Jebril Domenico examines the ongoing problems of leadership in Africa and suggests it’s time for a rethink.
The success or failure of any people depends on the issue of leadership. The state and future of African leadership has been a very strong concern since the beginning of African independence.
How can a people so hungry for self-rule become so dispassionate about a future they had fought and lost so much to have? How can a people destroy the very thing they love so much with the same hands that they used in building it? Why should it be that Africa keeps going round in circles instead of moving forwards?
The African Perspective
When African leaders pay more attention to how it is done elsewhere without seeking recourse to the African experience, they have demonstrated their dependency on outsiders. An understanding of yourself and the people whose affairs you manage will help you apply the right kind of policies and establish a sustainable structure. Good African leadership has always been perverted and ultimately thwarted by dependence on foreign ideas (whether of the Western or the Eastern block).
These ideas may have worked in the system from where they evolved, but are often totally alien to African history and experience. Until these ideas are applied, with particular consideration given to the aspirations and culture of the people they seek to serve, they will always bring discredit to African leadership.
The Lack of Succession: A Case Against Life Presidency
The African system of governance was that of kings and kingdoms. Kings in the African setting ruled for life. However, they had lived to the responsibility of raising a man (whether a son or a kinsman) that will rule in his stead, and continue the rulership from where he stopped. They understood that death could be sudden, natural, or as a result of a protracted illness. They lived every day as though it was the last, and because of this they paid particular attention to raising a successor. How well has African democracy faired in relation to this status quo?
Every president from Nkrumah onwards has made one fundamental mistake. It’s a mistake that is a result of a flaw in the way leaders think about their role. It is the ‘president for life’ syndrome; an excess of ego; a hunger for personal power and gain; short termism as opposed to long term planning. This fundamental mistake is the failure of leaders to understand their mortality; that one day they will either stand down or die.
As a result there is a lack of mentoring – the understanding that you have to nurture someone to take your place. This lack of a long term vision perhaps stems from fear, from a lack of trust of their fellow country people and an unwillingness to share information, something that is rife throughout African societies. Sharing knowledge and information is clearly something that helps societies to progress. Yet this stubborn, fearful silence exposes the leader’s weakness and makes him more interested in perpetuating himself instead of planning for continuity in the case of his demise.
Training your successor ensures that your knowledge and skills do not die even when you do. It also, most importantly, ensures that your vision and projects continue.
The Lack of Partnership
One of the great weaknesses of African policies is that each new leader refuses to continue the work of their predecessor. This is much more criminal than the coups and woeful stories of dictatorship told about African leaders. Projects, policies, dreams and the destiny of people suddenly end whenever a new leader takes over, especially when he is not from the party of the former. Each new leadership is a new ride, with a total disregard for things that had already begun.
How much time, resources and lives have we wasted in the process? How can a people move forward with this cancer eating deeper and deeper into the fabric of the very society that we claim we care about and would give all we have to preserve?
Our View of Leadership.
Leaders are not merely the kings and the presidents and the rest of the people (whether elected or appointed), who are heading one sector of the society or the other. Leaders are people who have a responsibility to see to it that their environment is preserved and their community is distinguished. They are people that we look up to in terms of guardianship, from the least of all things to the biggest. The leader is you and I. Yes, you and I.
The African mentality today is such that views himself as a citizen-beneficiary and not as a citizen-stakeholder. This is reflected in our attitude towards the affairs of governance. We are so interested in what we can or should get, and not in what we can or should give. We thus put so much pressure on the people who we have chosen to manage our affairs, and we give them more powers than their little minds can contain. When they fail, we call them names, not realising that if we had played our part in living up to our social responsibility, things would have been better. We blame the government when our environments are dirty, we blame them when cab drivers drive carelessly, we blame them when we buy fake or expired drugs/beverages, we blame them when people die from the effects of cigarette smoking. However, when the government imposes sanctions on the people to see to the preservation of the values we hold dear, we call them despots, not realising that we are the architects of the Frankenstein we dread.
We use the freedom of speech to delve carelessly into the personal lives and affairs of people managing our affairs, instead of dealing with issues of national progress. This is not to say that addressing issues in a leader’s personal life which might pose a threat to the proper execution of his responsibilities is wrong, but this must be done constructively.
We are so interested in imbibing foreign values, but we do not want to be governed by them. We love the way things are done in the U.S and the U.K, but we do not want to pay the price, to see Africa rise. Instead we want to bring in strategies that are alien to the African, expecting it to work for the African – when they fail we say the African has very inept problems.
An African leadership without an African focus is an Africa heading for the rocks again!
This article was first published on Modern Ghana