Diescho’s Dictum – the Crisis of Leadership in Afrika – Part I [analysis]

ON 12 July 1993 the international TIME Magazine published a commissioned seminal essay entitled: Where have all the leaders gone? The main argument in the essay was that there was a gridlock – an absence of visionary leadership across the globe. The heavy lifters at the time were America’s Bill Clinton, Britain’s John Major, Germany’s Helmut Kohl, Japan’s Kiichi Miyazawa, France’s Francois Mitterand, China’s Deng Xiaoping, India’s P.V. Narasimha Rao, Canada’s Brian Mulroney and Russia’s Boris Yeltsin. All these men were powerful in their own right and spheres of influence. The list of commissioned essayists concluded that all of these men were lacking in the real substance of line leadership – VISION. No African leader was mentioned, and Nelson Mandela was not even in the list of leaders considered. The learned authors went as far as invoking the Christian Bible’s Proverbs 18:28: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Before we cast our eyes on the crisis of leadership on the Afrikan continent and the context of Namibia, let us consider the basics of the notion of leadership. Leadership is about the act of leading – the action of guiding or giving direction to others. This is common in most African languages, which refer to the act of leading as walking in front, to lead the way, to give direction on the way forward or the task at hand. In other words, the act of leadership is always situational.

In Rukavango: ‘kupiteritha, kuyenditha, kuyendita, kegendesa, kuipitisira (go first, cause to walk, walk in front), in Silozi: kuzamayisa (to cause to walk) in Otjiherero: okunana (to pull, to cause forward movement) in Oshiwambo: okuwilika, okulela (to steer in front or to nurture). Research shows that most if not all African languages have the same appreciation of leadership, namely the person who takes the lead, who walks in front, who hazards the first steps and inspires others to follow. The Oxford English Dictionary concurs with the African prescriptions of leadership by pointing to and amplifying the aspects of walking in front of others.

The emphasis is thus on leading the way, pointing towards a direction or the future, and to influence others. This notion of leadership is also amply demonstrated in Biblical times by the narrative of Moses as an illustrious individual who, by showing conviction in something greater than himself, persuaded his people, the Israelites, to follow him out of uncomfortable Egypt into the Promised Land where there would be plentiful milk and honey. Moses agitated to lead his people out of their misery in Egypt into a land wherein they would all have a better life.

TIME magazine lifted up Jean Lacouture, one of France’s foremost historians and a biographer of Charles de Gaulle who said that he could not think of a period in history when there were so few great leaders, and asked whether they were around but that people were not aware of them!

Jonathan Eyal, the then director of the London-based Royal Services institute, a politico-military think tank in Great Britain, remarked that it was tempting to believe that the fault of our times was only with the character of the present leaders whom he described as faded personalities in gray suits and sporting the same gray hair – and that they seemed helpless in the face of ills ranging from the economic and environmental to such social scourges as lawlessness.

Karsten Voigt, the then foreign affairs spokesman for the Social Democrats in Germany added that there was more than just a lack of leadership, but that there was a weakness of the state and society, an ill-discipline that was manifesting itself in rising crime and animus against foreigners to declining voter turnouts during elections. Voigt alerted that there is a need for leadership to steer nations towards a better sense of Gemeinwohl, that essential spirit of community. Certainly, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were 20th century archetypes of the crisis leader that the world needs today. With a few elusive exceptions, this century is devoid of such leaders.

Kurt Biedenkopf, the then Premier of the state of Saxony and one of Germany’s most thought-provoking politicians argued that the leadership failure around the world betokened a lack of intellectual assets in the governance of nations. Leaders dish out old answers, are outdated and obsolete.

Political leaders are still using the answers to situations that no longer prevail. And people are getting more and more restless with the political performance of their leaders whose responses to current challenges are historical and futuristic. Britain’s brilliant John Stuart Mill was convinced that visions of freedom and happiness must be the constant ingredients of discussions about change and the future.

This is so, he argued, because as societies change, people must avoid falling into the deep slumber of decided and old opinions. The premiere British philosopher Isaiah Berlin issued the most instructive warning that men do not live only by fighting evils, but by positive goals, individually and collectively. When describing the kind of visionary leadership needed, then Israeli elder statesman Gideon Rafael, at the age of 80 quoted the erstwhile British Prime Minister Churchill after World War ll who said: “We are shaping the world faster than we can change ourselves, and we are applying to the present the habits of the past.”

The cuurent state of a lack of visionary leadership is acute in post-independence Afrika where leaders are stuck in the politics of yesterday and yesteryear. Afrikan liberation leaders seem never able to move beyond their triumphalism of attaining independence as if independence was an end in itself whereas it ought to be a means to an, namely a better life for all the people as it is in other countries that were also colonized at one time or another. The international magazine, Economist of May 13, 2000, carried a column on the plight of Africa under the rubric, ‘The Hopeless Continent’ describing, as it were, the state of affairs of African development compared to other continents.

The columnist spared no breath in depicting Africa as a continent without much hope, due to all kinds of calamities, most of which were the result of bad leadership, corrupt management, and poor planning. This was exactly the time when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was being transformed into the new African Union (AU) with all types of promises, and exactly the time when African leaders, under the leadership of South African President Thabo Mbeki, were trotting the globe spreading the gospel of the African renaissance.

Source : New Era