‘Gently in manner, strong in deed’ were the inscriptions sitting atop the Presidential Desk at the oval office when Dwight Eisenhower occupied the White House as President of the United States of America. Inscribed in Latin, the plaque serves as a good guide to political leaders the world over who preside over nations struggling to emancipate from the doldrums of economic hardship. Good political leadership can take a transformational or a transactional form, the initiator or the defender of the initiated; the maverick or the conformist. The German Philosopher Hegel spoke of the evolution of mankind revolving around a synthesis of conflicting ideas. It is therefore imperative for the world to produce an occasional political stalwart who departs from the established order to infuse new ideas into a world jaded by hackneyed beliefs and policies fit for ages past.
Indeed many world leaders particularly from America and Europe have provided the kind of leadership that has engineered triumph for their nations in the face of extreme adversity. In fact some countries have thrived during the most challenging times due to the quality of leaders steering the affairs of state when times were hard.
The US can boast of Presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklyn Delano Roosevelt amongst others whose vision shaped America into the super state that it is today. Winston Churchill’s ability to stand up to the forces of darkness that were threatening to engulf the world during the Second World War marked the beginning of the end for Hitler and the Third Reich.
Of course Africa has produced a good doze of leaders whose inspirational leadership ensured national prosperity and continental goodwill. Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Felix Houphouet Boigny, William V.S. Tubman, Emperor Haile Selassie, are the African equivalents of the aforementioned western leaders. Their efforts as political leaders liberated their people from the ignominy of colonial domination and together formed the erstwhile Organization of African Unity now the African Union.
Leaders whose deeds like the Eisenhower plaque said were strong enough to shape the political direction of the continent and touched the lives of individual Africans in a way and manner that could only be described as positive. Nkrumah’s vision for a modern Ghana continues to be a benchmark for national progress.
Mr. Ben Bella was seen as the symbol of Algerian independence, pride and hope. His primordial concern was the welfare of his fellow Algerians. Houphouet Boigny who was a certified medical doctor went into politics because of the hardships and difficulties encountered by his medical patients. He devoted the entirety of his political life to the Ivory Coast and its people garnering in the process the respect of France and his counterparts on the continent.
The noble deeds of ancient African statesmen notwithstanding, the continent continues to struggle under the heavy burden of bad governance. And it appears as if the legacy of the earlier rulers is lost on their modern counterparts who are unable to inject the growth that Africa and its people need.
The West has at times been blamed for the misery on the continent but like I indicated in an earlier article (The Rebirth of Africa: The Way Forward) the reversal of Africa’s fortunes must start with Africans especially the custodians of political power. The efforts of the continent’s founding fathers are yet to be replicated which is why Africa continues to grapple with problems of unemployment, poverty, disease, conflict, civil unrest and so on and so forth.
The irony is that the modern rulers have prospered more than their predecessors ever did. Hosni Mubarack left office with a family fortune in excess of 70 billion dollars. Unfortunately all over the continent politicians continue to prosper at the expense of the people they are expected to serve, turning politics into a good social venture for personal enrichment. A development that can only be described as unfortunate for not only has it compromised the political process but has also rendered even elected leaders unresponsive to the needs of their people.
To remedy Africa’s social woes the paradigm for political leadership ought to change. The acquisition of political power ought to be seen as an opportunity to do good rather than an opportunity to do well. Unless this change is forthcoming, the cycle of corruption, poverty, misery and underdevelopment will remain even in states that are purportedly democratic.
Invariably the renewal of the continent must begin with its leaders. The African Renaissance must signify an edification of political values which go beyond the process of democratization. It must usher in an era of fresh political leadership defined by responsibility towards the electorate, the willingness to cede power when it becomes necessary, challenging established norms and systems of governance that have outlived their usefulness, challenging national political orthodoxy even if it means alienating political party functionaries.
The Renaissance must therefore represent a revolution in the thinking of continental rulers, a radicalization in the treatment of political power to reflect an evolution in the awareness of the African leader.