A continent awakes
Africa has seen a strong transformation taking root. In the early 90’s, we saw the winds of change usher in democracy on the continent. Most recently, we have witnessed the Arab spring and all that has ensued since it broke in North Africa.
The uprisings have left an indeligible mark with a myriad of lessons for political leaders. The lessons actually offer rich insights for anyone tasked with the responsibility of guiding people.
The continent has seen the downfall of prominent long serving Arab leaders most notably the indefatigable Muammar Gaddhafi and Hosni Mubarak.
What started as simple youthful protests mobilised the masses that had contained their frustration and fatigue with authoritarian rule. The people spoke and chased once unchallenged leaders out of office.
Gaddhafi fought to the end, losing a protracted battle against his own people who boasted the backing of Western powers. He died defiant and in battle.
Mubarak wheeled into jail
June 2012 however also took a remarkable twist as Egypt’s court handed down a jail sentence to Mubarak. A steel faced Mubarak was wheeled into court on a hospital bed to learn his fate. It was a life sentence and the nation exploded into street celebrations. The face of the long harsh and authoritarian rule was being punished finally.
There were whispers and eventually loud discontent however that some army personnel and Mubarak’s sons were acquitted. Perhaps a delicate balance the ruling army needed to manage their situation. Appearing to punish what the people had come to loath while sparing a few of their own. Allegiance to the old establishment perhaps.
Lessons for leaders
These recent developments are not to be read only as peculiar to North Africa. There is a lot to decipher for the good of governance and future leadership on the continent.
Let us look at some of these:
1. The people rule- leadership is about the people and service to them. This has been a fact but elusive aspect that has beleaguered us. Ideally, leaders must not lose sight of this reality in pursuit of their self enrichment, power and status. Once this truth is lost, one’s downfall is not far off. Even if it is decades later.
2. Strengthening governance structures- Africa needs to sort out her governance structures. We do not need the ICC to pursue African leaders that have committed crimes. Africa needs institutions such as the AU to step up and deal with leaders that lapse to the detriment of their own people. If this is not dealt with, we will continue having cases like Charles Taylor being sentenced in a European court or other leaders being pursued by bodies other than the AU.
The challenge is for Africans to govern themselves, highlight wrongs and strive to improve the quality of continental leadership. When this dynamic is set right, we will not associate African leadership with mediocrity, corruption, abuse of power and related ills.
3. Africa must unite- In every sense of the phrase, Africa must unite. As cited above, Africa must get to a position of collectively equipping itself in terms of capacity, calibre and capability. We must not have to depend on other powers or continental bodies to resolve our issues. A case in point is the US/NATO intervention in Libya. This is Africa and we must take the lead in our own matters.
This then calls for unity beyond political utterances at continental summits. It means Africa must move quickly on economic integration and stimulate intra-continental trade.
Africa needs to pursue an active agenda to produce and supply within the continent. She needs to foster the pursuit of infrastructure development to support this trade. She must educate her population and enhance her inhabitants’ skills.
This must be a collective agenda and it may seem a pipedream today but steps to make it a reality must be taken quick and now. This is the challenge that needs to be mounted against poverty, under-development and leadership failures that today and tomorrow’s leaders must have foremost on their minds.
4. You can fool some people sometimes- But you can’t fool all the people all the time. African leaders must learn this urgent and timeless principle.
Most of our leaders have succumbed to the temptation and trappings of power. In the end, they lose their humility, focus and reason. Even worse, they find themselves surrounded by people that tell them what pleases their ears. It has become apparent that they pay attention only to what ultimately destroys them and sobriety only returns with a smack of reality in their disgraced faces.
It must never be so. A true leader must never take for granted the very people that made him one. This is pertinent truth that everyone close to any leader must remind them of.
5. A vigilant people- In the past, all sorts of failures and excesses have been allowed somewhat. The hapless citizenry has absorbed all the unfortunate unfolding weaknesses of leadership. As a result, even the leaders responsible for these failures have survived without reprimand.
What the continent has seen in North Africa and earlier in the 90s has exposed the inherent power that lies with the people. When the people take an active interest in governance, it becomes easier to drive accountability and transparency at all levels. This ensures that leaders do not drive a selfish agenda but inevitably pursue service to the people as their core motivation.
It cannot be disputed therefore the power that people yield. This is what must be realised by each and every citizen. Leaders are in those important offices to serve and what they do in service must show or else they have failed.
That in itself demands vigilance, an alert people that take an interest in what is happening around them.
North Africa has shown how powerful a force this can be. The key is for active engagement between the people and their leaders. A healthy interface may then serve as a deterrent that averts the chaos, blood and destruction seen up north.
6. A cry for ethical leadership- The theme remains the same. Leaders must have a semblance of principles and ethics. They must stand for something that matters more than money, power or pride.
This has been the most notable missing link over the decades with our African leaders. The ethics take a back seat when it matters most and the consequences have been as crystal clear as an LED screen.
This crippling phenomenon characterises our leadership and we must all watch how we manage the responsibility on our shoulders to assess how we serve or can serve. What we do with less responsibility is usually a sure indication of what to expect when we have more.
7. Beyond statistics- Leadership is beyond economic statistics. Poverty remains the biggest foe Africa must fight. The continent has posted unprecedented growth over the last few years. The raging debate though has been whether the rate of growth can halt and reverse the poverty levels. Is this pace sufficient to turn the continent on its head, create employment for the largely youthful population?
The people express their frustration when access to basic services remains elusive. When malnutrition ravages the children, illiteracy haunts us as more people fail to get into school and households are led by the young ushered into the driving seat by suffocating diseases like AIDS.
Leaders must know and realise that with each passing day these are the only issues that matter. There is no patience or time for rhetoric anymore.
The writing on the wall
The Arab Spring, arrest of Charles Taylor and Hosni Mubarak all point to the need for a fresh start in Africa.
The continent is ripe for progress, for a departure from a pattern of governance that has left us stuck in perpetual misery and perceived failure.
However, we are not failures as a people and must therefore not accept any hint of it.
What these developments must convey is the need for leaders to take their roles much more seriously. And the led, we the people, must pay attention to what they do and demand more.
In the absence of this twin interplay, we will wallow in the mess Africa has become painfully accustomed to.