The reality of Africa’s leadership deficiency

17 Feb

And the $5mn goes to……?

The year 2012 passed without the Mo Ibrahim Foundation rewarding any African leader for exemplary service. In its six year existence, the $5mn cash prize has only been awarded three times. Former Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires won in 2011 while Festus Mogae of Botswana won in 2008 with Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique as the first recipient in 2007.

There was no award given in 2009 and 2010. Similarly, 2012 has followed the dry pattern. The prize recognizes democratically elected African leaders who excel in office and leave when they are supposed to.

No apologies for a “prizeless” year

Therefore in years where none are set apart for this flattering compliment, the founder Mo Ibrahim is unapologetic. He is quoted as having said “This is a prize for exceptional leadership, and we don’t need to go through the motions to just find anybody”. The prize committee reviewed several former leaders but decided that none met the award criteria.

This leaves one to ponder one of two possible lines of thought. Is it that the bar has been set too high? Or is this a glaring indictment of African leaders and their performance in office?

As we explore our current state of affairs and the expectations of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, it will become evident that there indeed still lies a mountain of work to be done before Africa can showcase exceptional leadership.

Misplaced recognition?

Some have argued that leaders must not be rewarded for doing what they are substantively expected to do. But for our continent, it is abundantly clear that most leaders need to be refreshed on what remarkable leadership resembles.

The general leadership display in Africa has given credence to the negative reports in international media. Africa is synonymous with corruption, authoritarian rule, unlimited office terms, poverty,disease, disjointed economic policies and frustrating failure.

It is this prevalent scenario that makes such recognition a necessity. How else will exceptional leadership be spotted? African leaders must be challenged in whichever spheres to discharge their responsibilities with integrity. This is the cry and demand of our continent if we are to taste real prosperity.

Is it all gloom?

The fact that three leaders have claimed the $5mn prize since its inception, is a glimmer of hope. It is a loud statement that it can be done.

It must be stated too that the aspiration is not perfection. Rather it is the dignified service a leader exhibits once given the privileged role to serve people. Flaws and failures may arise but the overarching spirit will be one of achieving progress for one’s people.

This is the realisation we as a people need to be alive to. Our leaders at corporate, spiritual, economic and political levels must believe it can be done. And yes we can. Even in the face of current challenges, we indeed can.

Rwanda is a case in point. The will to do the right thing for the general populace has yielded positive results. Over last decade, HIV/TB/Malaria deaths have dropped by 80%. Maternal mortality recorded a 60% dip while life expectancy has doubled. These have all come at an average health cost of $55 per person per year.

Why Rwanda you may ask? This is a country that endured a catastrophic spell in their recent history. Nearly a million people were killed in the 1994 genocide. It was expected to be a failed state, what with all factors stacked against the nation.

Granted Rwanda received substantial aid from wealthy nations initially to support its recovery. The same can be said of other nations on the continent. However, the utilisation of these resources availed tells contrasting stories in most cases.

Where does it come unstuck?

This encouraging picture is not consistent across Africa. Therein lies the undying concern.

Africa is endowed with unquestionable resources. Minerals, wildlife, water and human resource are the continent’s signature. Yet still it lags behind in terms of development and progress.

Half of her countries have attained middle income status. But inequality, unemployment, mono-economies, corruption and myopic leadership characterise Africa’s story.

While this is a known fact and there are various factors that combine to lead to this, leadership or the lack of it remains a critical one.

It’s all about how leaders account for themselves in their leadership role. What is the realisation that they act in trust, for the service of the people they lead? How much influence does self interest exert on their drive? Do they see beyond the immediate horizon with a view of making an indeligible impact?

Africa today yearns for and demands a breed of leaders that are forward thinking. Leaders that are selfless and driven to make a positive difference.

Spotting the enemy

Not everything about African leadership is bad. The fact though is that there is a lot to be improved for the continent to move forward as we all expect.

Selfishness, corruption and mindless politicking must have no place. The challenges Africa faces today entail that leaders cannot afford to let these negative elements take a hold.

It becomes imperative to be alive to this reality because of its prevalence across the continent.

A classic and recent case in point is Kenya. Members of Parliament demanded outrageous severance packages worth $80,000. That was not all, it had to come with diplomatic passports for the MPs and their families, armed protection for life and state burials to crown it all. Fortunately, it is a request that the President refused to honour.

This typifies the mindset and approach to leadership that must be nipped in the bud.

If and when the motivation to be in these roles is driven by such insane materialism, the continent we love faces a doomed future. This is because all energies and focus are on selfish pursuits, business contracts and the most attractive perks the leaders can get.

Perhaps that is the explanation for the squabbles we witness. It is a battle to get into the seats of privilege that offer untold rewards, mainly financial. It may also offer insight into the succession battles some African countries also witness. It is about who wields the power.

Where does the hope lie?

There is no shed of doubt that this scenario provides an opportunity for a new generation to step up. A generation that will accept the herculean task of leading Africa into prosperity.

A generation of selfless leaders whose adrenalin fuels a suffocating desire to leave a mark, with the people they serve better off.

What remains true as well is the fact that this does not just happen. This generation of leaders is serving now in the community, in the corporate world, in churches and in homes. As they serve, what are the principles they hold dear?

Does this generation cherish integrity, professionalism and service? What values form their bedrock? These are cardinal questions for the simple reason that we cannot get a different brand of leadership from what we see now.

If this generation thrives on shady deals, corruption, shoddy work, fast money and a jaundiced concern for what matters to the people, it will be no different when one is a national leader. The leadership Africa needs now must be premised on solid morality and service. If this generation, our generation, fails to realise this, then we too must accept that we are ill-prepared to take over.

The ever present challenge

Every African leader serving now or preparing to serve must reflectively ponder what difference needs to be made. It is an obligation that must be honoured.

I weep inside when I read about or watch our national leaders in my country Zambia. Each day is squandered on cheap uninspiring politics of patronage, childish squabbling, mindless statements and wasted opportunities to impact posterity.

I am left to pray and hope that they take time to review their performance and contribution. This is the most important ingredient for them to improve. But if this is absent, we will keep losing years on activities that add no value such as avoidable party defections, by-elections, misapplied resources and perpetual under-development.

The time to rise above pettiness, myopia and selfishness is now. We are living and creating the future today. When we all focus on the right things that need to be done today, a better tomorrow will be easier to achieve.

Only then will tales like Rwanda’s positive strides become more common. Only then will grand aspirations like Kenya’s Konza Tech City be the hallmark of a progressive continent. The norm rather than the exception.

And only then will we perhaps see more Mandelas and give the Mo Ibrahim Foundation reason to reward exceptional leadership year in and year out.

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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Leadership, Opinion


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