Some people argue that leaders are born with the necessary qualities which when honed through nurture, brings about success. Others share the view that leadership, like many other similar characteristics, can be learned and developed through life. Whether leaders are born or made, there is the undeniable truth that Africa’s biggest problem today lies with lack or availability of born or made leaders. The leaderships of Africa are so removed from the people that they are looked upon as foreigners. “They are driven by self-interest, so excessive that their peoples’ interests are forgotten — hardly different from the colonial masters” (John Hayford). Why is leadership the major problem with Africa?
The importance of leadership has since the origin of man been recognised. For example the scripture dating back more than 2000 years states “Without leadership a nation falls”. It goes further to prescribe the conditions for effective leadership:
A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he’s talking about, not be overfond of wine, not pushy but gentle, not thin-skinned, not money-hungry. He must handle his own affairs well, attentive to his own children and having their respect. Outsiders must think well of him, or else the Devil will figure out a way to lure him into his trap”
I Timothy 3:1-7
The devil has truly figured out ways to lure African leaders into his trap – perhaps the root of the African leadership curse. There are many instances where African citizens with “most impeccable credentials and a track record of personal integrity and credibility become so inept or/and squander their credibility so quickly once they emerge at the helms of affairs in the public domain” (Aina).
The good news is that this curse can be broken. There is much to learn today about leadership from a living legend such as President Mandela. President Nelson Mandela is one of the most respected and revered leaders of our time, a role model to presidents and clergy and the darling of the common man. US Ambassador Joseph observes that President Mandela’s influence came from: (a) the power of his personality, (b) the elegance of his humanity, (c) the loftiness of his ideals, (d) the wisdom of his judgement, (e) the calmness of his temperament and (f) the power of his commitment to the well being of others. Therefore President Mandela, a world citizen with fully coded genes of African origin, has demonstrated that Africans are born with leadership qualities and can make great leaders if and when they choose to.
President Khama of Botswana and his predecessors are also an encouraging reference point in Africa. They committed themselves to building the social and economic infrastructures such as schools, hospitals, roads, harbours, airports, rail lines, telecommunication, silos and irrigation facilities. Today the people of Botswana enjoy one of the highest standards of living in Africa (Editor Business, Education & Opinion).
Qualities to/not to look for in a true leader
The major problems of Africa are largely to do with failure to formulate and effectively implement sound economic, agricultural, infrastructural, educational, health and environmental policies. The varying characteristics of the African leaderships explain the sources and branches of the failure:
- Leaders are out of touch with the needs and sufferings of their people.
- The seat of power has been occupied for too long by individuals short of ideas and solutions to deal with the economic and social problems facing their people.
- Leaderships are preoccupied with how to preserve their existence rather than the existence of their people.
- Leaderships are more interested in voting themselves into power than the responsibilities that go with the votes.
- Leaderships exist based on tribal, party, religion and regional alliances and loyalty of the security forces rather than their own economic and social records.
- Leaderships accept no opposing views and remain accountable to themselves.
- Leaderships worship and reward corruption rather than fight it.
- Leaderships destroy the educational systems of their countries and sponsor their children to top schools in Europe, USA, South Africa, etc.
- Leaderships refuse to finance the health infrastructure needs of their countries and then travel overseas for medical treatment when sick.
- Leaders put the interest of their former colonial masters and big multinational corporations ahead of their own people.
- Leaders are preoccupied “with how to enrich themselves and prolong their rule” by engaging in “short term ill conceived, vote buying, cosmetic policies and programmes that increase poverty and turn the people into slaves”.