Why African leaders fail

As the New Partnership for Africa's Economic Development (Nepad) gains currency, new questions are being raised about the quality of Africa's political leadership. Most African leaders have let the continent down in the struggle to improve the material well-being of its people. Only a few African leaders since independence have demonstrated skills of development on the ground, says Professor Ali A. Mazrui. In this special report, Reuel Khoza on the other hand asks if Africa has enough leaders with qualities necessary to propel the continent towards a better future?   

  Pan-Africanism, development, and democracy in global Africa for the new millennium demands exceptional leadership. In this essay, I examine the typology of leadership in global Africa and trace the challenges for future leadership in global Africa. The emergence of a new style of leadership is critical not only for global Africans, but also for a world confronting globalisation and complexity on an unparalled scale. 

Types of leadership

The history of leadership in Africa has stood on eight pillars. Were they eight styles of command or eight categories of commanders?

At the time of independence there was a lot of discussion about charismatic leadership. This discourse was greatly influenced by the man who led the first Black African country to independence - Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. He himself was a charismatic leader with considerable personal magnetism.  I first met him in New York in 1960 and fell under his spell.  Nnamdi Azikiwe was also a charismatic personality, but his magnetism waned after the civil war in Nigeria (just as Winston Churchill's charisma waned after World War II for different reasons).

I also happen to think that Idi Amin Dada of Uganda had a lot of charisma, which enabled him to survive in power for eight years until a foreign army (Tanzanian) forced him out.  Idi Amin (whom I knew well) was a brutal ruler who nevertheless captivated a substantial following, both at home and abroad. A more positive charismatic figure was Malcolm X (Malik El-Shabazz) of the African Diaspora. I met him in New York in 1961.

A mobilisation leader is another category. Nkrumah tried to use his charisma for mobilisation, but in reality Nkrumah was not a particularly successful mobilisation leader in Ghana after independence. On the other hand, Julius K. Nyerere in Tanzania was both charismatic and mobilisational. He succeeded in arousing the masses to many of his causes. Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt was also both charismatic and mobilisational from the Suez crisis in 1956 until his death in 1970. The most impressive mobilisation leader in the history of Black America was first Marcus Garvey and secondly Martin Luther King Jr.  Louis Farrakhan astonished the world by mobilising the Million-Man march.

A reconciliation leader seeks areas of compromise and consensus from among disparate points of views. Nigeria is a difficult country to govern. So far mobilisation has not worked for long. Reconciliation as a style of leadership is often essential. Both General Yakubu Gowon (who led the Federal side during the civil war) and General Abdulsalami Abubakar (who provided a transition between tyranny and redemocratisation) were reconciliation leaders. They attempted to find areas of compromise in widely divergent Nigerian points of view. Both Jesse Jackson and Jimmy Carter are reconciliation leaders in world affairs. Domestically Jesse Jackson has promoted a rainbow coalition less spectacularly.

A housekeeping style of political power is minimalist in sense of purpose. There is more governance and less genuine leadership, more verbosity and less vision. The Kenyan political elite since the late 1980s has been at best a housekeeping elite - governing without leading, maintenance without movement.

An African military head of state, Murtala Muhammad, was the best approximation to a disciplinarian leader that Nigeria has had. He was assassinated within months of capturing power from Gowon. Muhammad Buhari was also a disciplinarian Nigerian head of state. But it is not certain that a disciplinarian style is what Nigeria's ethnic and sectarian realities can really sustain for very long. But this option should at least be carefully considered. Was W.E.B. DuBois a disciplinarian leader - an austere 'no-nonsense' figure?

A patriarchal system is one in which a father figure emerges, using the symbolism of the elder and the patriarch. Jomo Kenyatta was already about 60 years old when he emerged from a colonial prison in Kenya to assume the reins of power. He carried the title of Mzee, meaning both 'the Elder' and 'the Old Man'. He ruled Kenya from 1963 until he died in 1978. Félix Houphouët-Boigny of the Côte d'Ivoire was also a patriarchal leader who presided over the destiny of independent Côte d'Ivoire from 1960 until his death in 1993. Among 20th century American presidents Dwight Eisenhower was a patriarchal figure in this sense of 'father-figure'.

Nelson Mandela was both a reconciliation leader and a patriarchal figure. His long martyrdom in prison (1964-1990) and his advancing years gave him the credentials of the patriarch. His moral style in his old age was a search for legitimate compromises. The latter was a style of reconciliation. Was Nelson Mandela also a charismatic figure? Or, was he only a hero in history? That is a more open question.

Ibrahim Babangida played a patriarchal role in his transition programme, but he was too young for such a role. Babangida's constitutional transition could have made him Nigeria's Charles de Gaulle, but the experiment collapsed when Moshood Abiola's election as president was not acknowledged by the military.

Has Africa really produced technocratic political leadership? The answer is yes - but rarely at the level of the presidency. Some vice-presidents have been technocrats or potential technocrats. Kenya has had a series of quasi-technocratic vice-presidents, some of whom got 'debased' in office. They include Vice-Presidents Mwai Kibaki (distinguished economist and now President), Josephat Karanja (former University Vice-Chancellor) and George Saitoti (former professor). Are Thabo Mbeki and Yoweri Museveni essentially technocratic leaders? Ghana's Jerry Rawlings was part disciplinarian and part technocratic.

Personalistic political style in Africa is sometimes indistinguishable from monarchical political style in our sense. Both entail the personification of power. But the monarchical tendency goes further and sacralizes authority while simultaneously seeking to create an aristocratic impact. Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi was definitely a personalistic political leader, demanding unquestioning political allegiance. But was he also a pseudo-monarch, seeking to give his authority a semblance of sacredness? Marcus Garvey in U.S. history combined mobilisation effectiveness with monarchical tendencies. Richard Nixon was an imperial president of the United States while he lasted.

More literally Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic tried to create a new monarchical and imperial dynasty, with himself as the first Emperor. He even renamed his country 'the Central African Empire'. He held an astonishingly lavish coronation that was supposed to be paradoxically Napoleonic.

A new aspect of the monarchical tendency, which is emerging, is the dynastic trend in succession. Laurent Kabila in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been succeeded by his son Josef Kabila. In Zanzibar Abeid Karume has produced a successor in his son. In Egypt Husni Mubarak may be grooming his son to succeed him. In Kenya Raila Odinga is trying to follow the nyayo (footprints) of his famous father, Oginga Odinga. And in the United States, George W. Bush as President has succeeded George Herbert Walker Bush.

In addition to these nine types and styles of leadership there have been a number of pre-colonial cultural traditions, which affected those types and styles. The most obvious was the elder tradition in pre-colonial African culture, which has probably conditioned the patriarchal style after independence. The reverence of Jomo Kenyatta as Mzee (the Elder) in Kenya was substantially responsible for the precolonial elder tradition still being alive and well. Nelson Mandela by the time of his release was also a heroic Mzee. Was Ronald Reagan held in affection by the American people partly because he was perceived as an elder?


Also obvious as a continuing tradition from precolonial times was an older version of the monarchical tendency. Even African societies, which were not themselves monarchical were influenced by the royal paradigm. Kwame Nkrumah attempted to create a monarchical tradition in independent Ghana by declaring himself life-president, by sanctifying his authority with the title of Osagyefo (Redeemer), and by surrounding himself with a class of ostentatious consumers passing themselves off as Ghana's new political aristocracy. Plus by increasingly regarding political opposition to the president as the equivalent of treason (a monarchical version of intolerance).

Less obvious as a precolonial conditional factor was the sage tradition. This involved respect for wisdom and expertise. In the modern period the sage tradition was rapidly modernised to include the new

products of western-style high schools, and later western-style colleges and universities. In Black America history W.E.B.

Dubois was the supreme sage of the twentieth century.

The sage tradition from the post-colonial period has sometimes resulted in promoting among Africans the ostentatious display of Western learning.

Tapping on modernised versions of the sage tradition a number of founding fathers of independent Africa tried to become philosopher-kings. They attempted to philosophise about man and society and about Africa's place in the global scheme of things. Kwame Nkrumah wrote books and became the most prolific head of state writer anywhere in the world. Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal was a more original political philosopher and poet.

Some leaders attempted to establish whole new ideologies. Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania inaugurated ujamaa, intended to be indigenously authentic African socialism. Kenneth D. Kaunda of Zambia initiated what was called "humanism". Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt had previously written The Philosophy of the Revolution      and subsequently attempted the implementation of "Arab socialism" Muammar Qaddafy of Libya has the Green Book championing the third way.

Jesse Jackson (USA); Abdulsalami Abubakar (Nigeria); Moshood Abiola (Nigeria); Thabo Mbeki (SA); Jerry Rawlings (Ghana); Yoweri Museveni (Uganda)

The modernised version of the Western tradition also popularised the use of honorary doctorates as regular titles of Heads of State. Thus the president of Uganda became "Dr. Milton Obote", the president of Zambia became "Dr. Kenneth Kaunda" - just as the president of Ghana before them had become "Dr. Kwame Nkrumah". These had been conferred as honorary doctorates, but they became regular titles used in referring to these heads of state. The sage tradition was attempting to realise itself in a modern veneer. African presidents were trying to become philosopher-kings. After his presidency, Yakubu Gowon took the more difficult route and studied for his PhD at Warwick University, England.

Finally, there was the precolonial warrior tradition, emphasising skills of combat, self-defence and manhood.  Did this survive into the colonial period and onwards into independence? The Mau Mau fighters in colonial Kenya in the 1950s were greatly influenced by traditional warrior virtues, especially those of the Kikuyu. Even liberation fighters in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe two decades later, who were using much more modern weapons, were mainly recruited from the countryside and were deeply influenced by traditional concepts of the warrior.

But were African soldiers in regular African state armies part of the continuities of the warrior tradition? Were the Abdulsalami Abubakars fundamentally still old warriors? It largely depends upon how much of the old African cultural values are still part of their attitudes to combat, self-defence and manhood. General Abubakar himself maintained high standards of integrity. But sometimes those old warrior values go awry in a modern military ruler. The warrior tradition went wrong when personified in Idi Amin Dada of Uganda. Idi Amin was a warrior-soldier who was mis-cast as head of state in the modern world. He fluctuated between brute, buffoon and genuinely heroic figure. He courageously took on some of the most powerful forces in the world - and yet pitilessly victimised some of the most powerless individuals in his own country from 1971 to 1979. In Idi Amin the warrior tradition had gone temporarily mad.

Nine types of political leadership and four precolonial traditions of political culture have helped to shape post-colonial Africa and Black America in the twentieth century. The question, which now arises, is whether the 21st century will either reveal totally new styles of leadership or create new combinations of the old styles and traditions and produce better results than Africa and its Diaspora have accomplished so far.

Here we must turn from styles of leadership to goals of leadership. We know that the twentieth century produced very effective leaders of liberation. Nationalists like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Sekou Toure of Guinea fought against great odds to gain us independence. There were many other brilliant liberation fighters all over the continent who helped Africa end its colonial bondage.

But leaders of liberation were not necessarily leaders of development. One African leader after another let Africa down in the struggle to improve the material well-being of the African people. Only a few African leaders since independence have demonstrated skills of development on the ground. Considering what a terribly damaged country he had inherited, Yoweri Museveni deserves some credit for bringing up Uganda from the depths of despair to one of the main regional actors in the Great Lakes region. It is to be hoped that the coming African Renaissance will produce more and more leaders skilled in the arts of development. In Black America Louis Farrakhan has been a leader of development as well as liberation. His effort to combat drugs and crime and promote economic self-reliance are cases in point.

In addition to leaders of liberation (like Mugabe, Sekou Toure, Samora Machel, Zik and Nkrumah), and leaders of development (like Yoweri Museveni, Louis Farrakhan, and Habib Bourguiba), has global Africa produced leaders of democracy? This is a much tougher agenda. The Diaspora has produced civil rights leaders. South Africa has the most liberal constitution in the world, and has ended political apartheid. But the wealth of the society is still maldistributed along racial lines. The mines, the best jobs, the best businesses, are still disproportionately owned by non-Black people. Leaders like Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki have presided over substantial political democratisation, but they have also had to tolerate substantial economic injustice.

In Nigeria Abdulsalami Abubakar provided a smooth transition from the tyranny of Sani Abacha to a Nigerian return to democracy and civilian rule. In that democratic return Olusegun Obasanjo was elected the first Nigerian president of the new millennium. It was a very promising choice. After all, in 1979 Olusegun Obasanjo became the first African military ruler to hand over power voluntarily to a freely elected government. In 1979 Obasanjo had also been the first Nigerian military ruler to let political power slip from his own ethnic group without attempting to subvert the process.

However, Olusegun Obasanjo in the new millennium is still being tested. He is confronted with Shariacracy in some Northern states, with Yoruba nationalism in some Western states, and with demands for confederation among some of the Ibgo nationalists. In style will Obasanjo emerge as a gifted reconciliation leader? In normative Africanity is he a warrior or a sage? And in ultimate goals for Nigeria, does Olusegun Obasanjo stand a chance of emerging as a successful leader of genuine democratisation?

We know that Africa has been served well by leaders of liberation. We are concerned that we have not produced enough leaders of development. In Nigeria and elsewhere we are also looking for leaders of democracy. Perhaps Abdulsalami Abubakar should in the future entrust his political fate to the Nigerian electorate. They may well elect him to a fuller term as Head of State. His humility is one of his greatest assets. So was his readiness to relinquish power voluntarily in 1999.

What about leaders of Pan-Africanism and wider transnational solidarity? Clearly this is a fourth goal on top of liberation, development and democracy.

In the new millennium all those four goals (liberation, development, democracy and Pan-Africanism) may have to be examined in the context of globalisation.   

Africa is expanding

The National Summit on Africa is a movement led by distinguished African Americans like Leonard Robinson, Herschelle Challenor, C. Payne Lucas, and Andrew Young. The movement seeks to draw greater attention to African problems in the United States, help to find solutions to those problems, and strengthen the economic, trade and cultural ties between the peoples of Africa and those of the United States.

A literal national summit of leaders of opinion took place in Washington, D.C. in February of 2000. Meanwhile, members of the movement are in support of the African Growth and Opportunity Act which went before Congress in 1998 and 1999 - seeking new linkages between American investors and African opportunities, and a new equilibrium between where aid ends and trade begins. Congressman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan has an even more progressive concept, which aspires to have the African debt cancelled. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has been even more radical in his sympathies for Africa.

Meanwhile, the physical African presence in the world is expanding demographically. But the leadership of Africa's crusade is beginning to come from sons and daughters of the continent and Africa's descendants in the Diaspora. In 1996, I was in Australia as a guest of Australian organisations. My last two days were reserved for the African community of Melbourne. I addressed them in the hundreds

Georg W. Bush (USA); FW de Klerk (SA)

about their ancestral continent. When I first visited Australia more than a quarter of a century earlier, such a thing would not have happened. There would not have been much of an African presence in Melbourne.

In 1997, I was in Sweden as a guest of the Nobel Foundation. My official hosts were therefore Swedes. But on my first night in Stockholm guess who entertained me to dinner? Afro-Swedes! Africans who are now Swedish citizens. Also in 1997, I was in Malaysia. At the International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur there were male and female African students from different parts of the continent. The students asked the University for a special African session with Ali Mazrui, and they got it. I was also stopped once or twice in the streets of Kuala Lumpur by other Africans (complete strangers) who recognised me from my television series. In the 1950s there would not have been much of an African presence in Kuala Lumpur.

What does all this experience tell us? It tells us that the demographic African presence in the world is expanding. There are more countries with Black people in their populations today than there have ever been in history. The black skin is becoming less and less exotic as a sight in the streets of the major cities of the world. The globalisation of Africanity is at hand.

As we have indicated elsewhere, Secretse Khama did live to become President of Botswana with Ruth as   the white first lady after independence. Africa has had other Heads of State with white first ladies - such as Léopold Senghor of Senegal. And Jerry Rawlings, President of Ghana for two decades, had a Scottish father. Africa leads the way in racial tolerance. It leads the way in religious ecumenicalism. Africa has had leaders of liberation. It now needs leaders of development and democracy. Abdulsalami Abubakar played his part as a mid-husband to the rebirth of democracy in Nigeria.

The African Diaspora continues to expand with or without conspiracy theories. The globalisation of the African peoples is struggling to come home. People of African descent continue to multiply in the most unexpected parts of the world. Pan-Africanism has yet to catch up with them. To paraphrase the words of 'Global Africa', the final episode of The Africans: A Triple Heritage (BBC/PBS, 1986):

"We are a people of the day before yesterday and a people of the day after tomorrow. Long before slave days we lived in one huge village called Africa. And then strangers came and took some of us away, scattering us in all directions of the globe. Before the strangers came our village was the world; we knew no other.  But now we are scattered so widely that the sun never sets on the descendants of Africa. The world is our village, and we plan to make it more human between now and the day after tomorrow."

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