A Leadership Crisis in Africa

By Bethany-Angel Chijindu, Staff Writer

The more things change, the more things stay the same. That I think could be the best way to describe the current leadership crisis on the African continent.  In the past few days, we have seen a major change in Zimbabwe, with Robert Mugabe leaving power and office after 37 years of holding onto power. But the question remains: will the new president Emmerson Mnangagwa be able to implement and bring about the changes Zimbabwe needs?  Also, a resolution of some sorts has occurred in Kenya since the last article I wrote, with Uhuru Kenyatta sworn in for his second term in office.

People holding Zimbabwean flags celebrate in the street after the resignation of Zimbabwe’s president on November 21, 2017 in Harare. Photo credit MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images

As a pan-African, I am Zambian by birth, Nigerian through my dad’s lineage and Sierra Leonean through my mum’s ancestry. I have always been interested in the well-being of my continent, and during my one year at Thunderbird, I have seized the opportunity to gain a lot of knowledge about leadership. And I got the opportunity when I gave my second Toastmaster speech a few weeks ago. I gave a speech on the state of leadership in Africa, and in this article, I am going to talk about some of the consequences of not having the right people in leadership.

But before we talk about the consequences, it’s important to know what kind of leadership we have had in the past. From the 1960s to the 1990s, African countries were either under the one-party regime, where you had presidents staying more than 20 years in power in countries like Zambia, Malawi, and Cameroon. In other countries like Ghana and Nigeria, there were several military regimes, and of course in countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa, there was still a fight for Africans to be able to rule themselves in their own country.

The Pan-African Leaders. Courtesy of African Holocaust

I was born in the 1980s when one-party rule was the system of governance, and Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president, was in power. In Nigeria, military regimes were normal—that was my early childhood and part of my teenage years. I can still remember soldiers standing on the roads and outskirts of any town in Nigeria. That was my everyday understanding of what power looked like.

A New Direction in Leadership?

A change began to happen in the 1990s with multi-party democracy beginning to bloom and many countries in Africa made a switch. I remember when my family moved to Zambia in 1997, Fredrick Chiluba was already president and how wonderful that felt moving from Nigeria, where General Sani Abacha was the Head of State, to Zambia were there was this sense of peace and freedom.

Since then, Nigeria also moved along with the new change, and a return to civilian rule. However, things have not always been smooth. The journey toward democracy is an ongoing one with breakthroughs and disappointments. Many of the new exciting leaders that came in the 1990s with huge promises to the citizens of change have ended up changing all right. By becoming the very people they campaigned against, corruption in many countries has increased, and the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow. In recent times, we are seeing the consequences of this form of leadership with Africans finding themselves taken into captivity as slaves in Libya, and many young people in the DRC being forced into violence. In the absence of real transformative leadership, chaos rules.

A Time for Earnest Questions?

Having had the privilege of living in Zambia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, there are a few things I have noticed.  One is that Africa’s greatest wealth is in its youth. With a large youthful population full of ideas, why should Africa still have leaders in power who have been there since the 1980s and 1990s? The question does arise: when will the African youths get the chance to lead if their elders continue to stay in power long past their due date?

Another question that needs answering is where will the new breed of leaders go to learn about leadership? Otherwise we will continue to have the kind of leaders we have, men and women who are only interested in the status of being in power and in surrounding themselves with ‘yes’ people. And people who are interested in filling their pockets and that of their ethnic community at the expense of the public.

I have not given up hope. I remember as children we were told the young shall grow. I am now grown, and while it is true that majority of the people in power are old men, I have seen enough young people who are making a difference in their own spheres of influence, and that is something to be thankful for.

Members of the Young African Leaders Initiative. Photo courtesy of Pro Fellow

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