There is a new breed of leaders in Africa who are determined to be of relevance to their society and humanity … there is a new breed of leaders who do not want to be remembered by history for their notoriety, disregard for human rights and good governance but rather want to be part of the forward march towards the establishment of a better life for their people by using the expertise garnered over the years for the good of their people … there is a new breed of leaders in Africa who want to establish the identity of the continent as an equal partner on the world stage and must be treated as such.

John Agyekum Kufuor

We feel uplifted by beauty in all forms, both in a physical and in an abstract sense. We will shout out ‘beautiful!’ for many different things we see, feel, hear or experience. We are also uplifted by what we experience as human achievement, success or progress. And then we can add the uplifting and indeed supernatural feeling of inner peace, sometimes even in the face of difficult circumstances or threats.

Certainly, it is not the lack of the beauty of Africa’s nature that leads to negativity and Afro-pessimism. Rather, it is the many experiences and accounts of conflict, regress and/or lack of development, particularly in more recent times, while other parts of the world took huge economic and technological steps forward, that leads to pessimism and despondency about Africa. But, let us first pause here …

What is progress?

Can we declare that a particular society made progress based on their increase in material wealth? Gregg Easterbrook in his book The progress paradox found: ‘Adjusting for population growth, ten times as many people in the Western nations today suffer from “unipolar” depression, or unremitting bad feelings without a specific cause, than did half a century ago. Americans and Europeans have ever more of everything except happiness.’ And Rolf Jensen and Mika Aaltonen in their book The Renaissance Society speculate that happiness and satisfaction indexes will become more important than GDP (gross domestic product) figures as indicators of a nation’s progress. Endless more examples can be listed of thought-leaders from many parts of the so-called developed world who, today, are questioning old paradigms about success, progress, prosperity, competition and control. To include one more such a critical analysis of where we find ourselves today, Farzam Arbab, as quoted in Ronnie Lessem’s book Integral development, says:

No matter how cursory, a survey of the historic forces that are shaping the structure of society … should convince even the staunch defenders of today’s global policies that unchecked material progress is not what is needed. A dual cry can everywhere be heard rising from the heart of the great masses of humanity. It demands the extension of the fruits of material progress to all peoples, and, at the same time, it calls out for the values of spiritual civilisation … True prosperity has both a material and a spiritual dimension.

More and more people are finding deeper, more meaningful and lasting answers to life-questions by opening themselves to the other side of the coin, the balancing factor, the less conventional viewpoint, and ultimately to what resonates better with all of us being mind, body, soul and spirit, and fundamentally relational beings.

Progress as contribution to wholeness

As we travel the world, read books, watch television programmes and movies, or browse on the internet, we come to appreciate what is special in the different parts of the world – from a human development perspective. If we would trace back the story behind what we admire, we realise that many historical developments, over many centuries, and their impact on the culture of the people of the region, formed and cultivated a shared quality. In our 21st century global village we are better able than before to see how the puzzle of humanity fit together with different contributions and qualities to compliment other strengths and ultimately find balance and integration in the whole.

According to native American tradition the East gives peace and light, the South gives warmth, the West gives rain and the North with its cold, and mighty wind gives strength and endurance. As described in the seminal work of Ronnie Lessem and Sudhanshu Palsule, Managing in four worlds – from competition to co-creation, we can elaborate on the native wisdom and say the West contributes to the whole with their pragmatism, the North with their rational ethic, the East with their creative spirit, and the South with their communal focus and human centeredness.

We look at the West and we admire their achievements in following a pragmatic, dedicated approach to realising a big dream. With the freedom of the entrepreneurial spirit, they dream big, set appropriate goals, work hard at achieving them, and dream again. It serves the world with innovation and versatility. We look at the North and we admire their rational, scientific approach to the creation of stable, ethical an reliable organisations. It serves the world with in-depth understanding, consolidation of knowledge and efficiencies, formulas and the creation of order.

We look at the East and we admire their ability to adopt, integrate and go with the flow. They serve the world with a spiritual, non-threatening, spontaneous and accommodating perspective and attitude. We look at the South and we can admire the groundedness and solidarity of people in their communities and their humanity. As is evident in their music, they, together, look for and celebrate the rhythm of life as open-ended force and vitality. They serve the world with transformation for more meaningful experiences, from the bottom up, demanding full recognition for the spirit of community.

With the complimentary strengths or qualities of the different regions of the world in mind, progress can be described from a holistic point of view: appreciating and learning from the best contributions from others, and growing your own contribution to the whole according to your strengths.

Leadership in Africa

The many failures of leadership in Africa, at the most visible and obvious level, namely political leadership, is a much debated topic. The link made to the history of imperialism, the colonisation of Africa and the flawed processes of de-colonisation, is equally clear. What if we shift our focus to a new and different future of leadership in Africa? In our 21st century world, the dominance of Western power, thinking, culture, approaches and solutions, is still visible. But times are changing. The lag in Africa’s development and recognition by the rest of the world, is also still glaring. But times are changing. Looking ahead, however, will not be of much value if it ends up as ‘looking at others, out there’. Africa’s future leadership requires a solid foundation from ‘looking within’. Steve Biko said a people without a positive history is like a vehicle without an engine. So, what if the history is not positive?

For leadership in Africa, to be a catalyst for social change and transformation, it needs to be deeply rooted in African concepts of identity and community. Not a small part of what leadership responsibility entails, is to develop others’ pride and self-belief. Healthy pride includes both pride as an individual and pride as part of a social context with a shared identity, culture and values.  One example of stating a core African value with pride is the following by Steve Biko: ‘We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap warranting endless competition among us but as a deliberate act of God to make us a community of brothers and sisters jointly involved in the quest for a composite answer to the varied problems of life … We always refrain from using people as stepping stones. Instead we are prepared to have a much slower progress in an effort to make sure that all of us are marching to the same tune… The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face.’

Africa’s future leaders

Africa’s future leaders will, in growing numbers, live down the hurtful and shameful legacy of political ‘leadership’ (more appropriately labelled ‘rulers’) and model true leadership in all spheres of life.

As ‘global citizens’ they will –

  • be as cognisant of global trends and affairs and, to some degree, be influenced by them, as in the case of inhabitants of other continents;
  • in an interconnected world, make use of the internet and other modern technology; they will hungrily seize the opportunities to learn and develop world-class competence;
  • understand and appreciate the value of strong institutions with responsible and ethical rules and measures of governance;
  • embrace and respect individual freedom, empowerment and development;
  • engage with the complexity of life and work in the 21st century and be resilient, adaptable and agile;
  • be comfortable with and appreciative of diversity.

Simultaneously, as Africans, with passion for the rebirth of Africa, they will embrace and live the following:

  • Appreciate and embrace the value of science, yet savour their non-dualistic thinking and value of experiential and intuitive knowledge – going beyond and deeper than the skill-and-technique world of the pragmatic West;
  • Grow and develop themselves to offer servant leadership and stewardship to their organisations, communities and nations;
  • Fostering community at work, knowing it is instrumental to strong and effective organisations and healthy living;
  • Showing belief in and commitment to people-centred processes as much as the need to remain relevant with best practices in the modern-day world of business;
  • Being organically- and transformation-minded as opposed to mechanically- and transaction-minded; engaging others from the heart and spirit and remaining open to new possibilities;
  • Prioritising environmental and organisational sustainability, therefore resisting temptations of quick-fixes, quick-profits and short-cuts with negative systemic and people impact;
  • Respectful listening for understanding with an open mind and heart.

Of course, many more aspects can be added to the lists. What we, who dedicate ourselves to the development of Africa’s leaders, are looking forward to see, is the ongoing reflections nd conversations about leadership in Africa by Africans themselves, and the fruits thereof in many positive transformations across the continent.

At the core of the development of our continent, leadership is make or break.

Vusi Gumede

Author : Dr Gerhard van Rensburg