Leadership in Africa: Need for Stronger Institutions

By Kevin Odongo

A story is told about three bricklayers: The first one when asked what he is doing replies," I am laying bricks" The second one answers "I am building a wall" Yet the third one ripostes, " I am building an hospital that hopefully will save lots of lives" This shows the different kinds of leaders we have in Africa. Some think very narrowly, a lot think just enough, while very few think and act on the bigger picture in their leadership: Building their countries for prosperity.

Weak institutions are part of the problem that has made leadership in Africa more challenging than in the rest of the world. An African may rise to a position of power and very well declare themselves holders of those positions for life, because of very weak and easily compromised institutions. Case in point is the recent disturbances in Burundi where the president is running for office for the third time in total disregard of the constitution. The vice president of the constitutional court had Leadership in Africa: Need for Stronger Institutions to flee the country due to death threats and the rights of the citizens have been trampled on with the closing of independent radio stations, blocking of instant messaging and social media. If this country had strong institutions with patriotic enforcers, there wouldn't be such blatant abuse of people's rights.

Africa is in dire need of leaders who will see the bigger picture. See the long term solutions to unique problems facing our countries. Be shrewd enough to make decisions that will benefit Africa for prosperity. Africa needs leaders who will see the need to strengthen the available institutions rather than giving more powers to holders of the political offices. Leadership in Africa is different from the rest of the world because in most parts of Africa, leaders are faced with much greater challenges in leading the countries. Most of these challenges have been conquered to a larger extent by other countries outside Africa.

In Africa, leadership is seen as the turn of a particular tribe to eat from the cake of the nation. So that the country is hardly united at any one particular time. There is no feeling of nationalism because one tribe will always feel left out. The African culture does not help either. It is a culture that does not believe in the talents and abilities of the young. It is a culture that believes wisdom only comes with age. It is a culture that believes leadership is like a rod, give it up and someone else picks it up and hits you hard on the head!

Leadership in Africa means giving hope to millions of people who remain in poverty even in the face of boundless potential. Leadership in Africa means being determined to educating people about the use of their natural resources. Africa holds a significant percentage of the world's natural resources. Yet most African countries lack the capacity to harvest and process the natural resources. This results in most of Africa's natural resources being exported raw to other countries. The resources are then processed and returned to Africa at much higher prices. Leadership in Africa must deal with the problem of building capacity to enable local value addition and processing of our natural resources. Leadership in Africa means strengthening policies and institutions that deal with the usage of natural resources to prevent unfair exploitation and conning of people off their resources.

Leadership in Africa means dealing with high cases of illiteracy. Ignorance is ailing and draining the African continent dry. Ignorance is what makes the communities in Northern Kenya to attack, maim and kill their neighbors in the name of cattle rustling. Ignorance is what makes them believe all cattle belong to one particular community and therefore we have to raid neighboring communities to obtain what is originally ours! Ignorance is what makes a mother make her daughter undergo female genital mutilation. Ignorance is what makes a community continue with harmful cultures that promote spread of HIV/ AIDS. Ignorance is what makes fathers think their sons must face the same one magic knife that has the ability to transform them from boys into men. Ignorance is what makes a man inherit his brother's wife. Leadership in Africa means being in the forefront to fight female genital mutilation and practices such as wife inheritance that promote spread of HIV/AIDS. African leaders have to work to strengthen learning institutions and ensure a larger percentage of the population have access to information and education.

African leaders have to deal with high rates of poverty. African leaders are faced with a challenge to transform the lives of their communities even when it is likely that they themselves grew up in poverty. As the African Development Bank's president noted recently in the world economic forum in Cape Town, South Africa, African economies have shown growth but little or no economic transformations yet. Economic transformation will affect the lives of each and every citizen of a country. Lifting the poor out of poverty and bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. Leadership in Africa means working to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor through stronger financial institutions and policies that seek to empower a large percentage of the citizenry.

Leadership in Africa means leading countries that are ill prepared to face disasters or acts of terrorism. We must continue thanking our gods that most African countries do not face regular disasters that require comprehensive emergency evacuation plans. However, if the recent rise in terrorist attacks in Kenya and Nigeria are anything to go by, we must change our dependence on luck and appeasing of our gods, to make comprehensive disaster management plans. Terrorist attacks and armed conflicts between countries have the potential to wipe out a whole of African community because our countries are ill prepared to face and handle such situations. The 2014 Global Terrorism Index estimates that eighteen out of fifty countries most affected by terrorism are African. Leading in Africa means being able to make security plans with limited resources.

Africans are one of the least patriotic people in the world. Leadership in Africa is different from the rest of the world because one finds themselves leading a people who can so easily betray their country for a few extra coins in their wallets. If we loved our continent enough, we would never engage in corruption, nepotism, grabbing of public property or any other activities that negatively impact the economy of our countries. It is so easy for an African trained by an African country to neglect serving their country and leave for a foreign country, contributing to losses to the country in terms of brain-drain. Cases of Africans who have gone to participate in sports in foreign countries refusing to come back to their countries or giving up their citizenships are common. And who hasn't heard of Africans dying on sea while illegally migrating to Europe? Nationalism and Patriotism are key virtues to building a successful nation. No one ever invested much in something they didn't like or didn't have a feeling for. Leadership in Africa must come out to make their citizens have a feeling of belonging and of self-worth. African leadership must come out to build and strengthen the African brand. Africa has to have strong leaders and even stronger institutions than the rest of the world. That is the difference.