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Is the lack of great and visionary leaders Africa's greatest political problem?



GhanaThink Managing Executive abocco

I read this article concerning leaders in Africa and the answer to our 'problems'. The writer argues that Africa needs people to fix its problems and the malfunctions of its economies and societies.
To quote the author "To get from Point A (state of under-development) to Point B (developed state), you need a developmobile and a driver (leader). Nobody is paying attention to the CONDITION of the vehicle; yet everybody wants to be the driver!"

And he ends "We need TECHNOCRATS to fix our broken, dysfunctional institutions. REPAIRMEN or plumbers who will unclog the gutters or the system. CUTLASSES to chop down all the dead woods Rawlings packed into the civil service. PINCERS to de-worm the judiciary, and so on.
You do NOT need an Nkrumah (a visionary and Pan-Africanist) or a Mandela (a heroic campaigner against white injustice) because they are NOT technocrats.
He ends by saying that Africa doesn't need Nkrumahs and Mandelas to develop the continent, but Technocrats.
Full article is here

Do you think we need people to fix our problems, in this case thinkers, dons, etc? or we need leaders to guide us into prosperity?
Are we too obsessed with finding good leaders?



technocrats/good quality managers are the answer

My opinion is that you are correct to consider non charismatic (my guess of what you mean) leaders who are interested in focussing on getting specific, measureable goals done.

The article you quote is interesting reading. May I suggest you read the following article, url and original text shown below:

In terms of relevancy to Ghana, would Rawlings take the money are be quiet, ot still voice his opinion. This is an irrelevant question really, since Rawlings' deeds during his time in office disqualify from the proposal in this article.

What’s needed is little glamour, lots of hard slog
David Christianson
Published: 03-JAN-07

Some very impressive analyses — Martin Meridith’s 2005 The State of Africa for instance — focus almost entirely on political leadership as the most critical of all the problems facing the continent.

In many ways these sorts of assessments are simply following, often knowingly, the great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, who wrote in a famous 1983 essay that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership”. Achebe made the same point emphasised by many writers in the region when he asserted that: “There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which is the hallmark of true leadership”.

Former Economist correspondent Robert Guest, in his lively 2004 account The Shackled Continent, refers to the above Achebe quote and says: “substitute ‘Africa’ for ‘Nigeria’ and this is a pretty good summary of what holds the continent back.”

But despite this weight of authority — and the all-too many examples that seem to bear out the thesis — there is something intrinsically unsatisfying about the inadequate leadership explanation. For one thing, the leadership that is so criticised is part and parcel of the societies that are regarded as so unsuccesssful. It is a strange mode of explanation that singles out only one element of the system, heaping all opprobrium on it and exonerating everything else.

For another, it seems to be unsatisfying in a comparative sense. While assessments of leadership are inevitably subjective, can it really be said that George W. Bush — or Tony Blair, Angela Merkel or John Howard, for that matter — are ‘better’ leaders today that Julius Nyerere was in his time? What of Sir Seretse Khama, architect of Botswana’s ‘economic miracle’? Was it really the case that this one country just got lucky and happened to produce a truly great leader at a time when this was what was needed? And, as the ‘miracle’ has outlived Sir Seretse, can we come to the extraordinary conclusion that both his successors also just happen to be great leaders? While certainly not exonerating poor leadership, it has to be said that this does look like one of those over-simple, monocausal explanations, constituting, at best, a partial truth, and at worst being profoundly misleading.

The fact is that leadership — good, great or otherwise — is invariably contextual. Two years before the Second World War, Winston Churchill, then in his mid-60s, was widely regarded as a has-been and an under-achiever, best known perhaps for his association with the Gallipolli fiasco in World War I and a general maverick attitude. It took an exceptional context — global total warfare — to turn his unusually powerful leadership qualities into something particularly useful to his country.

But context is only part of the issue. It has to be related to the elements at the very centre of the definition of leadership. But that definition, on examination, proves rather elusive. Does it mean the ability to inspire others? To make correct decisions and take others along with them? To delegate effectively? Does it require a moral component? Is it the same thing in politics, business and spirituality? Is it simply a function of personality or is it a technique? Does it consist of doing or refraining from doing? In different ways and at different times, all of these elements have come into the leadership equation.

It might not be necessary to dig too deep here. It may be that leadership is easier to recognise than it is to define. It is perhaps most useful to consider two primary poles of the definition.

The first is the ability to mobilise large historical forces. In practice, this means large numbers of people gathered in persuit of a common vision — like national independence. It was a primary ability among Africa’s great First Generation political leaders. Men — and they were invariably men — like Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Leopold Senghor, Félix Houphouët-Boigny and their contemporaries were able to mobilise, organise and ride the popular wave. Some were superb platform speakers; others not. Some were genuine intellectuals, some working politicans, some both. Some actively sought power; others had it thrust upon them. None of these distinctions mattered at the time. These leaders were able to articulate a vision and to get those who mattered — including usually key colonial advisors — to buy into or at least acquiesce to, it. These were true leaders measured against the first pole of the definition.

The second pole is the ability to take crucial decisions in response to changed circumstances. This is the skill of the technocrat leader, in contrast with the charismatic leader. It might be argued that those who led their countries’ independence struggle were often not the appropriate men to lead the subsequent quest for development. Development, in the hands of charismatic leaders, all too often tends towards authoritarian popular style — as witnessed, perhaps in its most extreme form, in Chairman Mao Zedong’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-9. Africa’s many developmental dead-ends were products of poor decisions made, especially by that first generation of continental leadership. It does however seem a bit harsh to pin all blame on them as individuals. There was often considerable national and indeed international agreement around those decisions.

What distinguishes the more recent generation of successful leaders has been their willingness to accept the limitations of the African state. Where it is agreed that government should not ‘drive’ development itself but simply act as a facilitator of private investment, leadership requirements become very different.

The primary virtue of a successful leader under these new circumstances is restraint. Leadership means refusing to meddle in inappropriate areas and persuading others that this is the correct course of action.

There is an important observation here. This sort of leadership — perhaps described as technocratic — is not the same thing as management. Good management is an essential tool for technocratic leaders. But it does not replace leadership itself. The ability to sell a vision is more important than ever, particularly when the appropriate vision centres on the Victorian virtues of frugality, restraint and parsimoniousness. This is where personal morality is so important. It is impossible to ask sacrifices of others when a leader is not prepared to make those same sacrifices. That is also a part of the reason why leaders should be prepared to surrender office after a constitutionally fixed term. The other part has to do with the contextual nature of leadership. Circumstances change and leader ability sets become outdated and inappropriate. Both of these reasons suggest that the recent initative to encourage leaders to leave office, sponsored by Celtel founder Mo Ibrahim, strikes a citical chord (See sidebar).

It is also why the merest whiff of corruption should spell death to the ambitions of any aspiring leadership candidate on the continent. The fact that it still so often doesn’t — witness the teflon-like imperviousness of Jacob Zuma in South Africa — is a sign of leadership failure. Many African countries have probably improved significantly in this regard. But the persistence of corruption also confirms that the problem is not merely a failing of individuals in leadership positions. Their supporters in the wider polity are equally to blame.

At this level the widespread excuse, on the part of political leaders, that “it takes two to tango” — and that business leadership is equally culpable — is simply not acceptable. Business leadership does have its responsibilities. But while business is dispersed, all of government ultimately answers to a single apex. That is the only point where there is a real prospect for completely checking corruption.

So ultimately leadership does matter. But its tasks should be smaller than often conceived, and narrowly defined. No leader should think it is up to him or her to deliver development in the way that a previous generation could claim to have delivered independence. The task of leaders now is to put each building block — the basis of private sector driven development — in place, incrementally and one element at a time, but nevertheless as rapidly as possible. The context determines the appropriate role and, frankly, there’s little glamour and much slog involved. -Business in Africa Magazine
In a good cause: Mo Ibrahim’s first-ever bribe
The initiative launched in October by former Celtel CEO Mohammed (Mo) Ibrahim offers money to African leaders who step down on completion of a regulation term of office. Few think that the problem addressed by this very direct approach is anything less than pressing. But some have not unreasonable reservations about the strategy.

African leaders tend not to go gently. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been in power for over 26 years, Paul Biya of Cameroon for 24, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda for 20 and Omar Bongo of Gabon for an extraordinary 39 years. Previously, presidents Senghor ruled for 20 years, Houphouët-Boigny for 23, Kenyatta for 15 and Moi for 24. Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, perhaps the epitomy of the “big man” syndrome, ruled for 32 years.

Few outside these leaders themselves and their immediate entourage have ever tried to argue that this longevity in office is a good thing. It may be true that it has delivered a degree of stability. But there can be little doubt that this has been achieved at the expense of growth, development and democratic governance.

Ibrahim believes that the key to the problem is that there is no financial incentive to persuade African leaders to retire. There is nothing like the lucrative lecture tour that helps retired US presidents get by, no House of Lords to provide a lifelong sinecure and no guarantee that it will be possible to enjoy a pension without constantly having the past raked over as former President Chiluba of Zambia is now finding.

Ibrahim’s Foundation offers an annual prize of $500 000 — to be paid each year for 10 years — to African presidents and prime ministers who quit when their time is up. An additional $200 000 will be paid every year to the leader’s charity of choice. After the initial decade, the charity donation will be discontinued but $200 000 will go to the ex-leaders every year until they die. The award is not open to leaders who have looted and plundered during their time in office. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is to established an index of good governance to be compiled by an independent team based at Harvard University. The rankings will presumably have a cut off point and only those whose standards of behaviour in office place them above it, will qualify.

Praise for Ibrahim’s initiative has been far from universal. One line of criticism has been that it is patronising in that it implies that African leaders have to be bribed to leave office. It allocates no role to an ordinary African who might wish to participate in bottom-up – in other words –democratic regime changes. The initiative may also ignore the extent to which African attitudes have changed.

A further criticism is the implicit suggestion that holding onto office in Africa is all about financial rewards. In many cases a certain arrogance of power — the belief that an individual is indispensable — may be at least as weighty a consideration.

However the initiative works out, at least two things are clear. First, Ibrahim can afford it. Second, there is no doubt that Ibrahim believes in what he is doing. Celtel was the recipient of the first IFC (International Finance Corporation) Client Leadership Award in 2004. The IFC’s press release referred to the way in which “Celtel (had) achieved its business goals while committing to strong corporate governance and the betterment of local communities.

Ibrahim comments that when African leaders leave office: “Suddenly all the mansions, cars, food and wine are withdrawn. Some will find it difficult to rent a house in the capital. That incites corruption; it incites people to cling to power. The prize will offer essentially good people, who may be wavering, the chance to opt for the good life after office.”

Will it work? That may depend on how accurate its diagnosis of the essential problem is and it has to be doubted that African leaders cling on simply because they’re afraid of a future lived in poverty. But it does raise a critical issue and may, in combination with other more local factors, make a difference.


Aye. I agree with Mo

Aye. I agree with Mo Ibrahim. Power and influence are hard to let go of ( I remember a hangover from SSS when I had to hand over my prefectorial responsibilities--that was when I first appreciated the amount of self-discipline it takes to move on).
It's not easy to move from being the most influential person who makes headline news with every step to being a private citizen and to be a responsible citizenry we should occupy our former leaders with constructive things to do (for which they should be remunerated appropriately) so they don't get bored and meddle in affairs they best have to leave to the new leaders.



Leaders can be good; perhaps even considered great but only if their organisational skills is top notch. As Abocco mentioned, everybody wants to be a driver. Well i will expand it further and say that not only do they want to drive but they want to be the mechanics and plumbers and fitters all at once.
African leaders are not good at delegating. They feel delegation means less of their authority. Considering one person cannot know nor do it all, then it seems the wisest thing to do is to apportion responsibilities to able bodied persons and organisations and surround oneself with a team. But because of this complex of always wanting to hold on fast to everything at the same time with claws, thongs, pincers and glue, we get a consequence of the ''jack of all trades; master of none'' and at the end of an era when the count is done, nothing much has been done save for unfinished businesses and foundations scattered all over the place.

What is the point in having ministers, heads of organisations, legislature, judiciary and civil rights if a leader will choose to control them rather than work with them? If leaders will learn to delegate and stop being dictators and allow for Independent working of organs of government and civil appointees, they will find their shoulders less burdened, the wrath of the electorate less harsh and have an ease of overseeing things in a more open and well defined manner rather than rushing left, right and centre wanting to be master of all.

As for letting go of power and moving on after Presidency, well one might ask why they dont invest in a future after their reign. Money isn't their problem...a continous thirst for the limelight and fame is. Former Presidents and Prime ministers in Europe, America and elsewhere do not melt into the shadows and rot. They take on other civil roles and make themselves and their intellect useful to their people. That is what any respectable former head should do, but in the case of Africa, the clingy disease soon catches up with them and they end up leaving violently or in shame.