Amid a global pandemic that has challenged the world in the most unimaginable and devastating ways I find myself forced by these horrendous circumstances to reflect on African Leadership. This reflection is necessitated by the state of affairs on the African continent and the adverse socioeconomic impact the silent enemy called Covid-19, notoriously known as the Coronavirus, is effecting on the continent and the entire global village. The world at large is seeking resilient and effective leadership that is capable and competent enough to deal with this invisible enemy that is Covid-19. This disease has also brought to the surface, the necessity for African leaders who have a global perspective but are also aware of the unique situation and distinct challenges that Africans find themselves facing. A decisive leadership that will provide unique solutions to these distinct challenges.
There is no given doubt, that this deadly virus is a global health crisis that continues to drastically challenge the global health system, more particularly the global public health system. This is true even in the most developed countries such as the Peoples’ Republic of China – where it emerged towards the end of 2019 – and the United States of America. Obviously, Africa, as a developing continent is not spared, not even a single bit. Moreover, this global pandemic poses even greater threats on the global economy which are characterized by massive job losses, companies forced out of business, markets dipping and global trade being significantly disrupted. All this comes as a result of the subsequent lockdown regulations that were rightfully imposed by many countries following the recommendations by the World Heal Organization (WHO).
In summary, the impact that this global pandemic continues to effect on us, has put our entire social engineering and construct to the test – what we deem as important, our economic imperatives, our social relations, how we govern, how we work and almost all that we accepted and regarded as normal has been put to the test quite extensively.
In this article however, I seek not to speak about the Coronavirus, rather I seek to take this opportunity to reflect on African Leadership. More importantly, I implore us as Africans, more particularly the African youth, to reimagine and redefine what African leadership means to us. We have a duty to effectively respond to this global threat and reposition ourselves accordingly to take full advantage of the opportunities it offers, as we conquer the severe challenges it poses.
You see, I had a very distasteful experience back in 2018 when I took my then 4 year old nephew to a hospital in South Africa. He was collapsing every 5 minutes and we didn’t know what to do. Frantic with worry his mum and I rushed him to the hospital, upon arrival; they took the child in and told us to go open a file at the administration desk. The mother’s dark complexion was enough for the administrator to demand a passport and permit for both her and her child. When it was noted that she did not have one on her person, we were advised to kindly take him to a hospital in Zimbabwe as they don’t have time to deal with amakwerekwere ( a derogative term for foreigners). With a sneer and attitude, we were told that their resources are for their people only and whatever happens to the child is not their problem. The doctors then notified us that without a file they cannot touch him and they proceeded with other patients, we pleaded and begged to no avail and ended up taking the child home. This is story is one amongst thousands of similar stories of black foreigners in the Republic of South Africa.
In defining African Leadership, I will borrow from a paper that was published in the African Journal of Public Affairs (Volume 6) in 2013 titled: Perspectives on African Leadership in the spirit of Ubuntu, written by P. Pillay, M. Subban and V. Govender. In its abstract it states that:-
“African leadership is about African solutions to local problems, and to re-conscientize and rejuvenate the hearts and minds of people, regarding the richness of collectiveness with an emphasis on Ubuntu (humanness and moral regeneration) and “Umoja” (togetherness).”
This prolific definition emphasizes three of the four important principles that will be the heart and breathe of my case:
- African solutions to African problems;
- Rekindling the spirit of Ubuntu,
- The spirit of shared responsibility and prosperity – collectivism; “Umoja”
The fourth principle is also defined in the very same paper when it describes the kind of African Leadership that is needed as follows:
“Hence, the need for African leadership that has the competence to comprehend and respond to global threats, challenges and opportunities, and the ability to counterbalance them against domestic challenges, needs and aspirations, is absolutely crucial.”
This is the principle of capable and competent leadership with a global perspective and awareness. This global pandemic has proven to us in unequivocal and unambiguous terms that indeed we need the kind of leadership that is described in the extract above. Leadership that is capable and competent with a global perspective but does not lose sight of our uniqueness and the distinct challenges we face, and therefore the unique solutions we must provide to those distinct challenges. Finally, leadership that is driven by the philosophy and spirit of Ubuntu and “Umoja”.
The state of leadership in Africa
Now, analyzing the state of most African countries pre-Covid19 and during this global pandemic, I dare to err and say that we lack the kind of leadership described above. We are rather infested with old, worn out, incapable, incompetent and corrupt leaders that lack foresight and progressive imagination.
These are individuals who continue to loot, squander and embezzle state resources meant to improve the lives of the African masses. Most of them, due to greed and their untamed power mongering propensities, continue to plunder their countries into poverty, unemployment, disease, famine and war.
A report titled Foresight Africa – Top priorities for the continent 2020-2030 compiled and published by the Brookings Institution’s Africa Growth Initiative, notes that the world’s highest concentration of the poor is in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over 41.3% of the people in this region live below the poverty line as of 2015; and approximately 600 million people do not have access to electricity. Furthermore, millions more die every year from preventable diseases.
These statistics were recorded 55 years after Ghana, the first country on the continent to gain its independence from colonial rule and the evil shackles of imperialism, was officially declared a Republic. One cannot help but ask the question: ‘What has gone wrong?’ The answer is simple and straight forward – Africa is cursed with poor leadership!
At the dawn of Ghana’s independence and that of many other African countries, we were blessed with an incredible and formidable caliber of leadership. The likes of Kwame Nkrumah – the founding father of the Republic of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau, Patrice Lumumba of the DRC of Congo and OR Tambo of South Africa, amongst others.
These were freedom fighters and inspirational leaders who fought tooth and nail to conquer and overthrow colonial rule. They fought to suspend the imperialist exploitation that Africa suffered and was subjected to for centuries and centuries of decades. These inspirational, courageous and visionary leaders were truly committed, not only to the liberation of their countries, but more significantly, to the realization of a united, independent and prosperous Africa – the ultimate Pan-Africanist ideal.
During this era, Africa must have been proud of her brave and truly committed sons and daughters who used whatever was at their disposal to conquer her enemies and usher in new hope in the masses of Africa. Little did she (Africa) know that her rejoice and jubilation will be short lived as these historic victories were soon to be trumped, tarnished and defiled by the successors of this crop of leaders, in collaboration with her oppressors and enemies.
Given the state of affairs on the continent, she surely must be weeping and mourning in shame and disgust at the betrayal and embarrassment that the current crop of leaders continue to shamelessly subject her and her people to! It is worth noting and emphasizing at this particular point, that as result of the sacrifices and the war waged and conquered by the inspirational freedom fighters and leaders I have eluded to, African Leadership is broad today. African Leadership includes and is not limited to politicians, statesmen, public servants and administrators, business leaders and captains of industries and civil society.
Reimagining and Redefining African Leadership
The emphasis above is imperative for us, as African youth, to bear in mind, as we reimagine and redefine African Leadership so that we are far reaching and inclusive in our analysis and prescription. The most imperative question at this point is: what is the best imagination and definition of African Leadership?
To answer this question, I will start where I began and rehash those four principles I outlined which are:
- African solutions to African problems;
- rekindling the spirit of Ubuntu,
- and the spirit of share responsibility and prosperity – collectivism; “Umoja”
- Capable and competent leadership with a global perspective and awareness.
I believe the best imagination and definition of African Leadership, is the kind of leadership that I described above. This I borrow from the Perspectives on African leadership in the spirit of Ubuntu, which embodies and is driven by the four principles and qualities above.
Let me be more direct and vivid in describing this much needed African Leadership. This leadership must:-
- Value education and be intellectually and technically capacitated to understand the unique challenges we are facing as a continent and how to effectively and distinctly respond to them.
- Be well informed about global affairs – the rapid changes taking place globally and how take full advantage of them in order to effectively position Africa as a significant and equal role player in global affairs.
- Be visionary and understand Africa’s interests in global affairs and be well-equipped and capacitated to negotiate in securing these interests without compromising much.
- Understand the Pan-Africanist imperative for Africa to unite, be independent and prosperous.
- Have integrity that values transparency, honesty and values of good governance which include being self-critical and correcting at all material times.
- Lastly, this leadership must be fairly young and innovative because Africa is a youthful continent that deserves to be led and represented by young capable Africans.
The importance of a strong African Leadership
The African Leadership described above is extremely important to develop and realize if we are truly serious about repositioning Africa as a star amongst the constellation of continents, countries and nations. It is through its leadership that Africa can reclaim her glory and worth. This obligation falls more on us as young Africans and we need to rise to the occasion and accomplish that mission without fail. For should we fail to do so we will be judged harshly by history along with those who continue to shame and embarrass Africa, her sons and daughters. So we dare not fail! African Leadership as described in this article, is the key to resolving the many persistent and stubborn challenges facing this beautiful continent of ours. It is only when this leadership is realized and rises to the occasion, that Africa will rise to shine bright as a star amongst the constellations!