Open letter to African Presidents
Greetings, your Excellencies,
I respectively write to all 54 Heads of State of the independent countries in Africa.
I write, first, to commend you all for the roles you are currently playing in shepherding your individual countries and the continent at large. Leadership, in any form, is not an easy task.
My main purpose for writing to you all is to spark a radical review of our governance practices in Africa. I write as a concerned citizen and a stakeholder in Africa’s future.
Every day, without fail, thousands of Africans leave their countries to go on a treacherous and deadly journey across the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea. Many of them will rather risk a high chance of death than stay in their countries of birth in Africa. What are these individuals running away from? What are they running towards?
Why would individuals born in one part of the world be humiliated daily as countries in Europe use them to play “toss ball,” fighting over who will reject ships laden with African Migrants stranded at sea?
The plights of these Africans and all other Africans is not their limited intellect or potential. I shudder to think of what would have been of Barack Obama, Zinedine Zidane, Sade Adu or Mo Farah if all their formative years and education were in Kenya, Algeria, Nigeria or Somalia, respectively.
Every day we hear and read of “Africans” who are excelling in their chosen fields globally. A recent example is the French national football team’s FIFA World Cup win. The team had five players of African descent in their starting line-up (eight players of African descent eventually starred in the final).
There was talk, mainly from Africans, that the victory was an “African” victory. A French journalist hit back, alluding to the fact that, if African countries were in charge of managing those players’ talents, a number of self-inflicted issues would have scuttled their progress. The issues could range from bickering over wages to prioritising officials over players and shoddy preparations.
He couldn’t be more truthful. Let’s not be emotional, but be honest with ourselves. How would Paul Pogba have developed if he had to ply his trade in the Guinean League or how would Ngolo Kante have progressed in his career in the Malian League. (Paul Pogba’s elder brothers actually play for the Guinean National team, which has never qualified for the World Cup, much less win it.) The list goes on.
The question we need to ask ourselves, while we’re still looking in the mirror is “Why do Africans succeed in other continents than they do in Africa?” Why did Barack Obama turn out to be the President of the greatest country in the world, while his half brother (Malik Obama) who was his best man during his wedding turn out
living a life below his potential? In an interview in 2013, Malik Obama stated that he has a knack for leadership because “It is all in the genes”. But the question to ask is: Why do these genes seem to manifest themselves more outside Africa?
Your Excellencies, this is not a politicallymotivated letter; there are existential issues that we need to address. Is there something we’re missing on the continent? Are there practices we need to change? What do we need to do as leaders to change the fortunes of a generation of Africans?
Clearly, there needs to be a radical change in your approach to governance and administration. What needs to change?
1. Change the orientation: I believe the first thing is to effect a change in mindset. Governance and leadership are not about the leader, but about the people that the leader has the privilege to “serve”. A lot of leadership philosophies in African politics are centred on leadership for the benefit of the leaders, and not about adding value to the citizens. I love the quote by management expert, Ken Blanchard: “If service is beneath you, then leadership is above you.” As simple as this seems, it cuts to the heart of the problem and solution to our myriads of problems in Africa.
If you can see your leadership positions primarily as rendering service to the people, then that is a big leap. It’s not about budgets, quotas, resource control, the constitution or system of government. Whatever structure or constitution that is in place; if it does not prioritise the welfare of the citizens, it should be scrapped and replaced.
Your Excellencies need to wake up every day and ask yourselves: How can I improve the lives of my citizens? How can I make sure every citizen has the opportunity to fulfil their God-given potential while living in this country? How can I ensure that they live a fulfilling life, and they are able to provide for themselves and their families?
2. Take responsibility: This renewed mode of leadership must be led by the President. This task can’t be delegated to a Cabinet Minister or Adviser. Presidents and Commanders-in-Chief need to personally hold yourselves accountable for the opportunities available for your citizens or the lack thereof.
Whist GDP growth rates and foreign direct investments are important, African Presidents and governments need to begin to measure yourselves against the amount of opportunities you create for your citizens. You need to do all you can to remove barriers to trade and growth within your countries and economies. 3. Educate the people: One key to creating opportunities is education. The whole of Africa needs to institute compulsory qualitative primary education. African governments need to prioritise development of their human capital. Policies geared towards revamping the educational system should not just focus on technical education; it should be mixed with well-developed curriculums on ethics, values, sports and business.
The truth is that much of what we need to succeed in life is planted and begins to develop at the primary/kindergarten/ elementary level. This is the time character is formed, dreams are birthed, worldviews are shaped and fundamental values are instilled. A qualitative primary education will liberate a generation of Africans and create opportunities we never thought possible.
4. Enlist Diaspora support: There are millions of Africans in the Diaspora who have succeeded in their various fields of endeavour and who would love to give their talents, skills and experiences for Africa’s development. African Presidents and governments need to provide the conducive environment to attract the diaspora community back home.
There should also be concrete strategies designed to engage the African diaspora community for the purpose of tapping their support.
Enough of the blame game! Enough of the corruption that keeps institutions moribund! Enough of the ethnic divisions and politics. There are too many Africans dying daily as a result of curable diseases. Thousands more die during childbirth, while millions die because of negligence or due to avoidable ethnic wars.
Your Excellencies, think of your individual and collective legacies. By the year 2040, i.e. in 22 years’ time, most of you would have passed on. This is not a curse (as we are wont to fear in Africa). The continent you have presided over has a life expectancy of 61 years. The average age of the ten oldest African leaders as at 2018 is 78.5 years. If majority of the others are not very far behind, most of you are actually living in overtime. At this point, you should be preoccupied with building and consolidating important legacies.
We are at a historic moment in Africa. About 400 years ago, the movement of Africans cross the sea to other continents started. An estimated 15 million Africans were involved in the tragic slave trade. Sadly, this process is repeating itself. But this time, it’s not individuals who are being forced by their “Colonial masters” to get on boats. Africans themselves are the ones jumping on boats; desperately trying to escape what they believe is a death sentence in the countries of their birth.
We are running out of excuses. We can’t hide behind the excuse that there is no funding from foreign countries, or no skilled labour on the continent. African investment bankers have raised large sums of money to develop infrastructure in Europe and America. African doctors have performed ground-breaking surgeries outside the shores of Africa. African professors teach in the best schools on the globe. African scientists have invented some of the most revolutionary products known to man. “African” footballers just won the World Cup. All that is required is to harness the resources on the continent by forthright and visionary leaders.
We have no excuses, Your Excellencies. Africa stands on the cusp of greatness or a major human catastrophe, owing to our growing youthful population that is unmatched with the creation of economic opportunities. Your leaderships are crucial in tilting the balance of the possibilities towards greatness.
Clearly, there needs to be a radical change in your approach to governance and administration.
A group photograph of African leaders during the 2018 African Union Summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania