For forty years or so, African leaders have played a pivotal role in derailing the economic and political stability of the countries under their stewardships. In half the period of colonial rule, they have indulged in a reckless game of financial profligacy and violated human rights with impunity. It has now been universally acknowledged that bad leadership has a direct correlation to the development of a nation. The root cause of Africa’s endemic problems has partly been traced to the continent’s coterie of bad leaders. African leaders are generally known to have created intractable conflicts, misused and abused power, violated human rights abuse and driven their people further into the bowels of poverty. It is now generally believed that for Africa to reclaim its rightful position in the international system it must do something about its “bad leaders.”
Politicians usually do not make “good leaders.” As the British scientific journal Nature Today once pointed out in a study on leadership, politicians are uniquely simple personalities. In layman’s terms, that would mean they lack personality. The question then is: if we are to look for leadership qualities or inculcate them, what will they be? We often hear that leaders are born, not made. Although this opinion has been widely accepted for centuries, many experts are now rethinking this assumption. Most experts now believe that the ability to lead is not limited to the few born with exceptional talent. Even though an inborn potential doesn’t hurt, leadership is now viewed as a set of skills that, with proper training, can be learned. But what is leadership?
The qualities of good leadership are hard work, reliable communication, openness to new ideas, capability of listening to both sides of the story, wise planning and common sense, ability to stand under adversity, standing well under praise, knowing the facts before making decisions, and not penalizing people for good behavior or rewarding evil people. Leadership skills can be used for the great good or great evil. Unfortunately, most of our African leaders have chosen the latter.
Intemperate events in Africa have provided its leaders with golden opportunities to exercise their leadership skills. Unfortunately, many of them have chosen to use them against their people’s interests. Even those who have recognized their mistakes have been unwilling to admit them. In Africa it is rare for leaders to ever own up to their mistakes, leave alone take the blame and seek forgiveness.
There is rampant abuse of power in Africa. Leaders are verse to exploiting, manipulating, compromising those under their authority and using charisma to cover craft, deception, and hunger for power. Underneath their style and charm, these leaders have been unable to make good decisions and handle the affairs of their nations wisely.
African leaders forget that there is plenty of room for everyone. They are unhappy when others show leadership abilities. They eschew up-coming leaders, and transform themselves into the nation, consequently making a challenge to them tantamount to challenging national interests. They then create personality cults and become omnipotent. In feats to simplify their country’s maps, they name streets and public facilities such as airports, schools, stadia and hospitals after themselves. Many have not only acquired monarchical tendencies such as printing their images on currencies while they are still alive but they have also turned themselves into deities that must be worshipped and glorified.
While one of the greatest challenges facing a leader is training others to become leaders, one of the best tests for good leadership is its willingness and ability to train another person for the position occupied by the incumbent. Many African leaders not only fail to follow Moses’ example of appointing successors who are capable of delivering the people to the Promised Land but the few who do seem to deliberately appoint those they think will protect their interests and people once Providence has recalled them. African leaders should begin preparing others to take their places so that when they leave, although many do not think they will ever do so, their countries can continue functioning normally. Unfortunately, many prepare others to create chaos instead of taking over political power in the interest of the nation.
Ideas by leaders may prove to be attractive but they must be judged by whether or not they are consistent with the nation’s interests. When people claim to speak for the nation, we must judge them by asking a series of questions: Are they telling the truth? Is their focus on the nation? Are their words consistent with what is already known to be true? Do they speak the truth while directing the people towards the Promised Land, or do they speak persuasively while directing the people towards themselves? Many leaders have said the right things but still lead their nations in the wrong directions. Africa, unlike any other region in the world, has had the most colorful and romanticized ideologies ranging from pan-Africanism to negritude, authenticity, humanism, nyayoism, African socialism and God knows what else. These “political ideologies” have turned out to be bankrupt ideas, or at best empty slogans.
With leadership comes responsibility. When a leader makes a mistake, it is the nation that suffers. Many take decisions without counsel and input from the people, or after soliciting only for advice that supports their decision. African leaders have surrounded themselves with incompetent subordinates because they feel threatened by competent ones. They have a penchant for taking highly educated individuals, lobotomizing them, and then turning them into cheerleaders and court jesters. A good leader needs and uses wise counselors.
No leader can lead the nation single-handedly. Modern African States have become complex. As their needs have increased so have conflicts and disagreements. Due to this complex reality, African leaders can no longer make decisions alone. Many seem to be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. This may be due to their arrogance that they know all or fear that asking for advice may imply they are bankrupt of ideas. Those who pretend to ask for advice later overlook it even when honestly given. The ancient Greek philosopher Isocrates once said that the greatest loyalty an adviser could give a leader is by being frank and candid. It is more helpful to the leader, Isocrates averred, to surround him - or her-self with those who disagree with him or her than it is to rely on those who mimic his or her point of view. Isocrates noted that: “frankness is a virtue in a counselor who must risk the ire of the (leader) foolish enough to be offended when contradicted.”
By being receptive to the ideas of others and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect a leader will help ensure the happiness, and success of the people. Criticism is always directed at leaders, no matter how good they are. Some criticisms are due to love for the nation and should not be misconstrued as unpatriotic, treasonable or seditious. However, what distinguishes a good from a bad leader is the ability to listen and take constructive criticism without spending valuable time and energy worrying about those who may oppose their leadership.
Instead of cultivating loyalty and trust in democracy, African leaders have demanded that loyalty of public servants and the masses should be expressed to the people who determine whether or not food gets on their plates. In Africa, civil servants serve at the pleasure of the presidents, who appointed them, and not the people, who pay their salaries. To get a key position in the government one has to be the fiercest loyalist rather than most competent and best qualified. In Africa, it is better for a civil servant to be loyal and wrong than correct and disloyal. There is a fairly simple explanation for this obsession with loyalty: the insecurity of the African leaders. The more secure a leader is – intellectually and psychologically - the more he or she will value disagreements. Most African nations have now been transmogrified to reflect the lifestyles of their evil leaders. Occasional wrongdoing has gradually been turned into a way of life.
Why are most Africans spiteful, misogynic and egoistical people? African leaders have traumatized them to the point where they are in desperate states and on self-destruct courses. By using brutal means to rule and senselessly looting the public resources, African leaders have left the people in a state of shock and despair. In view of this reality, it comes as no shock that Africans are now imitating their leaders in various ways - they are abrasive, kleptomaniac, debauched, deceitful and contumacious. Unfortunately, even those African leaders who had suffered tremendously before coming to power have not reached out with sensitivity to their hurting people.
How a leader interacts with the people carries a lot of weight. By getting in tune with people’s emotions, needs, obstacles, and strong points a leader can effectively mobilize the forces towards national goals. For optimum results, the people must understand the national goals and be enlightened to alternative strategies and ways of attaining them. And a good leader is the teacher that inculcates this information! The ability to keep people focused on the national goals and tactfully steer them in the attainment of those goals is what leadership is all about.
A good leader does not neglect the self. A solid self-awareness and steady confidence is certainly helpful. Tenacity, pluck, and curiosity are beneficial attributes that will convince others to follow a leader. The intelligence to accept feedback and learn from it and the flexibility to alter ineffective habits will ensure one’s s success as a leader. A leader who has inspiration to do good and passion for the nation will quickly discover that his ways are contagious and will quickly infect the people. To be an effective leader is not an easy task as it takes vision, flexibility, knowledge, communication, and hard work. But those who have the desire and the determination to sharpen their wits, hone their skills, and accentuate their virtues can pull away and deftly lead the herd to success. Africans need leaders who will show them where to start and what direction to take in reconstructing their shattered nations. Africans are longing for plain-spoken leaders with charisma and visions to create new, politically and economically vibrant nations that are just and independent.
May those who want to lead Africa please stand up now!