Africa's Leadership: A Critique

Published on 24th May 2013

After 50 years of OAU and Independence, and 13 years into the 21st  Century, what is the future of African Leadership? Leadership remains a challenge in Africa. Alvin Toffler once remarked:“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

We've had two cases upon which to judge African leaders. The first case is about fighting colonialism and gaining independence for which most African countries attained and have enjoyed in the last fifty years. The second case is for African natives themselves who over time rose against leaders citing dictatorship, corruption, anarchy, abuse or disregard of the rule of law to say the least. They presented themselves as profound liberators and endeared themselves to their countrymen. Paradoxically, this new breed of ‘liberators’ have proved worse than their predecessors in many aspects. Ultimately, history is repeating itself as confirmed by Alvin Toffler's worry – we've a breed of political illiterates of the 21st Century.

The brutal Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and the 2007-08 post-election violence and heinous murders in Kenya all point to the failure of our leaders and the citizen’s' level of dissatisfaction with their leaders. The recent twist of occurrences in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Algeria among other African countries leaves many speculating which country will follow suit. There are wide fears that Uganda could implode, looking at how the recent Gen. Sejusa a.k.a Tinyefuza dossier case has been handled.

Africa's history over the last fifty years has been blighted largely by two areas of weakness:

•Capacity – ability to design and deliver relevant and practicable policies; and
•Accountability – how well a State answers to its people and implements set policies.

In his famous 1973 book “How Europe underdeveloped Africa,” the Guyanese historian, Walter Rodney seems to attribute Africa’s woes to colonialism. After analyzing the social, political and cultural dynamics of Pre-colonial Africa, Rodney laments the impact of European colonization on the Continent: “it was precisely in those years that in other parts of the world the rate of change was greater than ever before… Certainly in relative terms, Africa’s Position vis-a-vis its colonizers became more disadvantageous in the political, economic and military spheres.”

Kenyan  historian and political scientist, Ali Mazrui, holds a similar argument in his 1980 book: “The African condition: A Political Diagnosis” where he attributes Africa’s miserable condition partly to “the nature of the economic change which Western colonialism  fostered in Africa but also quickly recognizes that African leaders need to change their dependency mindset in order to overcome the situation!

It's useless crying over spilt milk. We must not continue to blame our failures on Colonialism! What has been so difficult to correct in fifty years?

The 21st century leadership is complex if  its key dynamics are ignored but simple if its rules are explored and rightly followed. For instance, in the past, some people (such as monarchs, chiefs and tyrants) became leaders by virtue of birth and invasion. These were seen as fountains of wisdom and custodians of power and might. They were often the most learned and were believed to have divine connection, fierce military power and wealth! Their subjects revered them because they feared persecution, social excommunication and to win their favor. Today, however, things have changed. Some ordinary citizens have more or equally the same education and wealth as their leaders. In fact, some even sponsor their candidates’ political campaigns.

Peter Drucker once observed: “We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.” Leaders should stop behaving like their bad predecessors. But nonetheless, emulate the noble character and works of great leaders like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. They should do more civic mobilization and support literacy programs. An elite society is easier led than an illiterate one! Leadership is a service for the common good and not personal gain. Whoever defaults should know that history is a judge with boundless jurisdiction and without chambers. History pronounces its harsh judgment when the time is ripe!

Africa leadership lacks fundamental principles and conviction. It is a form of human concoctions and accidental ascension to power or misplaced appointment. Undoubtedly, such leadership is characterized by countless errors of self – perpetuation, clinging to power, impunity, violation of human rights, lack of moral consciousness, self-centeredness and scarcity mentality syndrome leading to stealing of national resources, intimidation and blackmail, suppression of freedom of expression, big and less effective cabinet, political appointment  with no authority to execute due line duties! These nurture feelings of resentment, internal bickering, demonstrations and caucuses of disgruntled citizens.

Failure to learn, unlearn and re-learn plus ignoring the admonitions of their wise predecessors is the greatest killer cancer to African leadership of the 21st Century. Like Mahatma Gandhi once remarked: "That which shall kill us: Politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; and worship without sacrifice." And this is already happening. Where it hasn't reached, watch the space!

By Patrick Katagata

Leadership, organizational development & performance effectiveness consultant  - Uganda.

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