On October 15, 2012, CNN ran a story on the absence of good leadership in Africa following the lack of eligible candidates. No leader met the criteria needed to win the award excellence in leadership. The prize is $5 million award paid over 10 years and $200,000 annually for life after that. Since 2006, three leader have won while in 2009, 2010 and 2012, there could not be found a leader who has done exemplary work in achieving good governance for the people they serve. The report noted that from “an annual study measuring accountability and good governance in 52 out of 54 African nations — found four of the continent’s powerhouses, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and South Africa, have declined in quality of governance since 2006” http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/15/world/africa/ibrahim-index-human-rights/index.html . As I read through the first half of the Hand book on Leadership Theory and Practice, these statistics of failed and failing leadership gave a back drop of evaluating leadership in the land of my birth, Kenya. Though leadership looks different in different contexts, there seem to be core elements that help evaluate a good leader. Having grown up in Africa, there is a sense in which bad leadership is the accepted norm. Traditionally, many ethnic groups did not have a leader during times of peace. They were governed by a council of elders and matters were resolved by consensus. Leaders emerged during times of war, and many of them were ordinary men just like George Washington, a farmer who led the American war against British colonial rule in 1770s. Common men of valor and courage rose among the ranks to give leadership to groups of men in the community. As Africa has stumbled to find its post-colonial identity, the leadership ethos cannot be well defined; neither can the definition of leadership.
Who is a leader the African context? One of the main elements visible for many leaders is Charisma. Africans love stories and the best story teller wins the hearts of the people. The second element is ability to amass resources/wealth. Aspects that are highlighted in the book such as vision, integrity and authenticity are not at the core. Tribalism and nepotism is rife because a leader will want to enroll people who will protect him/her as they amass wealth. Even so, Africa has produced great global leaders in corporations, in academia and in multinational companies. They lead teams of scientists and researches and are respected in their respective fields of expertise. So why do they fail to implement these standards of excellence in Africa? Tidjane Thiam heads Prudential, a global life insurance company. He was once the minister of finance in his home country Ivory Coast 1994-1999. Due to war and tribalism he had to resign. http://www.forbes.com/profile/tidjane-thiam/ . On the other hand, the president of Liberia, Ellen Sirleaf, has transitioned from top jobs at World Bank and Citi Bank to lead her country from the ravages of war to a democracy free of tyranny.
The book suggests that the question to as on leadership is not about when it matters, but where it matters (Page 56). Contextual issues are important as well as the era in which a leader will be govern. It was after the fall of Communism that South Africa would be ready to release Mandela and bring the process of all inclusive democratic elections. The six themes suggested that help clarify leadership were helpful, so that leadership is not homogenous but dependent on a matrix of any of the six elements. The element on ‘it’; the mystery of leadership helped me recognize spiritual leadership. Leaders must develop a moral compass and they must always ride to do ‘the right thing’. This is nurtured after many years of discipleship and good followership. I stand with the premise that leaders are not born they are made. It is possible to rise up a generation that will give and require or expect good leadership.
The book laid the foundation for me to ask, what makes or breaks me as a leader? Is it nurture or nature? I believe that both condition someone to become what they espouse as their core values. But when one is bought up in an environment that lacks good leadership, what and who do we emulate? Kenya will be having election in March and after post-election violence in the last election in 2008, many people are wondering if the country will find a leader who can unite a country torn by ethnic hatred. I found that outline given by Manfred Vries on facilitating change helpful as I choose the leaders I will vote for; find out what a leader stands for, their past record, the ability to create transitional space, working toward posterity and working with others will form the basis of reaching this decision. As I have watched the USA presidential aspirants’ debate, I am looking forward to the joint debate that has been organized in November by all seven media houses for all presidential candidates vying for the top seat during the next election in March 2013.
One question that lingered on my mind as I read and reflected on leadership in Africa is whether it is the leaders or the systems that have failed. African leaders are very powerful. Robert Mugabe still wields a lot of power in Zimbabwe, thirty-two years after he became president. Although democracy has been established in Africa, the trapping of power can make even those surrounding the leaders fail to let go of the intoxicating trimmings of power. For example, the widow of the last Prime Minister of Ethiopia has refused to vacate the presidential residence and let the newly elected prime minister occupy the Presidential palace. Understanding the different power dynamics and combinations will help to diffuse the tension that the fight for power ensues. Many wars that are being fought in Africa are war to acquire power and prestige. Unless there are checks and balances against the abuse of power, we will continue to see the conflict within and without the boundaries of sovereign states.
The affiliation act has elevated women into leadership. Traditionally, women were respected and their opinion regarded highly in the African context. A woman who was seen to be wise and hardworking was regarded very well. I believe that Africa will begin to see woman rise in leadership even as we have seen the rise of President Joyce Hilda Banda, the leader of Malawi who is a much respected woman. The election of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to head the African Union is a good sign of the elevation of women in leadership. The church has also began to recognize women in leadership and as structural and attitudinal barriers are being broken down, women will continue to rise as leaders.