Namibian President, Hifikepunye Pohamba, whose tenure will terminate later this month, is now Africa’s model of value-based and development-oriented leadership. This merited distinction is a spinoff of his winning the 2014 Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Interestingly, Pohamba is the first to win the award, since Pedro De Verona Rodrigues Pires, ex-President of Cape Verde won the prize in 2011. This implies that, in Africa, leaders in name only are everywhere, functional leaders are rare. Nothing dramatises Africa’s leadership crisis like a certain study by the African Development Bank, which revealed that between 1960 and 2012 more than 200 coup attempts were recorded in sub-Saharan Africa.
Africa lacks skilled leaders. Her elite has terribly distorted the meaning, practice, and ethics of leadership. Many of them lack mastery of conceptual skills; working with novel ideas for long-term economic development is hardly their area of expertise. Their human skills, which entail the ability to connect with and work through people from diverse backgrounds, are poor. This partly explains why influence and service are not the centrepieces of leadership in the continent. To make matters worse, their respective leadership styles have the vital elements of naked power wielding.
Africa cannot thrive as long as her leaders have the “Elect of God” mentality. Everything good about late Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was gradually corrupted when he acquired the title Elect of God. The divine right to rule fosters a sense of infallibility, hatred of opponents, and inability to harnessing redemptive knowledge from criticisms.
It also fosters sit-tightism. The President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, or “lion man” as he is commonly known will soon mark his 40th year in office. Similarly, Robert Mugabe, the incumbent President of Zimbabwe, started serving on 31 December 1987. Arbitrariness is a feature of state power where the Elect-of-God attitude is deep-seated.
Africans, particularly, Nigerians who conceptualise leadership from a relational viewpoint, find it difficult to see high-performing, people-oriented leaders. This difficulty is not associated with viewing socio-economic dynamics through pessimism-clouded lenses. Rather, it is because many African leaders are blind to hash realities, and have a preference for rose-tainted spectacles.
Arising from this blindness is a separation from the aspirations and frustrations of the people. Marked emotional distance between leaders and followers often lead to empathy deficit, and ethical blunders. Leaders are bound to primitively indulge their cravings for obscene luxury at the expense of the common good, and society’s long-term viability, when they become victims of compassion fatigue. They inevitably fail to provide “direction to some, and support for others.”
The lack of relational transparency in leader-follower engagements deters Africa’s quest for sustainable development. Leadership becomes an oppressive force that robs meaning and happiness from people, when it is not accountable. Unfortunately, accountability cannot exist in a vacuum. Civil mechanism for accountability cannot function optimally without interaction-based leadership process, which promotes transparency. Until we start seeing leadership as account-giving relationship, African leaders cannot foster social harmony, which is essential to equitable prosperity and global competitiveness.
Africa will become the haven of peace, if her leaders will emulate Pohamba in promoting social cohesion and inclusive development. The politics of exclusion, which weakens society’s oneness by fabricating classes of the oppressors and the oppressed, cannot create to a better future. For our common future to be bright and assured, our leaders must learn to forge ties that bind, and stop exploiting seeming fault lines in our political architectures. We must dissuade underperforming leaders from fanning the embers of divisiveness to conceal their shortcomings, and manipulate public consciousness for private gains. By so doing, it will be difficult for officeholders masquerading as leaders, particularly, those who know nothing about solidifying unity, and the art of achieving shared goals through people to steer the course of our civilisation, they will fade to oblivion and true leaders will arise.
Many African leaders are not problem-solvers in the class of Pohamba. They lack proficiency in data-based decision making. Minority influence often sways their decisions. As a result, the quality and acceptance of leadership decisions in Africa are low. Furthermore, many African leaders do not exude creativity in crisis prevention or damage mitigation. Being blind to early warning signals, they habitually fight fires. It takes prescience to sidestep pitfalls, and solve problems before they become crises. Regrettably, there is shortage of prescient leaders in Africa. Ours is a continent led mostly by praise-seekers.
Praise-seeking leaders and praise-singers have turned leadership to a form of showmanship. Self-pleasing enterprises are now spectacular acts of chivalry, serving others is not. Praise-singers seemingly cause leaders to recline in a dream world. Future researchers may seek to know if the accolades of sycophants do disconnect leaders from reality, and make them to think their worlds have attained utopian perfection.
For Africa to unlock her greatness she needs mission-minded leaders like Pohamba. Leaders who are not deluded by praise, and can replicate and transcend Pohamba’s remarkable achievements in human capacity development. If this is done, Africa will soon become the hub of innovation. As her teeming youths will have the requisite intellectual skills to engender cultural renaissance, economic development, and technological advances. In fact, the economies of African states cannot transition from resource-dependence to service-based without quality education for all.
Lacklustre leadership and political decay will be confined to Africa’s past, if we all emulate Pohamba; seek to be goal-oriented, helpful to others, achieve ethical excellence, and enlighten public conscience by being paragon of humane values.
@omozuwaspeaks (On Twitter)