Leadership is one of the weakest links in Africa’s growth. Today’s leaders not only have to cure mistakes of their predecessors, but also tackle current problems and try to avoid creating future problems.
Thus, for Africa’s prosperity, a responsible, qualified and capable leadership must be nurtured now for tomorrow. Rwanda, a country that survived a brutal past has been lauded for many successes, including leadership. However, the challenge remains of ensuring future leadership continues to improve Rwanda.
I recently moved to Rwanda and many things continue to strike me. Moving to a new country always has varying degrees of assault on the senses; none of which I will not get into at the moment, other than how I have been impressed and inspired by the conscious effort to develop future leaders. For instance, Rwanda boasts a high proportion of young leaders (people who belong to Generations X and Y, generally considered those born in the 1960s onwards) in government, business/entrepreneurship and NGO’s. Arguably due to historical misgivings young people are given the opportunity to prove themselves without being discounted on the basis of age.
Realizing the contribution of youth towards the sustainable development of Rwanda, the government has emphasized strong youth-focused policies and strategies including creating the National Youth Council and programs that promote youth employment, youth mobilization and education and skills development.
In that regard, Rwanda is distinct from other countries where age hierarchy entitles many qualified, yet uninterested and dispassionate people who are sometimes too entrenched in the system to be effective, to stay in positions of power for longer than is necessary.
Although learning on the job can be risky, it gives young people the opportunity to practice, fail, succeed, and ultimately learn from mistakes hopefully not be repeated in the future. Unfortunately pop culture too often discounts the words of Chinese philosopher Confucius’, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail”.
“What is leadership?” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “to lead” is “to guide someone or something along a way”. However, this definition is incomplete because it negates the human elements of leadership, e.g. vision, values, sacrifice, empathy. I was recently asked by a friend about how she can be a better leader. As a member of the Academy for Leadership in Competitiveness and Prosperity (ALCP), an initiative of the On the Frontier (OTF) Group, a leadership program aimed at equipping young Rwandan professionals with the tools to be effective leaders, the question is one her and her peers have continuously grappled with.
At the time I gave her a stream of conscious response, but after pondering the question, I recalled The Bonner Program, a scholarship program I was in at Davidson College that emphasized six “Common Commitments”: civic engagement, community building, diversity, international perspective, social justice, spiritual exploration. I have found these principles to be invaluable in my personal growth as a leader.
Remembering the words of my mentor, “A leader must be a man (and woman of course) for all seasons, a true “renaissance person” able to adapt to all situations.” He explained that sometimes a leader must lead from the front, not only setting the rules, but also leading by example.
Secondly, sometimes a leader is in the middle of the group. The best performers do their tasks with minimal supervision and those in need of assistance are adequately supervised.
The leader then makes sure that all loose ends are seamlessly tied together to guarantee the group attains its goals. Lastly, a leader must be able to lead from behind. This leader encourages the followers to lead the way as she/he pushes the group forward. Thus, applying Charles Darwin’s philosophy of natural selection (survival of the fittest), only the most versatile can successfully lead.
I have learned that for a leader to be successful, she/he must follow a clear set of values (personal, religious or institutional). Values are guideposts making sure the leader and ultimately the group remain on track with the goals set.
The leader must be purposeful in ensuring the group understands the values and how those values relate to the group’s overall objectives. I am currently reading “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It” by Stephen Kinzer, about President Paul Kagame’s life, assent to power and leadership strategies and one of the repeated messages in the book is that the success of the current regime was due to following a set of strong values.
Leaders are not omniscient; they do not know everything. The more I realize that I have more to learn, the more I grow as a leader. It is necessary to learn through our own commissions or omissions and those of others. So in a personal bid to learn, I recently attended the African Leadership Network’s inaugural conference in Ethiopia.
ALN aim’s to power Africa’s prosperity by identifying and creating the premier network of Africa’s next-generation of leaders –individuals poised to assume the most significant roles in African corporations, governments and society at large over the next decade. ALN is especially significant because it encourages young leaders to network and exchange values, ideas and lessons on how to become better leaders.
Social justice, diversity and international perspective:
A leader is a servant. To be in a position of power is a privilege not for one’s self, but for the people being led. It is essential to understand who you are leading and their various needs. There is no dignity in leading if a leader cannot find ways to solve problems faced by the people being led because he/she does not understand them and their issues. As the world further globalizes, it is critical for leaders to tackle local concerns whilst understanding the global implications of their decisions.
Poverty remains one of Rwanda’s greatest concerns and until it can effectively be curtailed, Rwanda’s prosperity will be limited. Therefore, leaders in all sectors must all be attuned to issues of poverty within Rwanda and based on the commitment to social justice “advocate for fairness, impartiality and equality when addressing systemic social and environmental issues”.
Civic engagement and community building:
Rwanda’s leadership demonstrates its commitment to community building through Ubudehe, Umuganda, the National Dialogue, Vision 2020 and so on. Civic engagement is shown by people’s right to vote and thereby affect public policy. Therefore, to maintain current community cohesion, future leadership must tackle poverty.
Rwanda’s current leadership has birthed the new Rwanda, one of great promise. It is up to the next generation to learn from the current legacy and propel Rwanda to self-sufficiency and prosperity.
The author runs Hoja Law Group, a boutique law firm in New York that represents investors operating in Africa and advises on cross border legal matters between Africa and the United States. She is currently based in Kigali, advising the Minister of Justice on legal matters in investment and trade.
Additionally, she is the founder of Transitional Trade, a non-profit organisation promoting social trade, investment and entrepreneurship in post-conflict countries.: