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Africa’s triple leadership challenge
Everest Ekong
Posted Thu, 03 Mar 2005

These are the best times for positive reform to take root in Africa. The Cold War has long defrosted, apartheid is dead, democracy is no longer a curse but a cure. Can Africans breath easy? Not just yet.

The post colonial, post dictatorship, post Cold War, and post apartheid Africa is in transit and in a void. Essentially three different Africa’s have emerged from the long years of painful struggle: An Africa of displaced and poor people, one of emerging democracies and one that is partially ready to embrace home-grown cross-border business. The new breed of African leadership is therefore facing unprecedented challenges and opportunities as the continent struggles to find a viable direction.

The first big challenge for business, political and civil leadership is that millions of Africans are in the wrong place. Displacement as a result of war, civil conflicts and mass urbanisation has forced millions of Africans into unproductive spaces.

Despite a formal end to the conflicts Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Ethiopia and Angola thousands of their citizens are still stranded in neighbouring states. UNHRC findings indicate that many of the uprooted Africans are increasingly being associated with criminals and terrorists instead of potentially valuable citizens.

As new emergencies such as the current impasse in Sudan arise, long-standing cases tend to fade. The refugee challenge is also a leadership one. How do communities integrate displaced people to become active participants in promoting the renaissance vision rather than being a burden to the host communities? The best prevention for refugee crises must be to avoid future conflict. The truth however is that support structures in many of the conflict areas are too weak to stop or reverse the tide of misery.

Wake up call

A second and equally important leadership challenge is how to manage and sustain the newly emerging democratic clusters. Out of the ashes of past acrimony, a new seed of hope is sprouting. The depressing picture that blighted the continent’s prospects for several decades is giving way to striking new examples of good African leadership. A handful of new political and business leaders are standing out because of their strength of character, their inclination to corporate governance principles and keenness to resolve conflicts without a fight.

Ghana is going into its third successive democratic elections next month despite underlying poverty. Nigeria, despite the poverty driven ethnic clashes is managing to hold onto its meagre democratic dividend. South Africa has surprised all the prophets of doom and prospered in the last 10 years. Peace efforts in the Great Lakes region are alive…just. Continued efforts to strengthen the African Union may yet bear fruit.

Although the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is not an immaculate conception, it carries the right genetic code for stemming poverty. The NEPAD vision is however hungry for dedicated leadership and other resources to deliver tangible benefits.

Business drive

On a more positive note, African businesses now have the opportunity to invest in cross-border ventures despite the odds. Or is it because of the odds? South African corporations now invest more in the rest of Africa than companies anywhere else. Since 1994, more than $ 1 billion a year has been poured primarily into mining, retail, construction, financial services, telecommunications and leisure. Africa now ranks as the second most important destination for South African exports, after the European Union. At best, African business resources are only able to tackle a fraction of the challenges that have emerged after long periods of strife.

Which way forward?

These are the best times for positive reform to take root in Africa. What is needed urgently is a model for positive economic diplomacy, similar to the Marshall Plan initiated by the US to reduce hunger, homelessness, sickness, unemployment, and political restlessness of 270 million Europeans after World War II.

The Marshall Plan funds were not mainly directed toward feeding individuals or building individual houses, schools, or factories, but at strengthening the economic superstructure over a four-year period. The plan significantly reduced the suffering and time West Europe took to recover from the war.

Post war Africa still remains the world’s poorest continent. It still accounts for only one percent of total world economic output. More than ever, sound leadership strategies, urgent and sustained action is needed to close the void.

Everest Ekong

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