What is the first thing that comes to your mind when considering African leadership? And who do you think of when considering African leaders?
These were the first two questions I pondered at Columbia’s 2011 African Diplomatic Forum hosted by the School of International and Public Affairs Pan African Network (SPAN). The conference, titled The Blueprint Managing Africa’s Political Security & Building Effective Institutions, consisted of a keynote speech by former Prime Minister Ahmed Souare of the Republic of the Guinea and six panels.
When I think of African leadership, my minds wanders to different kinds of African leaders like presidents of Africa’s independence era such as Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mendela, long-standing dictators such as Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe, or Africa’s first-elected female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005.
Regardless of which side of history that these few African presidents may eventually lay, the one common thread that makes them stand out to me is that they all took a firm stand on African social, economic, and political independence. The leader himself embodies independence, strength, and the reclamation of Africa pride.
I had the pleasure to meet President Johnson-Sirleaf at a round-table hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics in September 2006. It was amazing to be in the presence of someone so calm, wise, and confident. When she spoke, you wanted to hear more. President Sirleaf continues to make history as the 2011 recipient of the Noble Peace Prize on October 7th. She shared this prize with two other women, one of whom was also Liberian, Leymah Gbowee.
Although some may have qualms with three women sharing the Noble Peace Prize, I am glad that in Gbowee’s recognition, other African leaders (outside of presidents) were noticed. Even President Sirleaf was a former Liberian Minister of Finance. These women represent a new generation of leadership in which women are being recognized for their roles in positions such a government ministers, parliament, and ambassadors. I look forward to learn more about the role of women in leadership at the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from Monday, 27 February to Friday, 9 March 2012.
HE Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya to the United States said during a panel, “Leadership isn’t about an individual. It's about how people come together. ” In what ways do African leaders come together?
Despite the slow-moving African Union, current-day African leaders continue to make strides away from foreign influence and towards domestic economic, political and social independence. For example, it can be argued that the African Union lost its autonomy and authority by failing to act swiftly enough with regards to the Libyan uprisings and Gadafi’s crimes against humanity. Can it be assumed that as NATO stepped in as authority on the matter, that the African Union suffered a failure in leadership?
HE Kamau argued that economic and financial independence is key for Africa. "[We must] create wealth based on people who understand us, and relationships that make since to us. Africa needs to look at itself, its people, its neighbors first. And then engage the rest of the world.”
This idea is reminiscent of 1963 Nkrumah’s Africa Must Unite. This argument of decreasing Africa’s economic dependence on foreign aid was also reiterated Dambisa Moyo’s 2009 book "Dead Aid."
Africa has already established regional economic communities (RECs) to usher in this inter-dependence on economic development. These RECs include: COMESA (Southern and East Africa), EAC (East Africa), ECCAS (Central Africa), ECOWAS (West Africa), SADC (Southern Africa), and CEN-SAD (Sahel-Saharan Africa). But are these RECs failing to promote regional economic stability, only to uplift countries with global ports or rich mineral resources such as South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, and Kenya? As soon as African leadership firmly holds political, economic, and social regional agendas, both countries with global port cities and smaller land-locked countries will benefit.
Foreign aid is not just limited to money from bilateral organizations and developed countries, but also from up and coming developing countries such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa, known as BRICS.
During the BRICS panel, Senior Economic Affairs Officer and Special Assistant to the Under-Secretary General Special Adviser on Africa of the United Nations Headquarters, Kavazeua Katjomousie poignantly noted, “China has a strategy for Africa, but Africa lacks a strategy for China.”
Ninety-nine-year land lease agreements with BRICS and African countries, such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique, are very reminiscent of exploitative deals made with early Americans and Native Americans. It is in Africa’s best interest to encourage its leadership to develop strategic partnerships with BRICS countries. Africa needs the benefits of foreign technology and higher education. These strategic partnerships should support local industry, local labor markets, sustainable mineral extraction, sustainable land use, and seek to correct import trade imbalances.
The African Union and RECs need to better position themselves to leverage negotiations with BRICS, who have a long history of relations with Africa dating back as far as the spice and silk trades.
The discussion on African leadership need not be limited to presidents, corruption, or incompetency. There are African leaders in every level of society. African leadership will strengthen as African regional unification strengthens.