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Opinions of Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Old Leadership, New Leadership

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Leadership has become a buzz word for practitioners, bureaucrats and theorists of African development. The term variously means a process of getting work done through people. Leadership may not be science but it is committed responsibility. Africans in civil service, in business schools, in NGOs, in the mass media, in think tanks, in academic, in State Houses, in opposition political parties use leadership as a sort of reality refiner - a way of contrasting past and present, an implement for cataloging out history at a moment of African changes, the flowering of The African Century.

African leadership, being heavily over burdened and scatterbrained, is part of the Old Leadership. For the past 50 years, Africa has been sorting itself up into categories of Old Leadership and New Leadership. We see this in one of Africa’s foremost leaders, Kwame Nkrumah. Prof. A.K.P. Kludze, former Justice of Ghana’s Supreme Court, observes that although President Kwame Nkrumah was a freedom fighter and committed Pan-Africanist, he later succumbed to the Big Man syndrome, turned Ghana into a one-party state and became the life chairman of his ruling Conventions People's Party and general secretary of the party’s Central Committee. It was considered treason to challenge him. Nobody could stand as a candidate unless his candidature was approved by the General Secretary of the party (read-himself).

The 1960s to the 1990s have become a transforming boundary between one age and another, between a format of things that has crumbled and another that is taking shape. A millennium has come, a celestial divide. Kwame Nkrumah’s era of autocracy of the 20th century is dead; the 21st is a kernel, revealed in continental giant Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan. New Leadership-Old Leadership makes a match of lists: what’s in, what’s out in the African experiences. More imperative, it is a way of considering what works (New Leadership) and what doesn't work anymore (Old Leadership).

The horrible Central African Republic’s Jean-Bedel Bokassa was the Old Leadership. The New Leadership is what we are seeking for – Liberia’s Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson. One-party system and military juntas are Old Leadership. African communism as seen in Ethiopia’s Menghistu Haile Mariam is Old Leadership. Big one-party systems, military juntas and Jerry Rawlings’ emotionally charged aggressiveness style are dead. Democracy brewed from within African experiences is becoming more and more alive as a development fertilizer. Botswana is one example; Mauritius is another.

With over 45 years in Ghana’s and Africa’s turbulent politics, ex-president John Kofi Kufour is more than qualified to examine Africa’s leadership from very close range. His analysis: “Leadership is key to unravelling the problems of Africa. With the right leadership, good policies would be enacted that will create the right condition for economic growth, respect of the rule of law and the conducive atmosphere for business to thrive," observed Kufour. Kufour said this in South Africa during the launch of “Why Africa is Poor and What Africans can do about it,” written by Greg Mills, Executive Director of the Brenthurst Foundation of the Oppenheimer and Son Group.

Kufour diagnosed the awful Old Leadership this way: “Africa's problem was that people assumed leadership positions without being adequately prepared for it and they lacked the vision and drive to pursue policies to the benefit of their people … Studies of individual historic leaders exemplified in the likes of Biblical Moses, among others, would show conclusively that each one of them had come through relevant experiences to be imbued with epochal visions of great and abiding development of their nations … The time when people just jumped into leadership positions should be by-gone. Budding leaders must bide their time and go through the apprenticeship exposures and institutions to better prepare them to assume the rightful role expected of them.”

Old Leaderships: Mobutu Sese Seku, military juntas, one-party and communist systems, Sekou Toure, Mamadou Tandja, the Big Man syndrome, tough talk, imperially threatening attitude (Yaya Jemmeh), arrogance (Idi Amin), centralized bureaucracy and Big government, the leader as a massive juju-marabou dabbler (Samuel Doe), the leader mired in extreme superstitious believes (Marcias Francoise Nguema), the leader under the control of warped spiritualists (Sani Abacha and Bokassa), refurbished ancient paternalism (Siaka Stevens), dictatorship, “God has destined me to be leader” (Jerry Rawlings), heavy cultural inhibitions (all Africa), charisma, tribalistic blood-feud payback, primordial corporate loyalties, Guinea Bissau, and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (the military politician as the face of the unrepentant African traditional autocracy).

New African Leadership: Humility. God fearing. Deep decentralization so much so that decision-making is pushed down as much as possible to the people affected. Truthfulness. High sense of African history and traditions. Traditional consensus building mixed with modern leadership practices. John Kufour. Evans Atta Mills, Nana Akufo Addo, Ian Khama. Balances. Democratic tenets, human rights, freedoms, social justice, the rule of law. Goodluck Jonathan, Ernest Koroma, Jakaya Kikwete. The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States. Television news network, participatory communication, information, facebook, fax machines, tweeter, myspace and other new media. David Mark (the Nigerian soldier greatly democratized). The new Liberia. Pluralism. The new Sierra Leone. Kwasi Pratt Jr. Botswana.

In the African context, Old Leadership is a mixed bag. New Leadership isn’t necessarily the best. There are sham democracies and leaderships – The Gambia and Yaya Jammeh. The New Leadership is an on-going project that needs a lot of socio-political engineering constructed from within Africa’s traditional values, but better than Old Leadership. New Leadership is about output instead of input. The assessment of the New Leadership is what works. It Africanizes Botswana’s leadership skills, the capability to mix the traditional with the modern so as to refine any inhibitions within the traditional.

Old Leadership and New Leadership are often intermingled. Jerry Rawlings and Jacob Zuma as awkward, stalled in stupidity, complete dumbness, are Old Leadership. Foolhardiness is New Leadership, as seen in Central African Republic’s Francois Bozize and the entire leadership of Guinea Bissau, can be different style - small-minded, dishonorable, blank, and uninformed of Africa’s painful past of agony and sadness. New media, the medium of the New Leadership, has an overwhelming addiction to the mediocre that it constantly wrestles with. The New Leadership is a distraction that sometimes reveals simple-mindedness.

In Emilio Mwai Kibaki’s mind, Old Leadership and New Leadership circle each other suspiciously, as Kenya struggles for better leadership and governance. Kibaki is often New Leadership in regional issues but Old Leadership in domestic affairs. Under his watch, Kenya’s 2008 general elections descended into fatal violence and saw over 1,300 people killed and over 300,000 homeless. The International Criminal Court coming into Kenya and planning to put six top Kenyans on trial saw Kibaki dashing back toward patriarchal conclusions.

Rawlings and Atta Mills? Object lessons on how Old Leadership and New Leadership clash with each other. Dictatorial Rawlings wants members of the opposition National Patriotic Party arbitrarily arrested for suspicion of being corrupt. With enormous pressure from Rawlings, Mills reveals how fragile the New Leadership could be, how it could be menaced by Old Leadership. Rawlings sticking to Old Leadership despite the fact that its time is gone has become a dilemma for Mills. The trouble is there is no New Leadership for Rawlings to migrate to. Maybe never.

Either in the analysis of Kufour’s African leadership impasse or Botswana’s and Mauritius’s ability to mix modern leadership practices with their traditional ones that has paid off remarkably, the Ghanaian Joseph William Addai argues in Reforming Leadership in Africa that transformations in African leadership, as a way of improving the quality of governance, should start from African traditional values and then mixed with global governance practices. This means African leaders should have a high sense of African traditional leadership values in relation to global governance ideals.

In this sense, Africa’s leadership struggles are rationalized from within Africa’s soul. It is a new intellectual construct to make things work. A way of thinking about change. For long, Africans have taken their leadership for granted seeing the likes of Bokassa, Doe, and Amin mount power and destroy their countries. The New Leadership is above all struggling toward a working model for the progress mechanisms of The African Century.

Short of this, there will be huge imbalances in the quality of leadership and governance, and this will impact negatively on Africa’s progress. Kenya’s and Nigeria’s struggles for better governance practices, as progress act, seen in their attempts to reform their constitutions, illustrates Africa’s tussles to grapple with its leadership challenges.

Fifty years after freedom from colonial rule, Africa is largely still Old Leadership. But as the flowering of The African Century reveals, Africa’s brilliance would be how it renew itself, how it improvise itself, technically how it quickly grow New Leadership as a replacer of Old Leadership, as part of its transformative endowment. This means New Leadership should be the overarching idea, the signature of The African Century.