Growing Leadership – Innovation Lessons for Africa

Published on 31st March 2014

Nigeria and Ghana, are like siblings. We quarrel and disagree occasionally, but we love each other. Indeed, it always comes as a surprise to realise that we do not have a common border. During the colonial times, there was a lot of interaction between the intelligentsia of our two countries. Many of them received their higher education in the same institutions in the common imperial centre of Great Britain, and the regular annual sporting competition between our Achimota School and your Kings College spawned many life-long relationships. There have been ugly episodes, like when we expel citizens of each other from our countries, and there are healthier and happier events when we clash in sports. I suspect an encounter on the football field between our two countries remains one of the best in the world.

The focus of leadership has and should always be geared towards the provision of a better future. Effective leaders are necessarily innovators. As one writer puts it, "Today's successful leaders will be those who are innovative of mind - with the ability to embrace new ideas and routinely challenge old ones."

It has been more than fifty years since we attained political independence, but our hopes for prosperity and attaining a proper place among the comity of nations remain unfulfilled. We can trace many of our problems to the hangover of colonialism, but we must also accept that Africa’s failures are largely the result of the failure of leadership on our part. The long years of military adventurism in our politics have not helped; the belief that there are short cuts to finding solutions to our problems have certainly not helped either. It is a great relief that finally a consensus has emerged that the best way to govern ourselves is through multi-party democratic governance. The challenge that we face now is to make democratic governance deliver on the promise of prosperity and individual freedoms. That is the only way to ensure that the peoples of Africa have a stake in their governments.

The bigger challenge is to be able to adapt to the constantly changing world and find solutions to the problems that come with the new world economic order and our increasing populations.
There are many development challenges ahead for Africa. The World Bank rightly identifies these as undiversified production structures, huge infrastructural deficits, underdeveloped human capital, weak governance, fragile states, and a need for women and youth empowerment.

You could, if you were so minded, look on the extent of the problems that face our continent and region and feel overwhelmed and depressed. But we are making progress. The world’s fastest-growing economies in the first decade of this century have been in sub-Saharan Africa, and this has led the reputable British journal, The Economist, to call the continent "the surprising success story of the past decade" and project that over the next five years, the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart. What the Economist does not point out is that in May 2000, its cover page had called Africa, a “hopeless continent.” That is the significance of the change of the last decade.

To be able to make that breakthrough and move from having potential to achieving this potential, we need innovative leadership that can deliver opportunities and prosperity to Africa’s long-suffering peoples. We all now have a pretty good idea about the things that hold us back from making rapid progress. Our economies are not structured to meet the needs and provide opportunities for our people. What Africa needs, above all, is value addition – and this starts with adding value to our human capital through an education system that provides every child with the skills to realize their full potential. Africa needs a confident, educated workforce to be able to compete effectively in the global economy. That is why, for my part, I made and will continue to make education the foundation for my vision to build a knowledge-based, industrialised economy in Ghana. Access to free, universal, quality, basic education is the key to participation in the new global economy. Our human potential has not yet been developed to match and capitalize on the exploitation of our continent’s rich resources. Until we bridge this gap, we cannot compete successfully in the global market and we cannot create dignified and confident societies.

Over six decades ago, on May 9th1950, a few nations of Europe, in response to a proposal from French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, started on a new journey. When he made the proposal that has today led to the European Union, the European continent was just five years removed from the Second World War; a war that had broken the back of Europe and spilled the blood of so many, including some of our own. Monsieur Schuman knew that the European continent, that had taken the world to war twice in a generation, needed to turn its back on war and embrace peace and development. Aided by the highly innovative Marshall Plan that was launched by America, Europe was gradually rebuilding itself, but the fear remained that, unless something extra was put in place, Europe would drift into war again.

Today, the European Union has a market of 503 million people or 7.3% of the world population — the world’s third largest population after China and India – one currency and the free movement of goods, services and people across twenty-seven countries. The EU in 2012 generated a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of 16.584 trillion US dollars, constituting approximately 23% of global nominal GDP and 20% when measured in terms of purchasing power parity, which is the largest economy by nominal GDP and the second largest economy by GDP in the world.

The single currency, the EURO, has increased efficiency, lowered the cost of doing business and improved transparency in pricing. The overall effect has been to make Europe a much stronger economic and political player on the world stage.

Here in West Africa, since 1975, we have had the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS to us Anglophones, and the CEDEAO to the Francophones. The principal reason for its creation was inter-regional commerce and co-operation. There was a clear recognition that the countries of West Africa would be a more effective economic bloc and have a stronger political voice, if they came together. Subsequently, provision was also made for solving inter-state conflicts, as well as grave intra-state ones too. While we have made progress, we still have a very long way to go. We have made some definite strides in solving the many armed conflicts that have plagued our region, with Mali the outstanding issue.

But we have not made much headway in addressing the problem of commerce and infrastructural development or the provision of social services for our people. I suggest that, unless and until we come to terms fully with our political arrangements, we shall make no progress. For we have been here before. At the threshold of the end of colonialism, West Africa held great promise. Ghana led the way and, working with other West African patriots, ensured the total liberation of our region and continent. We cannot deny the fact that the potential that our liberation from colonial rule brought was basically squandered on the altar of misplaced priorities, greed, and a cynical departure from the ideals we expressed in the colonial struggle in the first place.

Almost fifty years later and after countless coups d'etat, failed development policies and emergence from the Cold War, West Africa is finally beginning to find its feet again. We must embrace this forward march, this renaissance, with all our strength and with the best of intentions.

Today, while the EU is central to the lives of Europeans, ECOWAS is very peripheral to the lives of most West Africans. And it is not for the lack of plans or even rules and regulations. It is simply that there has been a distinct lack of political will on the part of leadership in the region.

We are committed to introducing a common currency, the ECO, but so far there is no sign this will become reality. We have committed ourselves to a Common Agricultural Policy, but there is no sign anybody outside the offices of ECOWAS has even heard about this, never mind any sign that we are working towards achieving this. To solve our energy problems, we have committed to the West African Gas Pipeline and developed a master plan of fourteen priority transmission projects under the West African Power Pool, but while the Gas Pipeline has started, the Power Pool is yet to take off. And yet we all know that unless we resolve the energy problems that we face, we cannot meaningfully embark upon the industrialization process that is crucial to our ability to transform our economies. We have on the books a Common Tariff regime, but it is yet to be put into effect. On the books, ECOWAS would seem to have the right policies, but the policies are yet to be translated into effective instruments that would impact the lives of the over quarter-of-a-billion people who live in West Africa.

Our problem, I suggest, has been leadership. The implementation of these plans has been left to technocrats and bureaucrats. However well-meaning they may be, our region cannot make the bold transforming changes it needs to make without visionary political leadership. We need leadership that is focused on the region and not on individual countries. We need leadership, not just in politics, but also in the professions like Medicine and Science, Technology and Industry, Business and Law. We need leadership that sees and appreciates the value of ECOWAS.

The European Union took off because the political leadership of France and Germany decided to make it work. The talk today might be of bureaucrats in Brussels being the power behind the EU, but the truth of the matter is, without the belief and determination of the political leadership, the EU dream would have remained just that, a dream!

I suggest that Nigeria must provide that leadership. Nigeria must provide the political leadership and passion to translate the ECOWAS dream into reality. You have the numbers, you have the economic muscle and, dare I say that, you owe it to the region. Once the political will is evident, visionary leaders in the professions can work together to make ECOWAS a true regional market. Throughout the ages, our traders and celebrated market women, in particular, have always managed to conduct trading activities across the countries of the region, but they have done so in spite of the difficulties put in their way by governments and officialdom. Political leaders must encourage such entrepreneurs to look first to our region and then to build transparent, competitive relationships that can accelerate our development. The possibilities are endless. Just a small example: think with me for a moment about the prospects of Ghana selling $2 billion worth of salt to Nigeria and the ripple effects that volume of trade in such a simple commodity, which Nigeria now imports from other continents, can have on our economies.

It might seem to you in Nigeria that with your oil you are operating in a larger world market already and do not need the region. It might seem to us in Ghana that with our newly discovered oil we can join the big league on our own. Maybe we should be keeping one eye on the news about fracking and the real possibility that the dynamics of energy economy might be about to change dramatically. Ten years ago it was envisioned that, by 2015, Africa would account for 25% of all US crude oil imports. Today we know that with the onset of fracking or hydraulic fracturing, the US and Canada and the UK are able to tap unconventional oil and gas deposits, thus reducing substantially their dependence on petroleum imports. In other words, our oil might no longer be the black gold it used to be. It is the responsibility of innovative leadership to think ahead and be ready for the changes that lie ahead.

When we think of West Africa and Africa before our individual countries, we are not just being pan-Africanists, we are being true nationalists, because what makes West Africa better will make each of our individual countries better and more prosperous. France and Germany have driven European integration since the 1950s. These two nations are among the most enthusiastic proponents of the further integration of the EU. They are sometimes described as the "twin engine" or "core countries". I believe Nigeria and Ghana can become the Germany and France of West African Integration.  Both countries account for about 61 percent of population and 68 percent of GDP in ECOWAS. Both countries are already closely linked, with bilateral non-oil trade between the two countries increasing from less than US$15 million before 2000 to more than US$130 million in 2010, according to COMTRADE data. While the share of non-oil exports from Ghana to Nigeria increased from less than 0.5 percent in the late 1990s to about 1.9 percent of global exports in 2010, a recent working paper estimates the potential for Ghana’s exports to Nigeria at more than 10 times of current exports and the potential for bilateral trade at twice the observed flows.

Together, we must work to create West African and African winners in the global village of industry, trade and commerce. As these winners advance and build their fortunes, they will create, with their ideas and capital, well-paying jobs for thousands of others. In the latest Forbes list of billionaires, I notice that there is one West African, who is a Nigerian, the redoubtable Aliko Dangote.

I look forward to the day, in our lifetime, when there will be at least ten West Africans on the list of billionaires instead of one. Let there be an era in which, in the context of a more collaborative West Africa, these wealthy West Africans will collaborate to build refineries, petrochemical plants, industries and modern farms. Let us create the atmosphere to enable them industrialize to feed the market of half a billion people that we shall soon reach. As these giants of West Africa emerge, let their capital be welcome in any country in the region. Wherever they choose to go, let them create jobs and wealth. In the process, they will need, and therefore, create work for professionals and ordinary people. We have in the past been very welcoming of entrepreneurs from each other’s countries in the region. The legendary Chief Biney of Ghana made his fortune in Port Harcourt, here in Nigeria; and recently our dearly missed Herbert Osei Badu and others have been successful executives in the oil industry here in Nigeria. On the other hand, important Nigerian banks have entered the Ghanaian market and been welcomed with open arms. Indeed, they have enhanced significantly the quality of competition in the financial sector in Ghana.

But it is on the small scale business that there is the greatest need to make ECOWAS work. There are too many hindrances in their way as they try to operate and yet they are invaluable cogs in the wheel of development. For the last six decades, France and Germany, working together, have been the keys to the success of the European Union.

In the same vein, Ghana and Nigeria together can be the engine for growth of our region. I am aware that, in the realities of West African life, Cote d’Ivioire, Senegal and Guinea are equally important components of that engine. We owe it to the region to unleash the energy and ingenuity of the West African and get corrupt and incompetent government officials off his/her back, and, with a market projected soon to be half a billion people, the sky will be the limit. It is time for those who believe in regional integration to give enthusiastic support to Community decisions and inspire confidence and integrity in the structural organs of ECOWAS.

Above all, we must be clear in our minds about the ties that bind us together. Our nations and peoples subscribe to common values of governance, i.e. the principles of democratic accountability, respect for human rights and the rule of law. We must provide leadership that has respect for the people and would work to transform our economies. Our people deserve no less and the dream of prosperity is within our grasp. Let us be aware that other regional organisations on the continent, SADC in southern Africa and the East African Community in eastern Africa, are already making vigorous strides down that path. Let us match them and establish the conditions for West African prosperity in the decades ahead. 

By Nana Akufo-Addo

The author is a Ghanaian politician.

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