When I grew up in Africa it seemed as though there was a military coup in one African country or the other and corruption stories were galore. There was no shortage of some dictators looting the coffers of the nation and leaving the rest of the people in an impoverished state. African economies were tanking and inflation rising leading many in my time to believe that Africans were just not good leaders. Africans here of course does not denote all African countries but there were enough by the 1980s to paint the whole continent incompetent. Then of course as we got older we began to question why seemingly African people just stood for it and accepted the shenanigans of their leaders. This conclusion of course can only come from the mind of a child because situations are rarely as simple as 1 + 1 = 2.
Challenges @ Independence
1 Never held leadership position
As African countries gained their independence many Africans had never had an opportunity to occupy positions of leadership. Someone could have been a clerk one day then the next all the Euro-African colonialists left and his boss’ position needs to be filled so then he was promoted. Regardless of whether a person had the education or not academia is quite different from practice and being a skilled engineer does not make one an effective manager of an engineering department.
A good friend of mine born in post-colonial Africa to parents who were entrepreneurs made me realize something that explains leadership in post-colonial Africa. My friend’s parents always worked for themselves therefore his mindset was that people should own their own business and exercise autonomy over their own affairs in the true spirit of freedom. At a young age of 15 he was left in charge and began to manage the business when the parents were absent. Management and leadership came natural to him when he was at school and even when he started working because for so many years he had been in this role and developed comfort in the role.
Many first generation Africans living in the Diaspora sometimes struggle in management roles even though they are educated and technically brilliant but leadership is a different platform. At first they find it somewhat awkward for me because I had never been given power and responsibility and with anything that is new there are growing pains.
2. Inadequate/ insufficient experience
The education system does not help because it is very theoretical with little practice opportunity for one to make mistakes and to learn human behavior which is essential for leadership and management. To be clear there is a difference between leadership and management but unless one excels as a manager they will not be given the opportunity to exercise leadership in a formal setting or environment. The textbook version of management is the ability to minimize resources used and maximize their output in the most efficient way. Leadership involves planning and implementing strategy to fulfill an organization’s goals whether a business or country or nongovernmental organization.
3. Change barriers
These new governments were similar to having a French speaking person told to run Botswana when they cannot even speak a single word of Tswana or English ( before we had Google translate). Many of the people who came to power had been exiled and away from the nation for many years the Kwame Nkrumah, Thabo Mbeki, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere and perhaps did not fully understand the change that had occurred in their absence. They had been altered by the cultures that they lived among and change had taken place in their home time in their absences.
4. Reverence for education in former British colonies
The British would be so proud if their knew that their value and esteem for education has been esteemed so much by their former colonial subjects. This is very prevalent in Ghana, Nigeria and Zimbabwe where the medical doctors and PhDs and those holding various degrees are held in very high esteem regardless whether they have fruit to show that their theories actually work. In these places educated people were given top posts and ones without relegated to the back regardless of who could actually get the job done. This sidelined practitioners and put forward theorists so is it any wonder why we have accomplished so little. The Western educated African leaders are only trained to solve problems as authored by their colonial master but not the real problems on the ground.
By Ana Mosi-Oa-Tunya 2012