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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

ISS Today: African Leadership

In the words of a great man: “Africa is beyond bemoaning the past for its problems. The task of undoing that past is on the shoulders of African leaders themselves….We have a new generation of leaders who know that Africa must take responsibility for its own destiny, that Africa will uplift itself only by its own efforts in partnership with those who wish her well”...Nelson Mandela.


With the current state of Africa, one is tempted to wonder whether these leaders that Mandela speaks of are in indeed real or just a myth. The President of the World Peace Foundation, Robert Rotberg points out that there are two types of leaders in Africa: (i) negative, these are mostly single minded, focused on power itself, indifferent to the well being of their citizens but anxious to receive their adulation, frequently destructive to and within their own countries, quick to exploit social or radical ideologies for political and personal purposes and are partial to scapegoating, blame shifting and hypocrisy, and (ii) positive, they stand out because of their clear-minded strength of character, they adhere to participatory democratic principles, they knit rather than unravel their nations and seek to be remembered for how they have bettered the lives of their citizens rather than the fortunes of the few. (Rotberg, 2003)


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Sadly in Africa positive leaders have become a rarity.


Personal ambition, greed and an insatiable hunger for power are what seem to guide most of today’s leaders. No longer are the people put first, governments for the people by the people are fading to non-existent. One might actually argue that those men and women who gave up their lives in the numerous liberation struggles must be turning in their graves when they see the state of the nations they shed their blood for. Had they been here today they would be asking: is this the future we fought for? Is this the future we envisioned for our children?


Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan rightly states that it is without doubt that Africa faces huge obstacles that greatly challenge all leaders. (Opening Session of OAU Summit, July 2001) Extreme poverty and AIDS, being two of the biggest, can only be tackled on one condition: that we end Africa’s conflicts. It is sad that some of these very same conflicts are exacerbated by leaders who abuse their support from people only to advance their own agendas, instead of seeking to unite conflicting tribes or ethnic groups. The reign of former president Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire) and former Ugandan leader Idi Amin are just a few examples of what bad leadership can do to a country and its people. The silence of African leaders and their failure to condemn grave human rights violations in many of the African countries is quite appalling. At this rate, the peace we seek may remain just a dream. More robust action is required to achieve the goals of liberation.


The issue of accountability of leaders and local ownership of transformation is critical to the development process in Africa. Parliamentary and civil society oversight of the state as well as specialized, independent monitoring institutions must exercise their power to call for accountability, transparency and integrity of African leaders. Good governance also entails adopting effective measures and structures to combat corruption and embezzlement. Africa’s vast resources must be used to benefit African people. Developed countries should not be allowed to continue to exploit Africa’s rich natural resources to the detriment of the African people.


Parliamentarians, riding on their constituencies’ vote, need to deliver as promised, no more empty promises! For how long shall the populace suffer while the elite enjoys the abundant benefits of political power? Its time leaders got off their the high horses and practice what they preach! Leaders should seek to eliminate the huge gap between policy and practice.


There are many instance of leadership gone wrong. Many liberation leaders begin as promising democrats only to emerge a term or two later as corrupt autocrats. We must seek to understand what is it that causes such a radical shift, why and how can such be prevented? Is it simply that absolute power corrupts absolutely? Rotberg questions whether Africa must revert to pure parliamentary governing systems with ceremonial heads of state instead. (Rotberg, 2003) Note this is not to downplay the role played by African liberation leaders during the struggle. It is a fact that Africa has been served well by leaders of liberation, now it is time for them to become leaders of democracy and development.


Clearly Africa needs a new kind of leadership, leaders who will truly lead. Politics must no longer be a ‘dirty game’ but rather an instrument by which they enforce democratic values and institutions. Former Presidents such as Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere and Kwame Nkrumah exhibited great leadership styles, which other leaders should seek to emulate. Africans are tired of the endless wait for the proverbial dividends of democracy that their ancestors sacrificed their lives for. Africa needs leaders who serve nations as a whole and not just their tribes or ethnic groups or extended families.


Elizabeth Rumbidzai Chidoori, Research Intern, Security Sector Governance Programme, ISS Tshwane (Pretoria

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