Profile of the 21st Century African Leadership

Challenges and Opportunities There has never been time in modern African history when the issue of leaders and quality of leadership has been so important. The need for an African leadership that has the competence to comprehend the threats, challenges and opportunities of globalisation, the imperatives of democratisation and good governance, the vision of a preferred future and the capacity and commitment to realise it, is clearly crucial.
Dr. Peter Butera Bazimya
Dr. Peter Butera Bazimya

Challenges and Opportunities

There has never been time in modern African history when the issue of leaders and quality of leadership has been so important.

The need for an African leadership that has the competence to comprehend the threats, challenges and opportunities of globalisation, the imperatives of democratisation and good governance, the vision of a preferred future and the capacity and commitment to realise it, is clearly crucial.

In light of the endemic problems facing Africa, the first generation of African leaders have been subjected to severe criticism.

It cannot, however, be maintained that they totally failed Africa and Africans. To do so would be both unscientific and unjust. Some of them responded to the problems confronting them in the best manner they could.

There were successes and failures. Time changes, opportunities come and go and circumstances are never repeated; and if they do appear to be repeated they may not respond to similar policies.

Each situation is a combination of continuity and change: the old and tested, and the unfamiliar yet to be tested.

However, broadly based on consensus or firmly grounded on sound scientific data, public policy formulation is not an exact science. It is subject to political and ideological pressures and vulnerable to the exigencies of globalisation.

Moreover, its success or failure depends on the human factor: the availability and quality of leaders and leadership.

The first generation of African leaders to a very large extent failed to respond effectively and positively to the challenges of change.

For various reasons the first generation of African leaders lacked the capacity to fully comprehend the long-term implications of the domestic and global changes, the problems facing their people and the competence to provide sustainable solutions.

More importantly, they failed to create an environment that would enable the continuous evolution of succeeding generations of young African leaders with competence, integrity, vision and commitment.

Part One of this paper begins with a brief revisit to the first generation of African leaders, with the objective of ascertaining some of the major factors that were responsible fort the failure in coming to grips with the changing world, or in preparing the succeeding generation of leaders in that task.

The future belongs to the youth. The first generation of African leaders failed to create the conditions conducive to the evolution of a young generation of leaders with the capacity, integrity, vision and commitment to take Africa into the 21st century.

Identification of the factors responsible for the failures is clearly important; otherwise the failures might be repeated. We live in a world that has been and is continuously changing, impacting on Africa and Africans in multiple ways and at various levels.

Globalisation poses threats, fears and challenges but it also creates opportunities and possibilities for those with the capacity, vision and commitment.

Part Two looks at the changing world and its challenges and opportunities for the young generation of African leaders.

What is needed is the creation of the appropriate leadership that is capable of nurturing and promoting the African Renaissance and steering Africa through the transition to the knowledge and information based societies of the 21st century.

Part Three discusses the profile of the leadership appropriate for the 21st century. There is now a new generation of young Africans, well educated, many of whom are competent and committed with great potentials for leadership.

What is required is the creation of an environment that will facilitate the identification of those with the talents for leadership, nurture and promote the qualities of honesty, integrity, loyalty, respect for knowledge and justified pride in strivings, achievements and successes.

Part Four focuses on the enabling environment, institutions and the mechanisms for the creation of the succeeding generations of African leaders.

Part Five concludes with the challenges and opportunities confronting the succeeding generations of African leaders.

Part One: Africa’s seemingly endemic problems have been attributed to three major factors: inappropriate policies; bad governance; incompetent, corrupt and ineffective leaders.

In the last analysis they could all be reduced to leaders and leadership. Given the challenges confronting Africa as it transits into the 21st century, it is imperative that Africa generates leaders who are knowledgeable about the ever-changing world, competent, with integrity, vision and commitment.

The first generation of African leaders was the product of colonial governance. We can best understand the paucity of African leaders with the requisite capability, integrity, vision, commitment and will power to lead Africa towards its Renaissance by briefly revisiting the manner by which leaders were recruited during the colonial period.

We need to understand the environment and conditions in which the first generation of African leaders emerged.

These may or may not have changed with the assumption of Independence. It is important to have a balanced perspective. Not all first generation leaders failed.

A few of them did very well. And there are reasons for both failures and successes. These leaders were creatures of the times. They were both victims and beneficiaries of the exigencies of the Cold War and decolonization.

There was so much expected of them; and they expected so much for themselves. They were subjected to the conventional wisdom and the buzzwords of the nascent development community of that period.

The same thing is taking place today. New buzzwords are flying around and globally driven market forces and privatisation are all impacting on Africa and African leaders have to respond to them.

Circumstances of the time need to be thoroughly understood, otherwise history may be repeated. … the 1960s can be … and must be … the crucial decade of development …  the period when many less developed nations make the transition into self-sustained economic growth ….  the period in which an enlarged community of free, suitable and self-reliant nations can reduce world tensions and insecurity.

In the 1960s there were two types of leaders: those created and supported by the colonial authorities; and those who emerged amongst the people to lead the struggle against colonial rule and for independence.

The latter came to be generally known as African nationalists and the former as colonial collaborators or stooges. Democracy played no part in the recruitment or creation of either type of leaders.

The colonial government identified the collaborators and imposed them on the people. With a few exceptions African nationalists manipulated their way and imposed themselves on the people.

Although both types of leaders claimed to be working in the interest of their people each had different interpretations of those interests and the means of achieving and promoting them.

In most cases these differences were so profound and seemingly insoluble that hostility and war-like atmosphere was created between the two types of leaders.

Each regarded the other as the enemy or obstacles to the real interests and welfare of the people. They called each other names: snakes and hyenas.

There was very little co-operation between them other than the one that was occasionally forced upon them by the colonial government; and this was often done in support of the colonial interests.

Each leader was more inclined to trust the colonial authorities than any one in the other group. Although diverse in their original view points the major objectives of these leaders were basically the same: to capture power and assume leadership of their countries at the end of the colonial rule.

For many of them personal greed and the impulse to maintain themselves in power, and not the fulfillment of the electoral promises, influenced their vision of the future.

This did not necessarily entail neglect of the peoples’ welfare or the real development of the countries. It simply rearranged the priorities: the advancement of the leaders and not that of the country or the people.

For their own personal advancement leaders often cynically used the concepts development of the country and welfare of the people during elections and as means of attracting foreign aid.

To achieve their objectives the leaders focused their energies and mobilised resources: youth wingers, women organizations, trade unions, peasant farmers, all types of the then inchoate professional associations; in a word, they captured the nascent civil society, manipulated, twisted and emasculated it.

As they confidently believed that they knew what was in the best interest of the people they did not waste any time consulting them.

For both types of leaders meetings, conferences or rallies were taken merely as occasions for the leaders to tell people what they, the leaders, wanted them to know and do, and not as opportunities for the leaders to listen to the people, articulating their needs, fears and aspirations.

There was no democracy for the people; and this was justified on grounds of economic development and nation building.

Public policy was not based on objective information or systematically acquired knowledge, but on leaders’ inspirations and personal whims, the ideology of the single party, or on foreign advice and exhortations.

Most leaders lacked the required knowledge and experience to govern a modern nation-state.

And the few who had the capabilities were unwilling to use them for various reasons. Many of them ignored their own intellectuals and scholars. Some leaders feared the indigenous intellectuals and scholars and took measures to alienate, isolate and even harass them.

The Universities were regarded primarily as national status symbols and not as centres of intellectual power, knowledge and excellence.

In many African countries the Universities were regarded as the centres of opposition and the deliberate indoctrination of the innocent youthful students. Oppositional and opportunistic rather than constructive and visionary were the main characteristics of the politics of the period.

The leaders intrigued and manipulated, threatened and coerced in order to maintain power or to dislodge those in power. And the qualities of leadership required, particularly in the single party, which then dominated the political scene, were authoritarian, dictatorial and cynical.

Given the importance of ethnicity in African society leadership tended to be monopolized by the dominant tribe or a cluster of tribes.

A shrewd nationalist leader was the one who could assess, balance and manipulate the contesting demands from the various tribal or regional leaders without necessarily taking into account the overall interests of the country or the welfare of all the people.

In general the main preoccupation of the leadership was to pacify, bribe, coerce, cheat, threaten and manipulate other leaders to ensure that there was peace and stability so that nation-building and economic development’ could take place.

This strategy worked well within the anti-colonial context, and was carried over to the post independence period in many African countries.

Apart from perpetuating the oppositional and opportunistic politics, the strategy created an environment that tended to prevent the evolution of a succeeding generation of young, well educated, modernizing, committed and visionary leaders.

It also discouraged some of the incumbent leaders who were motivated by public service and wished to promote the welfare of the people. On the whole the youth were used as means to ends defined by the leaders.

No specific measures were taken to prepare them as the succeeding future leaders. Although there are today many young people with the potentials for leadership, the socio-political and economic environments in many African countries are such that it is virtually impossible for youthful and competent leaders with visions different from those of the incumbents to emerge.

Changes are needed to release and galvanize the energies, talents and enthusiasm of the youth. 

However such changes are unlikely to take place without the co-operation, or at least connivance, of the first generation of leaders.

These leaders neither are not immovable objects nor are they necessarily captives of the past. Some of them have acknowledged mistakes made and are prepared to discuss and share the experience of their times.

They are valuable resources that could and should be harnessed. They are part of the relay-racer. But they are suspicious of the young and some even hostile towards them.

This is probably due to ignorance, fear and insecurity. The young generation of Africans is better-educated, well-informed, professionals in their chosen fields, aggressive and highly critical of past leadership.

Following the departure of the colonial rulers African nationalists took possession of the colonial state with all its coercive apparatus. They became the rulers and masters of their peoples. At independence African leaders were faced with three options.

The first was continuity with some changes. This meant business-as-usual but with the appropriate changes of attitudes vis-à-vis the former colonial rulers. A new relationship of “partners in development” was assumed but as yet undefined.

The second option represented a break with the past, and for several African countries it entailed the adoption of a socialist model of development of some kind.

The third option was in effect the first window of opportunity provided by Independence, to enable Africans to reflect on the kinds of changes and directions they would wish to adopt for their new nations. … Africa now has an opportunity to build an ethic appropriate to the development of a good and stable society or allow one to develop which contains the seeds of future strife and confusion…

It is my belief that we in Africa must seize the opportunity we now have, so that a new attempt can be made to synthesise the conflicting needs of a citizen as an individual and as a member of society … the opportunity [created by independence] is before us provided we have the courage to seize it.

For the choice is not between change and no change; the choice for Africa is between changing or being changed …  changing our lives under our own direction or being changed by the impact of forces outside our control.

In Africa there is no stability in this twentieth century; stability can only be achieved through balance during rapid change. Africa must change her institutions to make feasible her new aspirations; her people must change their attitudes and practices to accord with the objectives.

And these changes must be positive, they must be initiated and shaped by Africa and not simply be a reaction to events which affect Africa.

As well put by Julius Nyerere, in his Freedom and Unity/Uhuru Na Umoja, 1966, while yet we are making out claim for self-government I want to emphasise… that self-government is not an end in itself.

It is a means to an end, to the building of the good life to the benefits of all, regardless of tribe, creed, colour or station in life. Our aim is to make this country a worthy place for all its citizens, a country that will be a shining light throughout the whole continent of Africa. Giving inspiration far beyond its frontiers.

And this we can do by dedicating ourselves to unselfish service to the humanity. We must learn from the mistakes of others so that we may, in so far as we can, avoid a repetition of those tragedies which have overtaken other human societies.

Also as put by Kwame Nkrumah, in The Motion of Destiny, 1953, the first generation of African leaders was faced with seven major challenges. One, the management of the inherited colonial state machinery, the economy, and the maintenance of law, order and stability.

In many African countries there were not enough Africans with the required technical and professional knowledge and experience to run a modern nation-state. In some countries, the so-called multi-racial societies where Europeans or Asians minorities were dominant in the economic and commercial sectors of the country, the problems were quite serious, and urgent at that.

Popular perceptions of independence implied that Africans must be seen to be in control, occupying key positions in the economy and society.

Yet non-Africans …. citizens or non-citizens, occupied most of the important and sensitive positions in the private and public sectors. Two, to create a new political order of peace and stability within which peoples from diverse racial, ethnic, regional and religious backgrounds could work in co-operation and harmony to produce the goods and services needed by the new nation.

Three, to develop the human resources and institutional capacities to meet the challenges of the rising expectations of the peoples and the demands of the post-colonial governance.

Four, to formulate an ideology that could galvanise the enthusiasm, imagination, talents, skills and energies of the ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse peoples to build the new nation, promote its interests and defend its sovereignty.




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