Reinventing Africa for the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

Reinventing Africa for 21st Century Politics

Africa is changing, even if reluctantly and slowly.  It is slowly being acknowledged that the foundation for sustainable growth and development is political and economic governance and they cannot be separated.  In place of the one-party or no party state, we now have a plethora of political parties; at times, far too many for comfort or rational politics.  In place of military dictatorship, we are seeing civilianized military juntas in some countries.  In place of endless murderous wars, we are seeing pacted conflict resolution initiatives with varying levels of resilience.  In short, all over the continent, the discourse of politics now reflects issues of women, gender equality, transparency and the cultivation of democratic values.  There is also a new vibrant interest in constitutions and constitutionalism.  Most African states are now beginning to appreciate the centrality of constitutions to the democratic process.  These are all indicators of reinvention.   However, let me highlight four critical steps that must be taken to truly reinvent Africa.

Step One:  Reform the State

For any nation to move forward, the state must enjoy a relatively high degree of hegemony to control contending forces, build strong structures, promote accumulation, and create an environment for self-sustained growth and development.  The African state does not control the various pockets of resistance that challenge its power and authority even if it can use violence in the final instance.  Political and other forces, be they politicians, militants, religious extremists, even students, kidnappers and armed robbers are not necessarily afraid of its pronouncements and institutions.  Its failure to improve society and the lot of the majority leaves the state at the mercy of political adventurers.  Because its hegemony is weak, its custodians cannot enjoy relative autonomy and cannot build discipline or some degree of harmony within and between social classes. So conflicts and competitions go on normlessly; as if rules do not matter.  This condition explains the inconsistency in policy and performance and constrains the ability of institutions to function.  Few believe the government, an arm of the state, when it says “your security is assured, go about your normal business.”  Many see the budget reading or presentation as mere ceremony.  Many more believe that all government officials and politicians are nothing but thieves.  This has to be reversed through deliberate growth and nurturing of leadership, building strong institutions, decentralizing authority and power, purposeful policy making, constitution review, constitutionalism, respect for democratic values, promotion of equity, due process, social justice, and the basic needs of the people.  This is much better than a nebulous re-branding project that is like climbing a tree from the top.  Build the people, build their communities, promote their interests, build confidence in the state and promote state hegemony and democracy will flourish.  The state that will reinvent Africa must be able to maintain nationwide security, peace and stability; ensure and assure the freedoms and liberties of all citizens; generate resources to promote holistic development, check corruption and waste; mobilize the citizenry for full participation in the democratic process; and build structures and institutions that will encourage leadership, innovation, productivity and creativity.  An efficient, accountable and focused state will attract investors and investments without “rebranding” campaigns and adverts on CNN.  A democratic state will promote democratisation and good governance.

Step Two: Redefine and strengthen leadership at all levels

Leadership is the key to peace, development and progress. Any country or organisation without purposeful leadership cannot make progress, no matter its resource endowments.  The history of Africa is littered with very sad tales of bad, insensitive, arrogant, and ineffective leaders that have failed to inspire the people.   A year of bad leadership can spell disaster for any nation or organisation.  The African condition today has been directly complicated by bad leaders; those that Fela calls VIPs—Vagabonds in Power. It is common knowledge that most African leaders do not read and are technologically challenged.  They waste so much time talking, meeting, and inventing or pursuing enemies that they have little or no time to build real leadership qualities.  They do not prepare successors and any other rising star is an enemy that must be framed, harassed, crippled financially, and eliminated or chased far away.  They build false popularity profiles by paying for and receiving useless honorary degrees, chieftaincy titles, and awards from useless organisations.  They lack the qualities of compassion, vision, education, capacity, capability, dignity, exposure, hard work, consultation, ability to listen, and a clear and real track record of service to the people.  They put up billboards, name buildings and roads after  themselves, set up youth vanguards, turn the local television and radio into their personal newsletters and appoint opportunists and praise singers into positions to recycle the same culture of mediocrity and eye service.   Such leaders cannot build relative autonomy, hegemony, establish lasting institutions, and live in the hearts of the people for ever.  Cheap popularity, not anchored on service, honesty, integrity and performance is a waste of money and time.  Our leaders spend public funds as if it is generated from their hard labour or that the money comes from some family savings.  We must build new visions, new voices, new hopes, news constituencies and new leaderships at all levels.  Our schools lack courses on leadership. Government does not support youth organisations or NGOs that build new leaders.  Because we are greedy for power, we do not believe in building a successor generation.  The few leadership  institutes that dot the continent are often not well funded.  Once you loot the treasury, build a big house and buy a big expensive car, you are automatically a “leader.”  Unless we begin to look seriously into these issues, supporting youth groups, taking social studies, history and civics seriously, encouraging creativity, courage and innovation, and rewarding hard work and achievement, we will make no progress.  We must go beyond posturing, noise, long speeches to seriously articulating a holistic strategy for leadership development.  Bad leaders, if not stopped, will destroy Africa!

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