New forms of leadership will determine if Africa’s Agenda 2063 is realised
By WebMaster on
By Mandla Lionel Isaacs
*This article was written on Thursday June 11th, 2015*
As African leaders deliberate in Sandton at the 25thAfrican Union Summit, I’ve been reflecting on Agenda 2063, the 50 year vision and roadmap adopted by the African Union earlier this year, after a two year, continent-wide consultation process.
Specifically, as a proponent of African Renaissance, I’ve been pondering two questions: Is Agenda 2063 the right vision? If so, how can it be realised?
First, I think it is important to think about what African renaissance means. [For those who think it sounds unnecessarily esoteric, ‘renaissance’ merely means ‘rebirth’in French.]
For me, African renaissance refers to the rebirth of African civilisation after 500 years of destruction, disruption and subjugation through slavery, imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Grounded in the principle of Sankofa, an Akan (Ghana) word associated with the idea that we must embrace our past, to create a new future. African renaissance asks us to understand, reclaim, and value our past as the world’s first civilisation. It asks us to reconstruct histories of great civilisations, empires and nations such as Kemet (Ancient Egypt), Kush, Ghana, Mali, Songay, Great Zimbabwe and the Zulu. It asks us to look to millennia of African philosophy and deep thought, from Kemet to Ife, from Diop to Biko, for the spiritual, intellectual, and ethical foundations for new African philosophies on being, living, governing.
It asks us to build an Africa which is united, prosperous, integrated, secure, dynamic, self-confident and powerful. It asks us to build an Africa where every single African is free enough, safe enough, empowered enough, to fully actualise themselves. In these respects, Agenda 2063 captures this vision well.
But how to ensure it is achieved?
A particularly powerful message during a recent conference of African scholars was from HSRC board member and Director of the UN African Institute for Economic Research, Prof. Adebayo Olukoshi, who argued that Africa has not lacked in its ability to produce good documents, plans, and strategies. Where we have failed, he argued, is in retaining the autonomy and exercising the political will, to implement them.
In this context, it is critical that we remember that Africa’s challenges are not new. Beneficiation has become a buzzword in South African discourse on economic development in recent years, alongside more strident appeals for nationalisation of mineral wealth. Moeletsi Mbeki made waves a few years back with his analysis in Architects of Poverty of the enduring colonial and anti-developmental structure of the South African economy. This growing awareness of key developmental challenges is heartening until you remember that Walter Rodney analysed these issues as far back as 1972 in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, and yet we have been unable to fundamentally change our position in the global economic system.
We export our raw minerals cheaply, buying expensive finished goods in return. DRC alone is estimated to have $24 trillion worth of natural resource reserves, which have powered fragmentation and instability rather than industry throughout its history.
Despite having 60% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, Africa is a net importer of food, and we are seeing a worrying trend of foreign countries buying large swathes of arable land in African countries.
We also lose much of the precious little financial capital that we have. The High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa chaired by former President Thabo Mbeki highlighted the scale of funds Africa loses each year, estimating that Africa loses up to $60 billion per year in illicit financial outflows.
To put this into perspective, a major study on African infrastructure by the African Development Bank found recently that the annual gap in funding required to raise Africa’s infrastructure to a reasonable level is $31 billion. In other words, money that is illegally earned, transferred or utilised in Africa every year, is more than sufficient to fill Africa’s infrastructure funding gap.
In addition to autonomy and political will, I would add visionary, pragmatic leadership, and active citizenry as pre-conditions for the realisation of Agenda 2063.
There are two fundamental types of political leaders. There are leaders who are driven by self-interest, for whom politics is merely an industry which they’ve found themselves in and successfully mastered. They are skilled at attaining and maintaining power. They are capable of making the right noises on command, but their inner logic revolves around how to accumulate benefits- money, power, perks of office- for themselves. This type of leader cannot take Africa forward in a meaningful way. Progress under such a leader is likely to happen despite them, not because of them.
Then there are leaders who are driven by a sincere desire to serve and improve their societies. At their best, they are driven by a long term vision of transformational change that meaningfully improves the lives of their constituents. This is not to say that reasonable people will agree with every decision such a leader makes. You can agree or disagree with their views, decisions and policies, while trusting that he is acting based on what he believes is best for society and not what is best for himself.
This fundamental good faith is a necessary condition for transformational change, but is not sufficient in itself. Leaders must evolve with the times. Different eras and circumstances require different leadership qualities.
So in addition to leadership based on a vision for society, leaders in our time must be pragmatic. To lead today is to be able to facilitate solutions to complex, seemingly intractable problems- economic development, social wellbeing- amidst the vagaries of political, economic and social forces which are not entirely in your control. In this context, ideology and political dogma are at best a helpful point of departure, not a manual to be rigidly adhered to.
Flexibility is crucial. Socialists need to know how to harness the wealth-creating power and efficiency of the free market. Free marketeers need to find answers for the social critique of their discontents. Liberals need to accommodate the need for racial redress in societies with legacies of racial discrimination. No ideological camp has all the answers in all situations.
Pragmatic leaders understand that they will be remembered for presiding over solutions and progress, not because of how ideologically pure or impure they were.
It’s hard to find a better successful example of pragmatic leadership then Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese leader. Deng’s pragmatism in being open to market-based solutions if they were to lead to greater prosperity for his people, was perhaps articulated best in his famous quote: “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”Deng has come to symbolise the generation of Chinese leaders who quietly eschewed Mao’s dogma for the practical, flexible, experimental economic management approaches which transformed China into an economic powerhouse over a couple of decades. Similarly, to rapidly develop our economies African leaders must care more about finding what works than where or from whom the solutions come from.
As important as visionary-pragmatic leadership from African leaders, is leadership from below. Africans must become active citizens. We must be informed about public affairs, be vocal about our preferences on important decisions, and most importantly, hold politicians accountable for their leadership. Everyone, no matter how virtuous and grounded they are, will go astray if they are accountable to no one. There is no one who is so inherently good that they can be trusted to be accountable to themselves. If there is one political adage that stopped me in tracks the first time I heard it, is is that “we get the leaders we deserve”. Leaders are at their best when they know if they do not deliver on their promises, on our expectations, on our capabilities, that their performance will be reviewed at election time, and they will be dismissed by the electorate if found wanting.
The age of personality cults and sentimental attachments to political parties is drawing to a close. African voters are increasingly sophisticated and politically mature. They are starting to engage in sober analysis and cold-eyed assessment of the performance and relative merits of political leaders and formations. It is only when Africans in their numbers, internalise the deliverables in documents like Agenda 2063, and hold their leaders accountable for progress, that Africa’s great, illusive future will become a reality.
Mandla Lionel Isaacs is a public servant, he writes in his personal capacity. He tweets at @lionofjozi