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Africa has a leadership crisis

by Lesotho Times
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Tsitsi Matope

AFRICA recently commemorated Africa Day, which presented opportunities for the continent to reflect on the gains of liberation and the direction countries should take to accelerate political and socio-economic development. However, in the post-colonial era, Africa has suffered endless challenges that have increased inequalities, regressed gains made in some areas and made the majority poorer. Poor leadership and governance have remained topical in the bulk of Africa with indications of failure to develop political systems that can attract people with good leadership skills and qualities.

In this wide-ranging interview, the Lesotho Times’ (LT) Tsitsi Matope speaks to former Maseru District Administrator, Retired Major General Samuel Makoro (SM). Rtd Mjr Gen Makoro studied leadership at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and Security and Governance Studies at Madras University in India. He shares his views on why it is important for Africa to remodel its governance systems and create space for people with the right leadership qualities in governments. 

LT: The post-colonial era has ushered in a new wave of problems in Africa. What are the things that African governments are failing to get right? 

SM: Africa like other continents has its culture that respects people who demonstrate courage. That is why our heroes are the likes of King Moshoeshoe because he stood up against the Dutch who wanted to take over Lesotho; the brave Zulu King Shaka who was a warrior; Nelson Mandela because of his leadership style during and after the apartheid era; and the Egyptian President, General Abdel Fattah el- Sisi, who rescued the country from authoritarian rule.

While colonialism was eventually defeated, that did not lead to what most people had expected. Firstly, because, when one leads a successful revolution, it does not necessarily mean that person has the capacity to lead the country in a new context. In many African countries, our governance systems have failed to ensure that we have the right leadership needed to take us forward. For example, an opposition leader who has managed to rally support to remove an oppressive leader does not necessarily make a good leader in new settings that can demand a change of attitude, approaches and skills.

The challenge that we are yet to resolve as Africa is how to make sure that those that fight oppressive systems, can fight for the masses without an objective to take over the leadership, especially when they lack good leadership skills and qualities. As a result, over the years, many African leaders have fallen short of the skills and the wisdom needed to sustain good governance and respond to challenges and needs of the majority.

In many instances we have also seen that some leaders who started off leading well, such as Lesotho’s former Prime Minister, Chief Leabua Jonathan, later developed authoritarian tendencies and wanted to remain in power even without the mandate of the people. We have also seen this in Zimbabwe, where the former President, Robert Mugabe who started off as hero and admired by many, later turned oppressive and ran down a once prosperous country. 

LT: What can be done to ensure African countries have good leadership? 

SM: We need to remodel our political systems. In every country there are many people with the leadership qualities that could propel Africa to greater levels of development. Importantly, we need political systems that can attract technocrats and other people with the skills and qualities needed to deepen our democracy in Africa. In most African countries we see political systems or conditions that are brutal and blind to important issues like skills of the people making up cabinets and parliaments.

The political space in many countries also tends to discriminate those with different views and ensures that power is concentrated among a few people who do not ask too many complex questions. The wars in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and others, have been mainly on who should lead, how and for how long. In Lesotho for example, we have seen that elections alone do not resolve conflicts and assure us of better leadership.

Identifying and selecting people with necessary leadership skills at political party level has also proved to be a challenge because in some cases, the people with the right leadership qualities are not in politics. This can be attributed to how violent and neo-patrimonial our politics has become. This tells us that our political systems have failed to deliver the leadership that Africa needs to develop further.  If we can look around Africa, we can see some significant leadership deficits. 

LT: You mentioned that some African leaders started well but later developed dictatorship tendencies, in your view what caused that negative change? 

SM: Although we can only have one Prime Minister or President in a country, we know that leadership is also collective. Differences come depending on the quality of contributions by those with the power to influence the leader. While good leaders should listen to those around them for decision making, they should also develop mechanisms that will help them to see through and verify what those around them are saying. That comes with wisdom and learning from the experiences that other past leaders have gone through to avoid being misled. I think with many sources of information through credible platforms, a good leader will be able to get the views of the people and appreciate the needs at the grassroots level. That way, a good leader is able to lead and coordinate the designing of responsive programmes.

Authoritarianism develops when a leader does not listen to the people and views criticism negatively. Such leaders start to isolate critics leading to divisions in the party or government.

I believe that when you are driving a bus, the passengers in the back are part of you. There are things that can happen in the back which you cannot see and if some passengers see a poisonous snake, for example, and inform you, you cannot continue driving just because another group is saying it is harmless.

Many of our political challenges in Africa are linked to the messages that leaders listen to and then base their actions on them. There are a lot of factors that make the influencers of powerful people behave in the manner that they do and in the political context, an element of corruption is usually strong.

But there is always a time for evaluation and accountability when the masses or the system that have the power over the leader acts. That can lead to disturbing developments as was the case during Chief Leabua Jonathan’s rule. He started off as a good leader and initiated a lot of developments in the country but in the end, he became power-hungry and overstayed his welcome through undemocratic means. The same happened during the military rule under Retired Major General Justin Metsing Lekhanya who was a hero because he rescued the people from bad leadership and then later found it difficult to handover power to civilian rule mainly because he listened to bad advice from some people around him.   

LT: How can these challenges be addressed, seeing that the leadership challenge is quite a concern in most African countries?

SM: The African Union (AU) and other regional bodies such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) can initiate capacity building programmes to support the current leaders in Africa. I think education can help if someone is willing to change their behaviour because that is the effect that it is expected to have on people. But also, I know that some people can study at the university for many years and remain untransformed in terms of how they interact with others or reason. When it comes to leading a government, many competences are necessary, such as people skills and strategic thinking.

The issue of good leadership has been part of us as Africans, even in the pre-colonial era. There have been arguments as to whether good leaders are born or groomed, or both. In some cultures, traditional ceremonies had to be performed to request the intervention of God and good spirits in the selection of community leaders or Kings. This demonstrates how selecting the right leader has always been important in Africa. Anybody can be a leader at various levels, but to lead a nation takes a lot, including the spiritual side of us as Africans. It is only a wise leader who knows the importance of involving God in all his duties.

I also believe that to avoid mistakes in our selection process of leaders, we need to remodel our governance systems to enable them to select the right candidates who are not necessarily politicians.

Over the years, we have seen leaders in Africa appointing their preferred successors’ and in some instances, this has brewed political disasters because of the poor leadership qualities of the preferred candidate.  I think this is a deliberate attempt to ensure that the successor does not outclass the predecessor. 

LT: What kind of leadership does Lesotho need at the moment and in your view which leader do you think African leaders should learn from to improve their leadership skills?

SM: I think following all the security conflict, which affected our politics in recent times, we need a leader who can unite the people like our founder, King Moshoeshoe. I have respect for King Moshoeshoe because he was both a hero and good leader in the sense that he had effective strategies to unite the people, protect them when the country was in danger and ensure peace and prosperity. Astute leadership should realise transformation and devise strategies that are in line with the change.

The need for a strong leadership, with the ability to address all critical issues seeking to improve the quality of our governance and our institutions has never been as important as it is now. We need a leadership that can rise above petty squabbles and focus on the bigger picture, which is to stabilise the country, effectively grow the economy and focus on the development agenda. I am confident that, currently we have such leadership qualities in Dr Thomas Thabane.

Looking at Africa, I have great respect for Nelson Mandela because of his shrewd leadership style. He was a uniting force that realised the dangers of making hasty political decisions on the economy of South Africa, which has managed to stabilise the regional economy. Despite his decisions, what makes Nelson Mandela’s leadership exceptional was his consistency in his messages while at the same time trying all he could to unite the country. He was a man who understood that there was a time for everything and change was better managed wisely.

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