By Z Allan Ntata
(Barrister, Anti-corruption and Governance Consultant, Author)
In January 1960 Mr. Dag Hammarskjold, then secretary-general of the United Nations, toured 24 countries in Africa and met ‘most of the national African leaders.’ Of these leaders he had this to say when he returned to New York:
‘I found the present generation of African leaders to be of high seriousness, devotion, and intelligence. I am sure in their hands those countries will go to a happy future.’
Clearly, this optimistic prophecy has failed to materialize.
Although the cause to which they consecrate themselves is noble, their trust is sacred, their problems manifold, and their tasks immense, African leaders consistently have failed to be on the lookout against pitfalls that have sabotaged their work and plunged their countries into economic and governance failures, or downright chaos
There are seven main dangers against which African Leaders have failed to guard:
1. The policy of ‘rewarding friends and punishing foes.
In his new book, “The Origins of Political Order,” Francis Fukuyama identifies the chief building blocks of liberal democracy as a strong central state, a society strong enough to hold the state accountable and — equally crucial — the rule of law.
One basic principle of the rule of law is that laws apply to everybody.
If the sign says “No Parking,” you’re not supposed to park there even if you’re a pal of the alderman.
Another principle of the rule of law is that government can’t make up new rules to help its cronies and hurt its adversaries except through due processes, such as getting a legislature to pass a new law.
The policy of rewarding friends stifles criticism and promoted a hand-clapper culture. It means that it is almost impossible to sustain momentum on projects when new leadership arrives, particularly when that new leadership is opposed to the work of the former administration. Policies that favour only supporters have created a system that rewards short-term thinking and incentivizes hero worship and laziness rather than prudence, while encouraging divisiveness and cronyism. Furthermore, these structures do not simply motivate or aid those with bad intentions; they act as a barrier to those citizens with good intentions.
Any leadership that operates under this policy is being encouraged to act badly and has strong incentives for cronyism and corruption, and a general lack of patriotism
A 2010 Amnesty International report on human rights in Africa found that nepotism impedes community access to housing and services, and leads to the collapse of some municipal governments and to widespread protests among affected communities.
Nepotism is only rampant and popular in Africa because of several values and the mentalities upheld by most Africans and not ably dealt with by African leaders. Family values, ethnicity, religion and tribalism are all factors that instigate favoritism. Africans hold in high respect these norms and values to the point that they affect adversely a leader’s decision making process. African Leadership has been infiltrated rather obnoxiously with sentimental sympathy and a biased thinking faculty which denies an equivocal decision making process.
It is common in Africa, especially in the civil service to find a department full of village or tribal friends of the politically powerful. Often, none the officers have any the qualifications for the post other than being clan members. The price of nepotism causes a complete failure of a country, or an organization to develop.
3. Blurred vision.
It has been said that ‘where there is no vision the people perish.’ Blurred vision of what things should be resulted from the failure of nationalist leaders after the attainment of independence to switch from their role as freedom fighters to that of economic modernizers. Most leaders had been envying the opulent lifestyles of their oppressors and once independence was attained, focused on making themselves similarly opulent.
Those leaders who succeeded in adjusting themselves to their new tasks are the ones who never lost sight of the fact that freedom is merely a means to the end of social and economics reorganization.
Most African leaders have failed to delve into literature that deals with developmental problems, or consult economic and social experts as to what should be done. The twofold danger of (a) dwelling in the past and (b) petty jealousies of wanting to be the first among equals have also contributed to the lack of a true developmental mindset. In the final analysis, there has not been sufficient criticism and disdain for leaders that have done and achieved nothing remarkable, with each leader coming to regard their leadership as merely a means to personal enrichment and prestige.
4. Competition for preeminence.
Soon after attaining independence, African freedom fighters and leaders rapidly embarked on personal struggles to be “first among equals”.
This unnecessary competition, which deserves the condemnation of those people who want to foster African unity and to promote harmonious cooperation, continues in African politics today as leaders often are engrossed in personal struggles for power and preeminence in their political parties instead of embracing the spirit of teamwork and patriotism that was the hallmark of African pioneers.
In 1957, in his inaugural address to the newly independent state of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah cited corruption as a vice that risked gravely harming millions in Africa struggling for freedom and justice. He was right. Today, corruption is everywhere in Africa and it is the major cause of poverty and conflicts. Corruption in Africa takes place in many forms. Corruption in Africa has grown at an alarming rate due to poverty, which is rampant. Miserable salaries often cannot suffice to cater for a big and extended family force many people to opt for bribes to meet the needs.
Corruption has gone from a mere act of accepting bribes to a complete state of mind and way of life. It has progressed from the poor attempting to “make ends meet” to a sense of entitlement from anyone in a position of authority. Because of African social fabric, effective drives for changes need to start from the top and progress to the bottom. In this regard, African leaders have failed to set the example that all others must follow.
Most African leaders have used their political position to embezzle economic resources- a process that has often involved the mass pauperization of their ‘subjects’ and the deepening of their dependence on the patrimonial favours of the “ruler”
Three things will bring about a dictatorship in Africa: (1) too much trust, (2) too little trust, and (3) neurotic ambition. Of the three causes, the third presents the least problem. The real problem is posed by those leaders who will lapse into dictatorial tendencies either because their countrymen trust them too much or too little.
In framing policies and designing measures, therefore, leaders must rely more on public opinion and the opinions of colleagues rather than on their imagined superior intellect. The task of leadership involves following as well as leading.
7. Failure to Re-define Goals
In the constantly dynamic world of politics, challenges continue to evolve. It is important therefore for a leader to be equally dynamic and adaptable, laying out a series of goals, and recognising with relative precision when it is time to move from one goal to the other. Indeed, if such a re-definition of goals proves an elusive task, it might be an advisable and perceptive course of action for the leader to leave the arena, bowing out with dignity.
In the case of Nelson Mandela of South Africa, his goal over so many years had been to fight and end the apartheid rule in that country. Having achieved this and become that country’s first-ever black president, Mandela ruled for one presidential term and retired. Some say that was because he was old and tired of politics. Others provide various other reasons. But it could equally be argued that Mandela had achieved what he set out to do, and having achieved it, there was no need to remain in the active political arena. To be sure, there were other challenges that the new South Africa was now facing, but why not let facing those particular challenges be the goal of other political players?
It is important for leaders, having succeeded in achieving their first goals – whether this be independence as was the case with the African Pioneers, or food security, or other such goals- for them re-define their goals in line with the needs and socio-political dynamics of their countries.
What has been written about African political leadership in the 1960 is still very relevant today. Young people being trained for leadership in Africa should be aware of these dangers and challenges. They should be encouraged to develop character and positive attitudes that will keep them from pitfalls preventing the full development of their countries and peoples.
*Z. Allan Ntata is the author of “Trappings of Power: Political Leadership in Africa”, published by Authorhouse UK and available on Amazon.com