Anne. “Can we open our hearts and minds as well as our eyes to what is happening around us so we can contribute to building a good society?”

This is the foundation of the series, which was born out of the realization that deep conversations on leadership are needed to guide us through uncertain times. 

Dele and Anne discussed the lessons that can be gleaned from the two vastly different approaches to leadership and trust during the tumultuous changes in Rwanda and South Africa. They explored how grand societal ideals can run into the hard realities of day-to-day governance, and examined the necessity of different types of leadership for different circumstances, along with what leadership insights from abroad could be applied to the U.S.

“South Africa was coming from an extraordinary moral high. It was bound to not maintain that level,” said Dele. “Once Mandela passed from the scene, the successors, not surprisingly, were not going to match Mandela’s level…most leaders are going to be hardly average and frequently below average so you must set up a system that mitigates this potential…a system of balances that prevents bad leaders from doing too much damage.”   

At times, as Dele acknowledged, it can be easier for an outsider to have clarity on a country. With that in mind, the journalist offered a bit of cautious hope about the future of the U.S. that was rooted in a historical perspective. 

“This country, more than most societies that I know, has such internal dynamism that it changes its directions when it’s doing the wrong thing,” said Dele. “The country continuously pivots and tries to adjust when it’s not doing the right thing. My worry these days is that the muscles are a little bit tired and whether the country still has that tensile strength to pivot and change direction the way it’s always done.”

Dele added that it’s critical to be undeterred from the seemingly daunting challenges of change. “Let’s not depress ourselves to think that the challenges we face, whether in the U.S. or South Africa or Rwanda or China or India or elsewhere, are so big and insurmountable that we have an excuse to be become paralyzed and do nothing,” he said. “We should be impelled to action and constantly seek ways to make things better.”

One important lesson from the talk was that leadership lies in all of us and small actions matter. 

“If we could ignite and crack open our hearts, as James Baldwin said so beautifully, crack open our hearts and unlock our civic imaginations, let us aim higher,” said Anne. “We all want to be something bigger than ourselves.” 

“We all want to be a little bit more, a little bit better,” said Anne. “And the environment right now is not necessarily, at least in the United States, always calling or making that easy. But I invite us all to really think a bit more on your personal balcony. What is the power, possibility and passion you have in yourself, in your role?” 

You can watch the first episode of In Conversation with Anne Mosle, a discussion honoring Martin Luther King Jr. with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jonathan Eig here and subscribe to the Ascend newsletter here.