AnalysisJust InOpinion

Old Paths, Young Feet, reimagining African leadership

Africa, especially in its political ecosystem lacks the kind of visionary leadership that is willing, against all odds, to intentionally and courageously invest in its youth for the good of the continent and world at large. 

The inability to provide fundamental capabilities like healthcare, education and security for socioeconomic mobility resulting from a lack of accountability and transparency from most African leaders continues to create conditions of mistrust, anger and hopelessness, especially within the growing youth demography. More disturbing is the continuous undermining of young people and the mulish inhospitable behavior of most African leaders towards the growing youth demography in Africa.

A good leader is a visionary servant leader.  He or she does not take advantage of the people but rather takes advantage of the opportunity to serve the people by being the one who courageously empowers them towards maximizing their fullest potential as a people. 

Accountability and Transparency 

Governments and citizens in Africa need to build internal ownership of good governance, transparency and accountability. –Obiageli Ezekwesili

Reinforced by colonialism, Africa’s high power distance culture is mostly authoritarian, exploitative and extractive. Accountability and transparency are not generally perceived as leadership requirements or responsibility.  As a result, the people are expected to show their respect and support towards people in authority by not asking questions or demanding clarity about critical issues. Attempts to seek clarity from a leader by asking questions or demanding an explanation are mostly perceived as disrespectful and rebellious. Most of the time, those who dare to ask questions disappear or are imprisoned, prompting others to fear for their safety. 

The lack of transparency and accountability does not just erode a leader’s productivity and level of trust among the people, it is a major challenge to holistic development and explains the high level of irresponsibility, misplaced priority and recklessness in most of Africa’s political leadership ecosystem.

New Power, Youth Power

To the youth of today, I also have a wish to make: be the scriptwriters of your destiny and feature yourselves as stars that show the way towards a brighter future. 

-Nelson Mandela

The youth are a determining factor in Africa’s progressive development and can be the power brokers that leverage their demographic, intellectual and creative advantage to be the true masters of their own destiny. 

Information technology and the use of various social media platforms continue to enable youths across Africa to erase borders by sharing ideas and expertise; and to create supportive networks that inspire and encourage innovative productivity and growth on the continent. The network of innovation labs across the continent, the music and entertainment industry are some of the ways Africa’s youths are overcoming boundaries through partnerships and collaborations that contribute to the unity and economic growth of the continent.

These bold initiatives challenge the authoritarian, exploitative and extractive high and old power culture that Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms describe as mostly “held by few and jealously guarded once gained.”

From the use of digital systems and social media platforms to monitor government spending, inspire and organize human rights movements, to providing access to educational, health, and agricultural resources in innovative ways, Africa’s youth are going against all odds in redefining the power dynamics and changing the trajectory of the continent by being the new power.

Egyptians in 2011, using social media, were able to demand for a change in government, political reforms and socio-economic advancement. In Kenya the widely used and popular M-PESA mobile phone based money transfer service is one amongst many successful fintech services in Africa. BudgIT, a civic organization in Nigeria, uses tech tools to help citizens better understand matters of budget and public spending, with the primary aim of raising the standard of transparency and accountability in government.

In 2020, young people in Nigeria used various social media platforms to mobilize and sustain the #EndSARS social movement against police brutality while also demanding responsible governance in a series of decentralised mass protests across the country.

While the use of social media has been very effective in inspiring and mobilizing groups and individuals to demand good leadership, human rights and better democracy, some governments in Africa easily shut down networks while others make laws that restrict, monitor and criminalize the use of social media for civic engagement and organizing. 

The Nigerian government and legislature, even before the #EndSARS social movement, has consistently tried to regulate and stifle the use of social media for civic engagement and organizing. Most recently, only a few days ahead of the just concluded Ugandan presidential election, service providers were ordered to block access to social media platforms. MTN, one of Uganda’s communications providers, informed users of the indefinite suspension ordered by the government. 

Despite concerns related to the use of internet in Africa, a Pew Research Center report states that a large majority of people in Africa say the increasing use of the internet has had a good influence on education in their country, and more say the same about the impact of the Internet on the economy, personal relationships and politics.

Most governments attribute actions like shutting down the internet to safety and security concerns during the electoral process. However, this same action is used to intimidate voters and control press freedom. The courage and tenacity of Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu also known as Bobi Wine, to recently run against the incumbent president of Uganda is inspiring and an opportunity for Africa’s youth to learn and also be informed about the magnitude of the challenge in overhauling Africa’s political leadership ecosystem.

The Future of Africa

Any society that does not succeed in tapping into the energy and creativity of its youth will be left behind. -Kofi Annan

The youth demography in Africa highlights both a challenge and an opportunity, depending on how it is managed. The youths are creative and innovative, smart, hardworking, and armed with the ability and commitment to transform the trajectory of the continent. 

Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa and now United States Ambassador to the United Nations UN, Ambassador Linda Thomas–Greenfield, described Africa’s youth as its “single greatest resource and a force for good.” According to Ambassador Greenfield, half of the African population is less than 19 years old and should be viewed by African leaders as a treasure and resource of dynamism to bring the continent out of poverty and into strong, prosperous and successful societies.  She called on African leaders to engage, involve and include the youths in order to experience economic growth and stability.

community without elders does not prosper. -Mozambican proverb

The ability to demand and struggle for good leadership in Africa rests in the hands of Africa’s young people. It is a tough responsibility that needs a lot of work, tenacity, urgency and courage – lots of courage.  Without good leadership the creativity and innovativeness of the African youth will continue to be undermined, and their potential trapped. 

With patience, persistence and proper planning, young people can mobilize and occupy different levels of political leadership then form a united coalition that is void of sentiments that are divisive but based on progressive common goals. The need to also continue to lead in other sectors outside of the political ecosystem cannot be overemphasized. 

The present and future of Africa is the youth of Africa. By persistently working together, integrating the experience and expertise of some good leaders and elders from older generations with the visions and dreams of the youth, Africa’s youth can and will transform Africa as they lead.

(Written by Teyei Pam who is a Social Impact & Human Centered Design for Development HCD+D Expert)

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