The Role of Intellectuals in Shaping Leadership in Africa

Published on 22nd August 2016

Africa is entangled in a web of socio-economic problems whose causes are rooted in both subjective and objective conditions due to leadership. In spite of Africa hosting millions of skilled and talented innovators, the continent’s leaders are still struggling to stimulate and retain its strongest resource-the people, who live in unnecessary frustration, hopelessness, poverty, disease and death. The continent has not been able to produce an African brand from the billions of tons of raw materials which it exports to the West due to non- progressive, naïve, vision-less, proxy implants, opportunistic and totally compromised leadership. Streamlining leadership in Africa is necessary to cure the said afflictions.

The continent’s intellectuals are crucial agents of change. What is the role of African intellectuals? Does a symbiotic relationship exist between African intellectuals and the African political leadership? If it does, is it obligate or facultative? These are some of the questions that one is bound to ponder over in order to address the issue of how intellectuals can shape leadership in Africa.


Leadership is the single most important aspect of organizational/political life as per Johnson, 2005; Northouse, 2004. It is the ability of one to influence a group to behave in a certain manner.  It involves establishing a clear vision for the group; sharing that vision with the group; providing information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision; coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders. A leader should step up in times of crisis, and should be able to think and act creatively in difficult situations.


An Intellectual is a very educated person whose interests are studying and carrying out careful thinking. Intellectuals have wisdom and foresight. They apply their wisdom, foresight and vision to awaken the society.

Africa’s Afflictions due to Leadership

Africa is the world’s richest continent in terms of resources. 50% of the world’s gold; 90% of its cobalt; 40% of its potential hydroelectric power and 65% of its manganese, hails from Africa. In addition, the continent has millions of acres of untilled land, as well as other resources.  (Filippouli, 2013). The continent has however not fared well on socio-political, economic and prosperity indicators.  

The role of intellectuals in the society

Three key factors in nurturing intellectuals are; knowledge; ability and the willingness to awaken society; and in doing so for a noble cause or purpose. Lack of any of the said elements is inconsistent with the definition of an intellectual.  

Einsteins once observed that ‘The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.’ Therefore intellectuals should use their capacity to contribute to steering society away from negatively-impacting consequences that they foresee. (Gian Tu Trung, 2013). Intellectuals need good communication skills to enable them articulate their vision for a better society.  

How Intellectuals can shape Leadership in Africa

Africa can take a quantum leap into the loop of modernity through the genius of its people and the abundance of its natural resources. Intellectuals have to put hands on the deck in a concerted effort to re-affirm African dignity through cultural, economic and political progress.

Intellectuals should forge nationalism, instigate critical debates, usher in new ways of thinking and help lead new social systems. It is a very serious moral indictment that while Africa makes up 12% of the world’s population, It only accounts for only 1% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product and 2% of world trade. In spite of the existing political suppression and harassment, African Intellectuals should as a matter of necessity assume a for more meaningful role in the socio-political life and engage political leadership in a complimentary but critical relationship.

African intellectuals have to reconstruct the African story. They should challenge the prevailing climate of falsehoods, distortion and outright lies about Africa and Africans. They should build a form of organic African discourse that puts the African at the centre of existence. Without Africa’s own internally created thought-systems, the continent risks being capitulated to historical mendacities. The current crop of African intellectuals should reconstruct African history to “restore the historical consciousness of the African people and reconquer the Promethean Consciousness.”

Conclusion and Recommendation

Kepa Artaza reminds us that the definition of the term intellectual always divided those who took a view of intellectuals as simply men of ideas from those who associated the intellectual with a commitment to political social change. Throughout the history of colonial domination in Africa, the latter concept of an intellectual was volarised. Most pre-independence intellectuals were absorbed in the new states as the nucleus of cadres to lead the new nation to the future. Those who remained outside the state became the first to bear the brunt of deformities of post colonial independence. Due to their interrogating nature and free political inquiry, intellectuals in post independent Africa faced the prospect of political marginalization. This frozen African leadership and the intellectuals bode ill for the renewal of Africa. The French revolution is an example of episodes of the transformative impact of intellectuals on their respective societies by not only subjecting pet philosophical formulas of the day to the light of rational integration but, also unleashing new paradigms on societies.

African intellectuals  must take charge of preserving the historical heritage of our continent as well as advancing the agenda of African development in both realms of ideas and political process. It is also prudent for the African political leadership to create ideal conditions for intellectuals to define key issues in bringing about a better Africa for the ordinary African masses. For change to happen we have to become the subject, by taking charge of our own destiny.

By Wilson Karl Agula Balongo

School of Business and Economics, Kabarak University.


Elizabeth Filippouli: (2013) Addressing the African Challenge.

Erick Karikari: (2013) African Postcolonial Leadership: The Contribution of African Leaders in the United States. Cornerstone.

GianTuTrung (2013) The role of intellectuals in society /

Kgalema Motlanthe; (2014) The Role of African Intellengenstia in Post-Mandela Africa.

Johnson, C. E. (2005). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Northouse, P. G. (2004). Leadership: Theory and Practice (3rd ed.). London, UK: Sage Publications.

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