Profile of the 21st Century African Leadership

Challenges and opportunities (continued) Leadership is a trust. It has to be earned and its legitimacy and respectability depend on how it was earned and used. Otherwise leadership succession becomes a mere automatic inheritance. What needs to be done are, one: the removal of the obstacles, hostility, prejudice, ignorance, suspicion and fear on both sides of the generations’ divide.

Challenges and opportunities (continued)

Leadership is a trust. It has to be earned and its legitimacy and respectability depend on how it was earned and used. Otherwise leadership succession becomes a mere automatic inheritance. What needs to be done are, one: the removal of the obstacles, hostility, prejudice, ignorance, suspicion and fear on both sides of the generations’ divide.

Two; empowering the youth through education, training, socialization and exposure to practical leadership situations. Three, to be sustainable and acceptable to the people leadership must be the product of choice, hard work and commitment. And all this takes time and dedication.

Hence a balance needs to be established between nudging and persuasion by the incumbent leaders on the one hand, and the freedom of choice and initiative of the potential young leader on the other hand. Four, to re-assure the seniors by acknowledging their service to the nation, providing them with reasonable pensions, and ensuring them with a place in society; that there is an honourable life after politics.

This will remove the temptation to cling to power, thus eliminating some of the leadership succession problems. Democracy is not an option but an absolute necessity.

All over Africans demand democracy and are prepared to struggle for it. Good governance, accountability and transparency should not be construed as the prevailing conventional buzzwords or conditionality imposed by the donors that are likely to disappear with the changing interests or policies of the donors.

The ordinary citizens demand democracy and good governance. They demand open and honest government; and they want their leaders to be responsible, responsive and accountable to them.

Though the task of governance and nation-building must be approached with care, time seems not to be on our side. Pressures are amounting both from within and from without for improved governance.

Our people are becoming more and more aware of their rights in society and are accordingly demanding accountability and openness form governments. Globalisation has also stretched our inter-dependency relationship demanding in its wake the need to rationalize and harmonize efforts at governance and development. The present scenario of radical global change must however be seen as an opportunity to interact and work in genuine partnership among ourselves and with the technologically advanced countries.

People want the power to elect leaders of their own choice; and once these are elected to be able to call them to account in more effective and meaningful ways. They are also demanding competence, honesty, integrity, vision and commitment from their leaders to steer them from the endemic problems towards the Africa Renaissance.

 Moreover, they want to be sufficiently informed about public policy options so that they could make the right choice of leaders, as well as control and call to account those responsible for policy implementation.

They want leadership to be appropriately and honestly earned and not simply given or taken. Hence the need for an enabling environment and the continuous support of the key institutions, mechanisms and processes to sustain democracy and good governance.

Democracy and good governance are not there just for the wanting, or even for the knowing. It is not merely an act of will, legislation or resolutions. Democracy and good governance will not come about because good leaders have been elected. In fact democracy does not guarantee the deliverance of competent, honest and incorruptible leaders.

Democracy may not always reject the undesirable, incompetent and corrupt leaders and bring those with the required capabilities, integrity, vision and commitment. But democracy will empower the people to organize themselves, articulate their views, grievances, needs and aspirations, and enable them to promote and protect their interests.

Nonetheless, the long-term sustainability of democracy and good governance will require vigilance and continuous participation of the people in public affairs. And this takes time, effort, organization, commitment, patience, persistence and resources. In addition to the very high levels of illiteracy Africa also suffers from very low levels of operational literacy amongst its educated population.

The culture of reading for sheer knowledge, information, enlightenment or pleasure is still underdeveloped in Africa. After their formal education many Africans lapse into voluntary illiteracy. They read only when they have to; and even then it is usually connected with their professional or job responsibilities.

To sustain a thriving democracy and good governance an informed and participatory citizenry is essential. Visions are the products of prolonged hard work, experimentation, experience, and at time the consequences of violent struggles or revolutions.

Hence the importance of creating an enabling environment, so that ideas, opinions, experience, knowledge and information freely circulate; in short, the existence of a market place where ideas, goods and services could be exchanged without undue restrictions.

Each individual human being has the right to participate in the decision-making process that affects his/her life and livelihood. Given the opportunity each individual human being has the potentials to provide the appropriate solutions to any problem. Think tanks and independent public policy research centres are crucial in the support and promotion of an enabling environment.

So are the press and the media. Think tanks and research centres create new knowledge and subject the conventional wisdom and the activities of those in power to reasoned criticism. The press and the media help in the circulation of ideas and information.

Political Parties play a very important role in the processes of accountability and transparency in a democracy. They mobilize public opinion in order to be elected, and in the process make numerous promises to the public that once in power they would be implemented. They thus create the basic foundations for accountability and transparency for their members as well as the general public.

 It is impossible to imagine a functional and sustainable democracy without political parties. And yet in Africa many political parties are not democratically organized or managed. Internal party democracy will strengthen the accountability to the members and promote the inter-generations succession of leaders.

To ensure a sustainable succession of leaders parties should be based on principles, visions and commitment, so that support could be based on commitment to principles rather than to personalities.

This would enable the succession to leadership of those most suited and trusted to promote the principles and vision of the party. There must be genuine open competition for leadership within the party and the country at large.

To ensure that party policies are based on knowledge and information –and not on personal inspirations or whims- leaders must be adequately educated and with experience in the management of a modern nation-state.

In a democracy parliament is the sovereign legislative body. It enacts laws, appropriates, allocates and monitors public expenditure. It checks and balances the activities of the government and censures members of government and senior public servants.

It acts as a forum in which the representatives of the people articulate their grievances, express their anxieties, demand wrongs to be rectified, and in general compel the government to acknowledge its accountability to the people. Parliament is thus an important legal and political institution in a democracy.

 It brings together leaders of the various communities comprising the nation to deliberate and decide on issues affecting the entire nation. It creates the environment within which national leaders could be identified, and leadership established and acknowledged.

It provides the opportunities for the young aspiring leaders to demonstrate their competence, integrity and leadership qualities. Parliament ought to attract the most talented, competent, committed and public-spirited individuals.

In mature democracies parliaments play very critical role in ensuring that governments are accountable to the people, and that good governance and transparency are observed. In many African countries parliament is weak.

It has neither the legislative independence nor the respect of the people. In some countries fractious opposition parties have further weakened the effectiveness of parliament as a forum to debate national issues. In most countries the executives control parliaments.

And in virtually all countries parliamentarians lack the necessary institutional, academic and material means by which they could perform their duties with efficiency, respect and dignity.

Unless African parliaments are strengthened and enabled to perform their constitutionally mandated duties with respect and dignity, they would not be able to attract young Africans with the appropriate expertise, visions, integrity and commitment. (To be continued)