Why Politicians Fail

Published on 13th December 2005

Simon Robinson’s (US-based “Time” magazine’s Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya’s) essay, “Africa\'s Game of Follow the Leader: Why Strong Institutions matter most when once promising politicians start to fail,” apparently written in mind following the defeat of Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki proposed new constitution, which would have given him more powers, once again brings out the issue of leadership, Africa’s progress and how because of colonialism, Africa’s innate values, including her traditional institutions, were not factored in when planning Africa’s development process and till today.

Illustrating extensively from Chinua Achebe\'s “The Trouble with Nigeria,” written during the 1983 raucous election campaign that indicates an “outpouring of frustration” (at Nigeria\'s and by extension Africa’s) leadership problems to buttress Africa’s development woes since independence from colonial rule. Robinson, an African-American whose knowledge of Africa’s development is heavily grounded in Eurocentric paradigms, failed to note that one of the key reasons for Africa’s leadership despair is lack of correct appropriation of her innate traditional institutions in not only her leadership process but also her general development process as other ex-colonies such as Japan, South Korea and Malaysia have done.

Despite Africans agreeing and being aware that leadership is a big problem in their progress, they, especially the high-sounding elites, have failed to realize that the first solution to the continent’s leadership troubles first lies within African values. “Which is why, in the mid-1990s, when a new generation of leaders emerged, Africans dared to hope that things could finally be changing,” writes Robinson, citing leaders like Issaias Afewerki in Eritrea, Laurent Kabila in Democratic Republic of Congo, Paul Kagame in Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda and Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia promising “a new style of leadership that focused on building economies and democratic nations instead of shoring up their power by force and ensuring that they and their friends got rich.”

The real fact here this new generation of leaders rekindling hope in the continent’s progress largely came from their education and global exposure, a departure from the old generation. Unfortunately, their subsequent hopelessness has come about simply because they failed to mix their Western education with Africa’s traditional institutional values in the continent’s progress, thus making them appear that they can neither intellectualize Africa’s progress holistically nor understand Africa well and what drives her development process. They do not understand at all what is “development” or “progress.” Even when US President Bill Clinton visited Africa in 1998 and “touted this generation as Africa\'s great hope,” as Robinson highlighted, Clinton said this without proper knowledge about what drives Africa’s progress – her innate cultural values and institutions. Clinton, Robinson and other Western elites including the many U.S Under-Secretaries of State for Africa have touted Africa’s new generation of leaders in her development process not only from purely Eurocentric notion but the fact that they are blinded by the fact that Africa is the only region in the world where the development process is dominated by foreign development paradigms, as Ghana’s Dr. Y.K. Amoako has observed.

Lack of realistic grasp of tackling Africa’s development process from within her innate values first has made “fixing Africa never as simple as changing its leaders,” as Robinson acknowledges. “And that\'s why the fall from grace of Museveni and Zenawi,” for their dictatorial predispositions, which is unAfrican, is a reminder to all concerned about Africa’s progress, “especially to Western countries that invested so much in Africa\'s new leaders, that strong institutions are far more important than personalities.” What those worried about the shaky state of Africa’s progress, especially the hopelessness of her so-called new generation of leaders and her Western imposed weak national institutions, be concerned about is that Africa’s innate traditional institutions should be mixed with her colonial legacies openly in a new continental policy development regime. This will need a new generation of African thinkers who have thorough grasp of the continent’s values and history, are able to think from her innate values and have the skill to mix them with her colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global culture. It is here that Robinson’s “strong institutions” such as the press, the judiciary and parliament, “that are bigger than any one person and counterbalance the worst excesses,” will be mixed with Africa’s traditional institutions to create realistically strong institutions in the continent’s development process.

When the strong institutions needed to drive Africa’s progress are rooted in the enabling aspects of her traditional institutions, it is then that her good leaders would not “stay in office long enough” and Africans will “not get frustrated” since their development values will flow from their own values and the imposed colonial ones, and in the process, development will be rapid, with no “inevitable slow pace of change.” It is when this state of Africa’s development is reached, with all the enabling aspects of her values calculatedly dancing with her colonial legacies for progress, that there will be no need for \"a leader\'s no-nonsense reputation,” in the development process, as Robinson quotes Achebe in “The Trouble with Nigeria,” but rather African values will dominate her development institutions.


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