Weltanschauung: A Loaded Loanword with Key Lessons for Africa’s Leadership

Published on 21st May 2019

A Choking Continent Panting for a River of Rejuvenation

From its Germanic origin, Weltanschauung (worldview) communicates its original meaning in a compact and effective way. Loanwords are foreign words assimilated wholesome into the English language to maintain their integrity of meaning and impact. Schadenfreude (the pleasure that someone derives from another person's misfortune) is another salient example. At a time when debt diplomacy is gaining ground in Africa with some countries choking with escalating foreign loans, lessons from such rich loanwords make for a refreshing river of free lessons to rejuvenate the worldview of African leaders – inherent in their conception, philosophy, and the broad view of the world: Weltanschauung.

No leader is spared the challenge. Each must engage a transformed worldview when facing the conflicts around the delicate triangle of power play, partnerships, and participation in ways that take cognizance of sensitive stakeholder perceptions. Why should we care about “worldview” when handling a topic as broad and complex as leadership? The leaders have not only been too late, but they continue to lag in the global race to transforming the livelihoods of the citizenry they serve. Four critical areas requiring a change of worldview emerge.

Changing the Worldview from Reactive to Proactive Action, Short-term to Long-term Thinking

Generation after generation, little has changed in terms of a leadership that exhibits conviction and sacrifice to serve the long-term common good. Instead, there is mounting evidence of leadership that perpetuates personal convenience and reactive responses to short-term stimuli. Selfless service and intergenerational long-term plans cannot thrive in this scenario. Ultimately, poor governance models and frameworks prevail. Salient examples abound:

  • Tree planting is not a sustained strategic action, but a piecemeal and isolated activity reserved for commemorating national holidays and visits by “VIPs.” Can this approach achieve and sustain the recommended forest cover?
  • Disaster prevention measures and compliance monitoring reach a short-term peak after major fatalities. That is when leaders communicate eloquent explanations of robust policies and their “resolve” to ensure strict enforcement.
  • New, ambitious plans are launched with combat-ready gusto even before completing the foundational systems and plans. Education, health and housing sectors have been key casualties of this trend. Plans, if any, hardly survive the change of governments because they are not institutionalised.

Changing the Worldview from Linear Thinking to Systems Thinking

The culture of glorifying isolated events loses grasp of the dynamic view of reality revealed in the patterns producing these events. Again, salient examples abound:

  • Incentives for national heroes are reserved for public holidays, but without proper and process-driven preparations supported by a transparent and inclusive nomination formula. Cases of debating which fair formula should have been applied to guide decisions long after giving out prizes are not uncommon.
  • Ethnic divisions and historical injustices are fanned towards elections. The main goal? To serve the ego and greed of politicians. Otherwise respectable opinion leaders then act like shadow stakeholders as they urge citizens to calm down, trust in the divine, and accept the outcomes of the flawed processes. Negative peace is the result, which is hardly sustainable.

These are heart-breaking cases of linear thinking and reactive combat, a distant cry from the recommended systems thinking and proactive leadership. Without a doubt, this kind of leadership is wanting in what Barry Richmond calls “10,000 Metre Thinking” and “Dynamic Thinking.” These thinking skills afford us a big-picture of the structure and behaviour of emergent problems, their interconnectedness, and their interdependencies in the bigger whole. One key aspect of the desired systemic view is akin to a panoramic view of the landscape from a jet airliner on a bright day, hence the name “10,000 Metre Thinking.”

Changing the Worldview from Wasting Emotions on Trivialities to a Wise Focus on the Big Picture

Traffic jam situations in key urban centres illustrate this example. Leaders with a caged worldview act like a driver stuck in a traffic jam. The driver reacts to aggressions from a fellow driver crossing the lane without courtesy. Sticking the neck out through a narrow window space to hurl an insult or two is a common response to this provocation. Personal convenience and readiness to fight dominate this scene, as opposed to the civility and conviction of responsible behaviour for the greater common good. Wasting emotional energy on such petty grievances takes the centre stage, as if the traffic jam was the only problem in the city. Here, the broad perspective of “10,000 Metre Thinking” offers the vantage position from which a transformed worldview can appreciate that there are many other problems in the urban region with deep roots, such as crime, unplanned buildings, food scarcity, water scarcity and quality, energy crisis and garbage collection challenges, among others. Isn’t the traffic jam just a junior sibling in a large family of problems with deep roots in years of corruption and neglect with failures in administration, management, planning, and overall leadership?

Changing the Worldview from a Depressing “Fixed Mindset” to a Liberating “Growth Mindset”

A story is told of two men who were arranging stones on a construction site. Each was asked what he was doing. One angrily retorted that what he was doing was obvious to the questioner – arranging stones, simple and clear! The other man, beaming with a broad smile, answered, “I’m building a cathedral!” The first example is a synecdoche for the Africa we don’t want, one of complaints and irresponsibility without any vision for the distant future. The second example is the Africa we want! An Africa whose leaders are inspiring shared visions and responsibilities, humble servants exercising integrity and a moral response to opportunities, change-makers, and creators of a greater tomorrow with a strong sense of intergenerational responsibility.

Towards a Rising and Refreshed Continent

We need a rejuvenation of mentality for life-changing leadership. Transforming the worldview remains the central challenge. There is an urgent need for culture change to embrace a new level of thinking devoid of the limiting mental blocks and short-sighted responses which have for too long defined the worldview of Africa’s leaders. As this malady gets passed on to the younger generations, all the labour-market opportunities of a demographic dividend also get wasted.

Africa has missed many growth opportunities because of poor leadership. If ever there is anything to live for, then it should be the conscious cultivation of a new worldview through sound character, strong institutions, organisational culture, and sound policies and programmes. But if anything was ever worth dying for, it must be the call for transformational leaders in every country to stand firm for the virtues, convictions, and visions that will see them bequeath successive generations prosperous nation-states with functional systems and institutions which are largely sustained  through homegrown resources and products.

By Nashon Adero,

The author is a youth mentor, writer, and lecturer at Taita Taveta University
Email: [email protected]

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