Open let­ter to African Pres­i­dents

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - A for­mer Spe­cial Ad­viser (Ac­cess to Fi­nance) to Nige­ria's Min­is­ter of In­dus­try, Trade and In­vest­ment, Oguche Agu­dah is a Fel­low of The Char­tered In­sti­tute of Bankers and an As­so­ciate of the Char­tered In­sti­tute of Stock­bro­kers, Nige­ria. He can be reached a

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.

Re­spect­fully yours,

Clearly, there needs to be a rad­i­cal change in your ap­proach to gov­er­nance and ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Oguche Agu­dah

A group pho­to­graph of African lead­ers dur­ing the 2018 African Union Sum­mit in Nouak­chott, Mau­ri­ta­nia

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