Nnaziri Ihejirika: Of Africa and Leadership



I started this blog post with no discernible topic in mind, but with an end goal formulating somewhere in my cerebral complex. Let's take stock of some of the happenings over the last week in the political landscape of the African continent:


- The Ethiopian Prime Minister is stealing land from Ethiopian farmers (at least we could quasi-sympathize with Mugabe in Zimbabwe for taking land from white owners). This one? Not so much...

- The Nigerian President's impotency shows no signs of letting up. It's doubtful that even Cialis will be able to revive this man's flagging fortunes.

- The #OccupyNigeria movement cascaded into a series of pointed fingers, 'betrayals' by certain elements in the Save Nigeria group as well as organized labor (although we expected this, we still expressed our righteous rage). 

 - Democratic Republic of Congo's Joseph Kabila is using his security forces to tackle opposition to his self-declared 'victory' in November's elections.

What is it with Africa and her leaders?

Will a time ever come when Africans will elect and be led by men and women of integrity, honesty and deep gravitas? Or are we to be forever the problem child of the world, stuttering from one crisis to another; constantly looking at the world with the big-eyed, 'help me' visage that those of us in West see in the all the aid agency TV ads?

How is it that the United States, once a bastion of racial intolerance (and still with many pockets of such), can elect an African-American as President while Africans continually look at the tribe and accent of the person who is interviewing for a simple secretarial position, not to mention for any position that exerts influence and authority?

Joseph de Maistre once said "every country deserves the government it elects". If we are to assume that this statement holds true, and I believe it does, what does it mean in the grand scheme of things?

It means that the acts committed by our leaders on a grand scale - and sometimes in full view of the world - are simply magnifications of the ones we carry out in our day to day lives. If we show preference to someone because they come from our part of the country, or were educated at the same schools we were, or are friends of the family - or for any other tie that binds - why should we expect our leaders to not appoint their friends and cronies into positions of trust? Certainly, if I wanted to rig elections and salt away the nation's resources for my benefit, am I not likely to appoint my friends?

For our leaders to change, we have to change. We have to change the way we view those whose views are different from ours and we have to seek the common good, not our own personal agendas. Using the #OccupyNigeria protests as an example, many acts of looting and violence were carried out in the name of "seeking justice". Many politicians and former technocrats who were part of failed administrations used it as a chance to score political points and push personal agendas. In all this brouhaha, is it any surprise that the movement failed to gain the critical mass required for it to become self-sustaining a la those of Egypt and Tunisia.

And what if our leaders are not representative of us?

Then the answer lies in choosing who we want to be our leaders. Not selecting from a godfather-approved list of self-serving vagabonds, but actually choosing the people we want to push onto those lists. It starts at the local government/municipal level. If there is someone who is dedicated to the community, who is selfless and who has accomplished much with little, we should be approaching them and telling them that their candidacy is of importance to the local government. This should be translated to the state and federal levels for both the executive and legislative arms of government. 

There is a classic African example of this. When Nelson Mandela came out of prison, the people of South Africa approached him to become President. He was a successful one, especially in uniting a fractured country. When the ANC imposed Jacob Zuma as their candidate, sure he was elected, but how has he fared? South Africa today is more fractured it was in 1996. There's something about being the peoples' choice - invariably you reflect their will, whatever that will is.

Regardless of how one views the leadership in Africa today, it's clear that it requires a major overhaul. Moving this leadership to the 21st century requires paradigm shifts for us as individuals and the way we view those of differing faiths and tribes. It also requires proactivity in going after those we know are proven difference-makers and ensuring that our choices - not selections - are made in general elections. 

The choice is ours.

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