Africa’s leadership challenge has received centre stage attention in recent times; the reason is not farfetched. As the dictum goes, everything begins and ends with leadership, hence, the development of any nation is hinged on the quality and effectiveness of its leaders. African history is besotted by events that give a similitude of a continent only capable of raising poor leaders interested in private gains at the expense of the masses. While there is indeed a leadership challenge in Africa, its framing calls for deep questioning as it might in fact be a major part of the problem.
From the 60’s when most African countries began their struggles for independence, conversations of who and what its leadership will look like emerged. There were concerns about how a region so diverse can be managed effectively to harness its potential. In the wake of these conversations, leaders in their youthful prime rose to the challenge in a gargantuan attempt to lead their countries towards peace and prosperity. Notable amongst them were Julius Nyerere (Tanzania ), Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d’Ivoire), Ahmed Sékou Touré (Guinea), Modibo Keita (Mali), Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Nigeria), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), and Mau Mauof Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya).
The transition from colonialism to independence was marked by crises, exploitation and several forms of discrimination and exclusion. Post-independence governance was not very different as coups, counter coups, civil wars, unrest led critical pundits to opine that perhaps Africa was never ready for its independence. While this view appears rather critical, it may be useful to juxtapose Africa’s position and transition with other regions that have similar historical antecedents. In this regard, it may be interesting to explore the history of Europe and the Americas to understand the nature and context of the leadership challenges they faced. This exploration will be useful in understanding why Africa is framed as a region that is incapable of managing its own affairs. If leadership challenges are universal and contextually problematic, why is Africa projected as the worst-case scenario? This argument does not negate the reality of these challenges; however, it attempts to argue that perhaps the framing and outlook may need to be revised to effectively tackle the challenge.
Many argue that Africa’s first crop of leaders failed largely because they were unprepared for the realities of post-independence. Most of the leaders were activists and educated elites whose focus was ending the dark days of colonialism in the continent. Hence, their first attempt at uniting the continent was divisive and founded on conflicting ideologies (non-align movement, leftist Monrovia group and the right-wing Casablanca bloc). However, they instituted Pan-Africanism which has remained an important part of their legacy.
The 21st century presents a new challenge for Africa to square up to the realities of the times by positioning itself as a power to be reckoned with. This call is for Africa’s voice to be heard and projected, to promote peace and prosperity across her borders and to create a just and equitable society for all. Nevertheless, if this must be achieved, its leaders will champion this journey to greatness.
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Africa’s development is hinged on the cultivation of leaders with exceptional character and skills. The recognition that leadership skills are not groomed when a position is conferred must be acknowledged, and so efforts must be geared at raising capable talents for political and socio-economic leadership. There is an urgent call for leadership heralded by young people whose potential have been under-utilized over time. Africa is experiencing a youth bulge, 70% of its population is under the age of 30, representing about 743 million of over 1Billion people in the continent. 375 million young people in Africa will reach working age by 2030 —a population equivalent to the combined populations of Canada and the United States.
This demographic bulge presents the continent with an enormous opportunity to harness the potential of its youth in the actualization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Africa’s own Agenda 2063. It also has weighty implications for economic development, public service provision, security and stability. Young leaders must be groomed as policy actors and co-drivers of transformative change in Africa. In truth, no useful effort at of development in Africa can be devoid of young people. Hence the continent is faced with a new challenge of raising young talents who are equipped to lead Africa’s strides to greatness.
Leadership development for young people in Africa deserves spotlight attention as the current reports position youth as drivers of development. Although outliers exist in few pockets across the continent, young people historically have been excluded from developmental efforts resulting in the current socio-economic crises. Sustainable development requires inclusive collective action driven towards the common good hence, interventions and efforts must be tailored to strengthen the capacity of young people to lead themselves, lead others and lead change. Participation and adequate representation of youth in policy dialogues must become an advocacy focus as they must be included to feel included.
The future is here, and Africa more than ever is in dire need of excellent and competent leaders who are not driven by a lust for personal aggrandizement. The transformation of Africa is hinged on our ability to raise and equip young people to reach their highest potential while harnessing the same to foster sustainable development.
This article written by Obamwonyi Hope Imuetinyan, was first published by LEAPAfrica.