Today I thought I would share with you all two great resources all revolving around answering the same question: What’s wrong with Africa? Is it Africans?
The first is a great article written by my great friend and fellow administrator of the African Dream’s Group. I have posted it below word for word. Great article by a great thinker.
The second is a discussion I had on the forums at www.mashada.com. You can find the discussion Is Africa the Problem? Or Is It Problem Africans by clicking on this link. I post under the name t.D.A. (the Displaced African). Enjoy and I hope it serves and teaches.
Be blessed; bless others,
The Poverty of Leadership by O. Tongoi
Africa. That one word has come to be synonymous with social strife, suffering, poverty and myriads other negative connotations. Yet Africa has always been and continues to be the richest continent as far as natural resources are concerned. Why then does it continue to lag behind in terms of development? Why hasn’t it been able to jump on the bandwagon of industrialization?
Many excuses have been offered so far in an effort to explain this phenomenon and make sense of Africa’s current predicament. Many culprits have been named over the years. Among them are poverty, corruption, insufficient foreign aid among others. Yet these challenges have been overcome by other countries, societies and nations the details of which are beyond the scope of this paper. Very rarely is the underlying issue addressed however, that of poor leadership. And when it is addressed it is never done so in a conclusive manner.
“Africa has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent, leadership: predatory kleptocrats, military-installed autocrats, economic illiterates, and puffed-up posturers. By far the most egregious examples come from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zimbabwe — countries that have been run into the ground despite their abundant natural resources. But these cases are by no means unrepresentative: by some measures, 90 percent of sub-Saharan African nations have experienced despotic rule in the last three decades. Such leaders use power as an end in itself, rather than for the public good; they are indifferent to the progress of their citizens (although anxious to receive their adulation); they are unswayed by reason and employ poisonous social or racial ideologies; and they are hypocrites, always shifting blame for their countries’ distress.
Under the stewardship of these leaders, infrastructure in many African countries has fallen into disrepair, currencies have depreciated, and real prices have inflated dramatically, while job availability, health care, education standards, and life expectancy have declined. Ordinary life has become beleaguered: general security has deteriorated, crime and corruption have increased, much-needed public funds have flowed into hidden bank accounts, and officially sanctioned ethnic discrimination — sometimes resulting in civil war — has become prevalent.” Robert I. Rotberg could not have put it better. In his article titled “Strengthening African Leadership”, published in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Rotberg summed up the single most important issue facing Africa; Leadership…or lack thereof.
This failure of leadership is by no means a recent predicament. It dates back several centuries ago to the time of the slave trade. It is a known fact that the Arabs who facilitated the trade did not acquire the slaves through force or conquest of any kind, rather, they approached the leaders of the communities with beads, cowrie shells and mirrors and offered these in exchange for human beings whom they would later sell as slaves.
Paul E. Lovejoy wrote the following in his article, “Transformations in slavery” published by the Cambridge University Press: “Between 1450 and the end of the nineteenth century, slaves were obtained from along the west coast of Africa with the full and active co-operation of African kings and merchants. (There were occasional military campaigns organized by Europeans to capture slaves, especially by the Portuguese in what is now Angola, but this accounts for only a small percentage of the total.) In return, the African kings and merchants received various trade goods including beads, cowrie shells (used as money), textiles, brandy, horses, and perhaps most importantly, guns. The guns were used to help expand empires and obtain more slaves…”
I had earlier stated that the Arabs did not acquire the slaves through conquest of any kind. Allow me to retract that statement because they in fact pulled off a great coup by obtaining slaves in exchange for mere objects, and that is in itself a great conquest. Sadly, this conquest continues even to this day; African leaders continue to sell their people into slavery.
The slavery of which I now speak, however is not the traditional form of slavery in which people are held in physical captivity and made to work for others, rather I speak of an economic form of slavery in which people are bound by debt and kept in servitude by the chains of high interest rates.
Sample the following article by Susan George titled “A Fate Worse than Debt” published in the January 2006 issue of the NewAfrican magazine. She writes, “Debt is not a financial problem. It is a political problem. If you cancelled all the debt of the poorest countries tomorrow, the international financial system would not even notice. However, debt is extraordinarily useful for the [lenders]; it is much better than colonialism as you don’t need the people. But you get tremendous political advantage because you have continuous low prices for raw materials, everyone is forced to export at the same time, and you have political control over the government because of structural adjustment.” This article by George sums up the predicament Africa is in-economic slavery.
But who is to blame? For many years Africans have directed their blame to external parties especially Western powers while in fact the blame lies upon our leaders themselves. It would only make sense for the leaders of the lending countries to seek to improve their economic strength and the financial position of their corporations by creating markets for them. What doesn’t make sense, however, is why the leaders of the borrowing countries would agree to such terms and continue to dig their people deeper into debt.
One of the things that saddens African intellectuals most is the fact that about 40 years ago, at the time when most African countries were gaining independence, they were at par with most Asian countries in terms of economic and social development. However, since then the Asian countries which have come to be known as the ‘East Asian Tigers’, have realized tremendous growth and industrialization and have propelled themselves into the elite class of first-world countries. One can be quick to conclude that their planning was superior. The truth is quite the contrary; the master plans used by the East Asian Tigers borrowed heavily from those developed by the Kenyan government of the time. Why then is Africa lagging behind? Perhaps this excerpt from a speech by Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo can help shed light on the matter: “…In 1960, whatever parameters you look at, whether social or economic indicators, Africa has declined compared to the rest of the world, particularly when measured against those parts of the world that were comparable to us at that time such as Asia and Latin America,” he said. “Why are we failing while the rest of the world is succeeding, yet Africa [is not any less endowed compared to other parts of the world?] I believe one word answers that question: Leadership,” he said.
Later on in the speech he went on to give his solution to the challenge. He mentioned that “…it lies in doing things right, and in having the right leadership. The difference between doing things right and doing things wrong is enormous…Africa cannot continue on the same negative road (of having poor leadership) and expect things to work for the better.
One might ask the question, “How and when did this failure of leadership start?”
In my opinion, it all started in the colonial era when the Europeans empowered a few Africans and gave them some sort of education with a view to using them to govern their own people. As a result, a culture in which leadership was imposed on the people began. In this new culture, leaders governed using the divide and rule principle. They oppressed the people placed under them rather than empowering them. They had their own interests at heart and ensured that they kept their fellow Africans oppressed because that way they would remain relevant to the European colonialists and ensure that no other Africans could rise and take their positions.
The greatest tragedy was when Africans came to not only tolerate but accept such leadership, much in the same way as a terminal patient accepts their illness-without a fight and with a sense of defeat and helplessness. I must, however at this point mention the ‘Maumau’ freedom fighters as an exception because failure to do so would be a great injustice to them for the sacrifice they made in their efforts to repel the colonialists. Other than for the exertions of those few brave and fearless souls, the general norm of behavior was inaction.
Returning to my argument, allow me to fast-forward to the first few years of the post-independence era. This was indeed a decisive period in the formation of the continent’s political future. On the one hand we had excellent leaders such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Tom Mboya of Kenya who were totally committed to the greater good of their people. By a sad twist of fate these great men were assassinated either by foreign powers that were against their ideologies or by their compatriots who considered them a threat to their own power.( At this point another great tragedy occurred, for no one rushed to the frontline to take up the fallen heroes’ battle cries, condemning the African dream to the graveyard.) On the other hand, however, there emerged a different breed of leaders. These considered themselves as heroes and rewarded themselves with large tracts of land and other public resources and set off along the path of self-aggrandizement while ignoring the greater good of their people. These sought to create economic empires and political dynasties by surrounding themselves with their tribesmen and appointing sycophants into political office regardless of their level of qualification or lack thereof. Unfortunately, the latter breed of leaders comprised the majority, thrusting Africa backward and in most cases erasing the gains of the newly-acquired independence of the African states they led.
Another category of early African powerbrokers is curiously missing from the aforementioned list. It is not without intention that I left military dictators out of this equation. These cannot be categorized as leaders but rather as tyrants. For this reason and for the purpose of focusing on the main points of my argument, allow me to exclude them from my argument altogether.
Two score years after the first generation of leaders had taken the reins of government from the Europeans, a new generation of leaders had taken over and these too seemed intent on carrying on the legacy of their predecessors. They continued to widen the rift between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ as a new political and social class system developed.
While I have noted that the first generation had taken over from the Europeans, the next generation was mainly composed of the preferred successors of the first generation. As such they had been groomed to take over and, reminiscent of the colonial eras, they were proposed if not outrightly imposed upon the people.
At this point yet another tragedy occurred; it took the form of the emergence of a new political system based on personalities rather than on issues. The stage was set for the elevation of certain people-mainly sycophants-into “great” political personalities despite their lack of character and/ or competence. Politics became a mere game of words and wordplay. Semantics blurred the underlying issues. Promises were broken almost as soon as they were made, if not sooner. A mockery was made of the justice system and some people turned out to be more equal than others. The mess continues until today.
It would indeed be a sad state of affairs and the greatest of tragedies if we concluded that Africa is beyond help; that it is too late to recover from its past. There is indeed hope for Africa-hope that is vested in a new breed of leaders. You may at this juncture be inclined to think that I am in the advanced stages of plotting a coup attempt; and if you are so inclined then you would be right to some extent.
The leadership which I envisage, however, is far from the traditional quest for coercive power and control of common resources that is as common today as it was in the past. I envisage a form of leadership based solely on unselfish ambition; as opposed to the familiar form of leadership where leaders strive to merge their own selfish ambitions with the common good of the people and attempt to strike a sort of balance between the two. I speak of a leadership style founded in the greater good of those it hopes to serve, such that the leader would spare no effort nor avoid no sacrifice which would result in the greater fortunes of those that it serves. A leadership so deeply rooted in the principles which give it its mandate, that no entity can question its sincerity. Indeed, such leadership has been sought after and striven towards by many whose efforts, sadly, came to naught. The reason? I cannot claim to posses the depth of insight required to provide the answer to such a question but allow me this modest attempt…
The reason why this style of leadership and the success it promises has eluded Africans is based on a number of factors influenced mainly by our perception of leadership. From our up-bringing, lessons on leadership have been focused on the wrong attributes of a leader, concentrating more on what the leader is rather than on who the leader is. We look at the leader’s public lifestyle rather than seeking to know what the leader does when he is out of the lime-light. We place a lot of emphasis on the major decisions made by the leader while failing to see the minor decisions that the leader makes, or rather, ignoring those minor decisions and passing them off as irrelevant. This pattern of selective attention may be attributed to our fascination with the romance of the larger-than-life image created by the media and the fuss over major news-breaking events, oblivious to the fact that today’s news began falling into place yesterday, with the daily, routine and apparently ‘un-newsworthy’ actions and choices that were made in obscurity.
Africans tend to look externally for leaders rather than looking internally and taking initiative to lead in ways which are open to all of us. We have become so accustomed to passing the blame that we fail to see our own failure to make a difference. We each must strive to invest in our own capacity as positive influencers of those around us. We should not only search for virtue in others but must also vow to uphold it in ourselves. Africa is in dire need of people who can lead themselves. Africans have indeed been plagued by poor leadership. But in the end, we cannot blame the leaders who hold certain titles or positions in society. The buck stops with every individual African who is looking to blame external sources for their current situation. Personal leadership and accountability is the key to Africa’s woes.