- The tendency becomes feebler when we consider Africa’s economic and social problems, which are fodder for the international afro-phobic media. In all, both critics at home and abroad, conclude that Africa’s problems are due to poor leadership. While there may be some truth to this, the matter gains added complexity when we consider the global socio-economic and neo-imperial realities.
Quite often we have a tendency to see the fault of the world as the prerogative for others to fix. We sometimes imagine that, except for the existence of all other misfits in the world, our lives would be an unqualified utopia; but is this true?
The tendency becomes feebler when we consider Africa’s economic and social problems, which are fodder for the international afro-phobic media. In all, both critics at home and abroad, conclude that Africa’s problems are due to poor leadership. While there may be some truth to this, the matter gains added complexity when we consider the global socio-economic and neo-imperial realities.
These imperatives set the criteria for judging our leaders; raising the bar, or excluding exogenous circumstances which would lend clarity to the subject matter. Nevertheless, there is a subtle difference as to classification, for not everyone we consider good are evil is rightly classified, whether the criteria is ours or influenced by propaganda.
While Mandela led Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the radical arm of the ANC, the powers that be deemed him evil. Yet we are constrained to understand Mandela’s actions in the context of the ANC’s aim at the time, which was to protect the interest of black South Africans. And, after Mandela’s acceptance of a milder approach, which allowed Whites to retain their privilege; keeping their land and economic power; when the ANC accepted the paralysis of gradualism — the inheritance of a better land far into the future, attained through individual effort and responsibility — presuming that Whites had achieved their place with the same criteria, the government and their international allies transformed Mandela into an angel of light. The truth is that Mandela was neither of the two extremes.
Nearer to home, those who are old enough may remember when the West branded Mugabe a saint. He had defeated Zimbabwe’s colonisers, but instead of doing what was expected of him, he pardoned them. Now that Mugabe has expropriated their possessions, they have deemed him corrupt, inept, and evil. It appears that threatening the oppressors’ wealth or prominence is the central criteria used in determining one’s worthiness for leadership.
My aim is not to determine whether Mugabe’s actions are good or bad, but instead to shine light on our criteria for judgment; for if the world embraces Mugabe’s approach, Europe would be a crowded continent, if not poorer.
History aside, the problem of Africa’s arrested development remains with us, and so are the touted explanations; neither have evolved far from the historical assumptions. However, through consideration, two realities emerge. The first rests in the source of our leaders, and the second relates to the global forces which impoverished Africa in the first place.
Addressing the first reason is easy, if often overlooked. Looking in the mirror allows us to confirm the inescapable fact that our leaders come from among us. They are our sons and daughters, raised within our villages, schooled in our schools, and represent us.
In most cases, we have elected them from a field of representatives, after judging them to be the most worthy of leading us. Yet, we often brand them as alien, corrupt, inept, and self-serving, et cetera.
Yes, I dare admit that the above is a simplistic debunking of the criticism, for indeed some of Africa’s leaders, past and present, rightly fit the stereotype. But Africa does not have a monopoly on stupidity or ineptitude.
On the second matter, very few countries are unblemished, if we choose to judge them by similar criteria in their infancy. When they needed to harness resources to establish their estate and family legacy, they all pillaged and stole the resources of others to become rich, branding the thievery spoils of war. I do not advocate that approach, but wish for those who criticize African leaders, to consider the matter more closely.
Africa does not have a monopoly on corruption, and where corruption exists, it is our collective responsibility to eradicate it. Finally, I suppose it would be helpful to address the matter firstly within ourselves, given that the leader may only succeed as far as we allow.