Leadership Is Under Threat Worldwide
Around the world today, the very idea of leadership confronts big challenges, big opportunities, and big possibilities. From corporate leaders in advanced industrial countries who have to worry about the implications of disruptive innovation, the demands of corporate citizenship on business models, and the rising political risk to bottom lines from the surge in populism in western democracies, to entrepreneurs in Africa faced with unstable macroeconomic environments, absent infrastructure, policy inconsistency, and weak institutions, leadership is stressed and challenged.
From the political ferment in the United States in the era of Donald Trump to the stunning victory of Emmanuel Macron in response to the yearnings of French citizens for bold, new leadership. From the electoral shifts in the recent elections in the United Kingdom in the era of Brexit to the political crisis in Brazil over allegations of corruption against its elected leaders, leadership is the big issue. For good or ill, we live in its shadow.
We can understand why: in all its manifestations – political, corporate and entrepreneurial, science and innovation, academia, healthcare and public policy, leadership is the main determinant of social and economic progress.
Although our focus here is on leadership in Africa, we must understand that the leadership challenge in the world today is universal. That should help us keep things in perspective. As Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics at the University of Western Australia has observed: “If we scan the international political horizon, it is difficult to spot anyone that might be described as an unambiguously great leader. Perhaps the last person to fit this bill was Nelson Mandela.”
Now, it should be clear that the consequences of leadership failure, while not good for any society, developed or developing, are far more profound for developing countries such as those in Africa. Developed countries have strong institutions that can mitigate the effects of bad or weak political leadership. But many African countries, saddled as they are with fledgling or undeveloped institutions, cannot achieve transformational progress without effective domestic political leadership.
What Real Leadership in Africa Should Mean
For our continent, then, leadership is the critical challenge we must confront and overcome. We must, if democracy is to yield good governance, if the entrepreneurial talent expressed in the narrative of an Emerging Africa is to yield true economic transformation, and if Africa’s rich historical scientific heritage is to translate into an explosion of innovation that can make us competitive in a globalized world.
How do we get leadership to make Africa prosper and matter? (Forgive the pun on my book Emerging Africa: How the Global Economy’s ‘Last Frontier’ Can Prosper and Matter.) In the area of business and entrepreneurship we have seen impressive leadership by African entrepreneurs. These businessmen and women are altering Africa’s narrative from one of poverty and foreign aid to one of creativity and wealth creation. From Nigeria’s Nollywood movie industry to Aliko Dangote and his Africa-wide industrial empire, Tony Elumelu and his Heirs Holdings investment group, and the blogger and entrepreneur Linda Ikeji; from Tanzania’s Ali Mufuruki and his Infotech Investment Group and Kenya’s Michael Macharia and his Seven Seas Technologies to Ethiopia’s Bethlehem Tilahum Alemu whose firm, Sole Rebels, manufactures and exports environmentally friendly footwear that’s “hot” in the western world; and from Ghana’s Patrick Awuah, founder of the 21st century non-profit Ashesi University, Ken Offori-Attah and his Databank Corporation, and the young Harvard-educated investor Sangu Delle to Cameroon’s Yaya Moussa, the former International Monetary Fund economist that founded Africa Today TV in the United States, Africa’s entrepreneurs are making progress against all odds.
Our continent’s leadership problem is located mainly in our internal political spaces. But it is precisely these spaces that determine what kind of societies, economies, education and health systems that we have.
The first order of business, as I have argued consistently, is that of our minds. We must reinvent the African mind. Our minds determine whether or how we understand what leadership means or doesn’t. Our minds determine what kind of mindset or worldview we bring to the task and responsibility of leadership. And our minds determine whether we have, or can acquire, the character and competence of leadership.
My personal understanding of leadership, especially in the context of countries like those in Africa, is that great leadership must be transformational. And I always approach the subject with the end in mind: what, for example, would be said about my service after I have completed a specific leadership task or responsibility? Indeed, to envision more radically, what will be said at my funeral? (One should hope that that event will hold somewhere north of my 100th birthday!)
I have sought to apply this understanding to every leadership role in which I have had the privilege to serve – from national reconciliation and nation-building work by the United Nations in New York, Cambodia, Croatia and Rwanda to institutional and management reform in the UN, from building global partnerships and raising billions of dollars for social investments in developing countries by The Global Fund in Geneva to structuring and facilitating investments in emerging markets, from leadership roles in monetary policymaking and banking sector reform in Nigeria in the wake of the global financial crisis to serving as a professor in one of America’s premier universities, my vision has always been to leave the situation, institution or assignment I was tasked to handle much transformed from where I met it.
Leadership is about utilizing appointive, elective or situational authority to envision. To inspire. To take calculated risk. All in order to take societies, family units, organizations or institutions from A to Z or whatever point in the 26 alphabets is relevant, necessary, and possible. It is not, as we often misunderstand it in Africa, about merely holdingpositions of power or deploying authority mainly for self-serving purposes. This is why manycareer politicians in Africa that consider themselves “leaders” are in fact – and despite the veneer of democratic processes — more accurately “rulers”, or minions and accomplices of despotic power.
Leadership requires a certain kind of character that emphasizes and upholds core values, a sense of abnegation to consciously forgo opportunities to advance self or other narrow interests, and the competence to bring these values to bear in a manner that creates change and sustains social progress.
In an illuminating article by Sunnie Giles that was published in the Harvard Business Review (“The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders around the World, HBR, March 15, 2016), the author’s research found that the top 10 leadership competences, based on the percentage of respondents from 200 global leaders asked to rate 74 qualities, were:
(1) Has high ethical and moral standards (67%);
(2) Provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines/direction (59%);
(3) Clearly communicates expectations (56%);
(4) Has the flexibility to change opinions (52%);
(5) Is committed to my ongoing training (43%);
(6) Communicates often and openly (42%);
(7) Is open to new ideas and approaches (39%);
(8) Creates a feeling of succeeding or failing together (38%);
(9) Helps me grow into a next-generation leader (38%);
(10) Provides safety for trial and error (37%).
As Giles explained, neuroscience confirms that a leader having high standards based on core values and acting consistent with it, when combined with the ability to communicate expectations clearly, creates a safe and trusting environment and heightens brain activity related to creativity, social engagement, and a drive to excellence.
Leadership in African countries requires a worldview that can build real nation-states from the hodge-podge of ethnic nationalities lumped together by the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 that carved up the continent between imperial global powers at the time. That worldview must understand the dynamics and mechanics of globalization. It must grasp the truth that being a market for globalization is not what is beneficial. Finding a niche in the production value-chain of economic globalization is what really matters.
That worldview should be able to create a common goal and destiny around which citizens in our countries can unite and strive together for progress. This is different from the narrow views that fuel the ethnic and religious-identity irredentism that has dominated the domestic political space in many African countries. We are trapped in these ethnic tensions and strife because our rulers have exploited these divisions instead of liberating and educating their citizens. But in order to liberate and educate your citizens, you, the leader, must have the substance with which to educate and liberate. As the legal maxim puts it, nemo dat quad non habeat (you cannot give what you don’t have). Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the late Nigerian musical maestro, had little time for elegant Latin maxims. He puts it bluntly in one of his songs: “Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense”!!
The Role of Nigeria and South Africa
In the quest for good leadership and governance in Africa, few if any countries are more important than Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country with 180 million people, and South Africa, the continent’s most advanced and industrialized economy. Both countries can and should set worthy examples of internal domestic leadership that are worthy of emulation. But over the past several years, this expectation of both countries has been observed more in the breach. South Africa has been caught in the throes of a debilitating leadership crisis involving its current President, Jacob Zuma since he assumed office in 2009. One of the very few countries in Africa with independent institutions, efforts by Zuma and his allies to whittle down or block the effectiveness of the country’s Public Protector, which indicted President Zuma with charges of corruption and state capture by Zuma’s cronies and business allies, have created existential threats to Zuma’s government, the political dominance of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, and the political stability of South Africa.
Nigeria, like many African countries, has made some progress, but is a far distance in its stage of development from where it could have been after 57 years of independence. Nigeria’s case is especially disappointing when we consider the country’s vast reservoir of human capital and the dynamic nature of its enterprising people.
Nothing illustrates Nigeria’s challenge better than three statistics: the country produces only 4,000 megawatts of electricity when South Africa, with 50 million people, produces 40,000; despite being the largest economy with a GDP of about $345 billion (the figure was $568 billion in 2014 but has been decimated by the country’s worst recession in 25 years), its 2016 per capita GDP is $2,260 and the average figure from 1960, when we became an independent country, up to 2016, is $1,648. This means that there has been very little real progress in average individual income and human well-being. Malaysia’s GDP per capita is $9,360, Brazil’s is $8,727, and South Africa’s $7,504. And the third statistic is that Nigeria is ranked at 187 out of 189 by the World Health Organization ranking of health systems around the world.
As the great African writer Chinua Achebe wrote, “Nigeria’s problem is simply and squarely that of leadership”. This leadership failure has led to slow progress (and many outright reversals) in the quest to build a united nation, and a dependence on raw mineral and commodity exports (crude oil) for foreign exchange earnings that has prevented real economic transformation.
How can African countries overcome their leadership capital deficit?
Fortunately, democracy offers a great opportunity for an improved process of leadership selection. This brings to mind the role of the citizen. In a normal scheme of things, it is leaders that shape the destinies of nations, but in functioning democracies the citizens act as a check on leadership performance. In those countries where contemporary African leaders have performed poorly, then, it is time for citizens to stand up for their own future.
Our citizens must exercise their democratic rights more effectively and make choices informed by objective leadership selection criteria. That criteria needs to include character, competence, and relevant experience, as well as the track record of persons seeking positions of leadership. To do so, voters must understand what really is in their best interest. That “what” is frequently different from the primordial affiliations and the patronage systems that politicians exploit and build to continue ruling us instead of leading us.When citizens in our countries in Africa, including my own country Nigeria, focus on subjective factors instead of objective leadership competence in leadership selection, they become very active accomplices in their own poverty.
A paradigm shift in leadership selection will require voter education by civil society organizations. It calls for increased demands for democratic accountability by citizens and civil society, the institution of a real social contract between states and citizens as demanded by the latter, and an all-important emphasis on leadership training for the up and coming generation of youth who we should want to be real leaders, not rulers, of tomorrow. GOTNI is blazing a trail in this regard.
The African Diaspora have a role and historic responsibility here, and they have much to contribute the development of their home countries. But few, if any African countries have been able to position their diaspora as a core component and driver of development strategy in the manner that Israel, India and China have done.
First, the diaspora must demand and secure the ability to vote abroad in elections at home, and thereby participate in leadership selection. Second, they must demand a more institutionalized framework for diaspora engagement and contributions to governance and economic life. Here, I note with keen interest the recent issuance of a Diaspora Bond by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The spirit behind this initiative is a commendable one.But the devil is in the execution. We need more transparency on the bondholder base and the subscription process for the bonds. These bonds provide an important window of opportunity for diaspora to engage with economic governance at home by checking to ensure that the bond raised is utilized for appropriate purposes. It is not enough simply to get your financial returns.
The economic, social and political conditions in African countries is the responsibility of African leaders. It is not that of Donald Trump. Indeed, one of the ultimately beneficial outcomes of the rise of populism in the West for African countries is that it will enable our countries look inwards and take responsibility for driving their own destiny; even in a world of globalization, sovereignty and the authority and responsibilities that go with it have not gone away.
Our destiny is not the responsibility of the foreign aid agencies. And we cannot continue to blame the colonial powers. The leaders of our countries must build real nation-states out of what Count Clemens von Metternich, Europe’s leading statesman in the early 19th century, referring to Italy, called “a mere geographical expression” – in other words, countries that are artificially formed and are not nations in a real sense. Our leaders have the responsibility of building institutions that can create a level playing field for everyone and shield citizens from tyranny, to achieve economic transformation, and to reclaim our countries’ place in the world.
Citizens, for their part, have the responsibility to decide who has responsibility for their welfare. In many African countries, they have not taken this duty as seriously as they should. Professor Ameena Gurib-Fakim, the competent and erudite President of Mauritius — one of Africa’s most successful countries –put it so pithily: “But the onus is also on all Africans. People have to start asking the right questions. Politicians, leaders, policymakers in normal democracies are all accountable to the people. But, and I am sorry for saying this brutally, we get the government we deserve. The one we vote in. It’s your vote.”
By Professor Kingsley C. Moghalu
Chairman & CEO, Sogato Strategies LLC, Former Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor of Practice in International Business & Public Policy, The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy.