To transform Africa, leaders need to do what they say

22/05/2014
Share |

"The learnings are legion and the lessons drawn abundant. So what shall we do with all this? We must act to provide the missing practical link between what we have diagnosed and what we have to do. Otherwise, Africa will still be there in fifty years' time thinking about what it has to do to achieve ‘The Africa we want’, the central theme of the discussion."

This call for pragmatism was made by the High-Level Panel on “Leadership for the Africa We Want” held on Day 3 of the African Development Bank Annual Meetings in Kigali. On the panel: Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; William Ruto, Vice-President of Kenya; Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, President of the African Union Commission; Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki, former President of South Africa; Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria; and Mo Ibrahim, Founder and President of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

This distinguished gathering of African leaders outlined a series of responses to the triple question of, is there a leadership deficit in Africa, and if there is, how can the emergence of visionary African leaders be ensured, and is an "African young visionary leaders programme" a realistic proposition?

The people's crisis of confidence

AfDB President Donald Kaberuka, hosting the conference, warned in his introductory remarks that leadership was a vast area and was not limited only to politics. It was about all the skills available to the continent. Each person, at his or her level, needs to "support the process of Africa's transformation which needs leaders," he said.

He also put a marker down that this leadership crisis was not unique to Africa. Citizens' crisis of confidence in their leaders has taken a global turn. Kaberuka said that this lack of confidence had been highlighted by the 2014 Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which also referred to the leadership deficit in leaders' policies and programmes. "Good leadership is, however, crucial for Africa to be able to exploit the window of opportunity which has opened this past decade, in particular with regard to the boom in its natural resources."

President Obasanjo said, "The Africa we want is an Africa without oppression, where there is opportunity, democracy, full participation by all, where people can develop their potential, a place glad to welcome all who want to live there. What was missing,” he said, “is that we do not have a critical mass of effective leaders to achieve our goals.” For Obasanjo, leadership cannot be leadership if it does not lead to success.

Giving young people opportunities and revisiting the age of the Presidents

Where does one start? With young people and by reversing the trend of today whereby there are facilities and amenities but a glaring lack of opportunities for youth.

Mo Ibrahim focused on the age of the Presidents. "Our young people need to have more space for the expression of their potential, by joining governing institutions. We need to give them power because they better understand the expectations of their peers,” he concluded.

An Afro-African approach is needed in leadership

"We need to fight parochialism with Afro-African leadership," said the President of the African Union Commission. Dlamini-Zuma said that the continent needed a global vision. "We need leadership enabling us to invest massively in young people and women in particular." 

She invited the audience to think about two figures: "Africa trains 100,000 engineers per year, while China trains 700,000 in the same period, bearing in mind that their populations are not so different one from another. In the light of this scale, we can gauge the challenge of needing to train our young people. We absolutely have to train them in business and provide them with a university education."

Complexity due to the abundance of lessons learned

For Paul Kagame, "This type of debate is complex. We have been talking about this for 50 years and we are still talking about it. The main actual effort has been an analysis of leadership. What we lack is putting this into practice. That is where the shoe pinches."

According to Kagame, the complexity of problems resides in the abundance of lessons drawn and learning to be applied. "Moreover," he added, "leaders are all the product of a system. The leader is shaped by an environment.” In this regard, he also noted that some form of cult of youth must not let us forget that young people too have had major failures. “Some factors in this environment, such as poverty, have launched these very young people into the claws of those who have manipulated them into such serious acts as genocide in Rwanda. We have had to reverse the process of transformation and change for the well-being of society. Thus, leaders need to do what they say. Leaders who do not honour their pledges and do not concern themselves with the welfare of their people have failed," he concluded.

The way forward

Ruto was not far from this analysis when he said, "The problem is that what we have is wrong and we have the solutions, but a link remains to be made between the two and leaders need to show the way forward. It is for the latter to provide this link between what we say and what we do.” He did not fail to mention the achievements of the East African Community, which, in 2014 achieved what it had taken a century to bring about: the removal of barriers and frontiers that have been transformed into bridges, as well as the railway.

“The Africa we want is an Africa without war, without conflict and free from all these problems of corruption. These are answers to give. Africa has performance evaluation mechanisms such as peer evaluation, but this is not done because of selfishness. This lack of response on the part of leaders could mean that evil deeds will be discussed a century from now,” he said.

A certain selfish Africa

Mbeki said, "We want an Africa with equality of opportunity and leaders who think more about serving than being served. The core values of Africa must be translated into our interrelations. We are selfish and think only of the present." And he sarcastically added, "We only think about the sustainability of those who brought us into slavery. That's quite an irony," he concluded.

This very interactive session ended on the question of leadership succession. On this topic, Kagame said, "it is more appropriate for a leader to think about what he needs to leave to his successor than to think that since he has been in power he needs a successor. Africans, apart from improving the living conditions of the people, need to establish democratic institutions to facilitate succession.”