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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Africa's Leadership

A disconcerting pattern is emerging in sub Saharan Africa. Countries that have embraced competitive multiparty politics are recording poor economic performance and are mired in official corruption. Conversely, countries that have remained under strong-arm leadership are enjoying rapid economic growth and official corruption is under control. The first category includes Kenya and Nigeria. The second category includes Rwanda and Ethiopia.

It is also interesting to note that the strong-arm countries (Rwanda and Ethiopia) have more competent and capable state control. Law and order are effectively maintained, socio-economic inequalities are low and there seems to be a general sense of harmonic coexistence among the social groups.

I am not sure that this is a fair comparison. It is also based on a very small sample. But it presents an indicative dynamic that is potentially problematic, albeit at face value. But if you consider the countries of North Africa–Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Morocco–all of which are governed not by western style democratic tenets, then the correlation between governance type and economic growth becomes more troubling. Then throw in China, its governance, human rights record and its breathtaking economic transformation.

My hypothesis is that electoral contests in the so-called African democracies cannot produce competent and able leaders. Look at Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana for instance. The late president Umaru Yar Adua was innocuous and incapable. Mr. Kibaki has presided over the weakest state in Kenya’s postcolonial history. And Kenya’s next president will be not the most competent of the political crop but the individual who is most the most corrupt manipulator of ethnic passions. Mr. Kikwete is under the clutch of the moneyed CCM mafia who bankrolled his election five years ago. I submit that the process through which the strong-arm type leaders ascend to power is more rigorous and yields, generally, more competent individuals capable of running more effective states.

Love them or hate them, Paul Kagame and Meles Zenawi are not uncharismatic. They are visionary and driven by an unyielding dream to transform their countries. The results are apparent for all to see. We can argue at the margins about their human rights records, but Meles is not Mengistu, neither is Museveni an Amin kind of monster.

Leadership matters in this competitive globalized age. Incompetent leadership will gravely undermine the pace of Africa’s socio-economic transformation. Can democratic processes yield the caliber of competence that we see in the strong-arm type African leaders?


  1. I have always been of the school of thought that democracy is not for Africa. Rather, Africa should re-define democracy as it is in the African context. That way, maybe we would stop applying Western ideologies that do not go anywhere in answering contemporary African problems.

  2. Good point. But what constitutes an African context? And maybe to step back a little, what really is democracy and can there be such a thing as "African democracy"?

  3. In my view, the African context consists of the people within the 53 countries of Africa, their culture, their diversity, their norms and standards, as well as their problems (political, economic and socially). Democracy defined, in a broad sense, would be government for the people by the people. That said, some schools of thoughts seek to embrace the fact that we are Africans with issues uniquely African and it is through this realization that African answers can be found. For example, before "democracy" came along after the colonization of the African continent, African societies had, sometimes very intricate, systems in place that governed the people. Conflicts were resolved, society was run, and things seemed to be in order. Even war between clans/ tribes/ kingdoms were governed by a sort of code of "war rules and regulations". Until we as Africans accept that no one will hand the answers to us, we will still wallow in this quagmire of problems that we have.



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