Africa, for all her diversity, heritage and history has suffered under both colonial and home-grown masters and monsters. From the aspirational heydays of Nkrumah and Sankara; to the inhumane tragedies of Idi Amin; to the compromises of Mandela and Mbeki, African leadership has taken many different forms. What we can all agree on, however is that there is a severe leadership crisis in Africa, one that has existed since colonialism and its malicious legacy. A leadership crisis that we must all take responsibility for.
It is easy for us to say that “Africa’s dictators and malevolent leaders are the main contributors to our global under-developed status (that) they are the chief culprits stoking fires of civil strife, political instability, poverty, hunger and a plethora of social ills on the continent through their uncaring, myopic and selfish type of leadership”. Easy and legitimate yes, but an analytically narrow perspective. We must analyse the crisis of African leadership in a holistic manner, in its global context.
In this current white supremacist, heteronormative and patriarchal, capitalist global system – this broken international system – African leadership that is mediocre, African leadership that lacks intellectual depth and political will is what is both required and expected. What’s more, we’ve all been complicit in it.
This is the fundamental mediocrity of the global white supremacist system, that the West can only stand tall if the rest of us are on our knees. That in the very act of colonisation, decolonisation was anticipated; that the West planned to perpetually dominate Africa in every form imaginable, spelling out how, despite independence, ‘Africa should not be in a position to rule without taking its cue from us”. The characteristics of African leadership were then moulded by colonial empires. And in the overwhelming challenges Africa faces and how leaders respond we do nothing to upend that thinking. We can’t even begin to reimagine African leadership that isn’t marked by corruption; where the Macrons of the world, for all their intellectual accomplishments, can still dismiss Africa so casually.
African leadership that is bold, self-determining and willing to rise from its knees is an incredible act of revolution. History has shown us, you will be killed for it: Thomas Sankara, Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Patrice Lumumba. History teaches us that we are not allowed to have strong leadership in Africa. It upsets too many things in the world. The mediocrity of African leadership in our post-colonial context is one that was both anticipated and orchestrated through significant social engineering. It makes me wonder why we would even expect strong leadership in the absence of a serious project of epistemic and social re-engineering.
For a continent still revealing to us that it was home to the oldest humans, we are now the youngest. Africa has the largest amount of young people in the world, can we imagine, can we picture a Pan Africa realisation of our combined potential, self-organisation, self-mobilisation and self-determination? Now is perhaps the single greatest opportunity for us African youth to recreate our destiny. To shape a positive and thriving African future. To craft a different space for Africa on the world stage, instead of trying to catch up with the West, we assert a new kind of society for Africans.
This is why it is important for us African youth to begin to act upon the world as if we already are its leaders. Because we are. We are the leaders of today. Tomorrow is too late. Fourteen African countries paying colonial tax, tells us tomorrow is too far away to act. That Africans are considered foreigners in Africa, tells us tomorrow is too far to wait. That we have failed to reimagine Africa beyond the colonial system, of both mind and state borders, tells us tomorrow is too far to wait. That we still must call London, or Paris or Washington before we take decisions that impact on us, tells us tomorrow is too far to wait. We are done with leading Africa on our knees; it is time for African leadership to truly rise in service to its people, than continue with the status quo that asks us to still play in the colonial sandbox. Instead of big men politics, let us redefine whom we see as legitimate leaders. Instead of pretending there isn’t enough to go around, let us shun those who hoard resources.
I feel a deep calling that as African youth, we must come together. We must set our minds anew and endeavour to move past the point of just critiquing our leaders. In providing a first step towards solutions to African problems, we must move away from our colonial understanding of being in leadership as being in power. Where power is a zero sum game. We must replace this dominance leadership with an understanding of being in leadership as service to all our people. As strong African servant leadership; as servant leaders for and with each other so that we may reclaim the greatness of Africa. So that we may reclaim our history and begin to write our own future.
Do not retreat from your historical mission; do not surrender to the easiness of not doing anything at all.
Asijiki, singagqibanga. DM
Ashanti Kunene is an intern in the Sustained Dialogues Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and a Stellenbosch University Masters student
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