The development potential of African countries is hampered by the dominance of small elites – whether ethnic, military or struggling families – for their own interests.
These countries exclude women, youth and minorities from leadership positions in society, economy and culture, depriving these countries of dynamic leadership, ideas and innovation. However, all the great transformations of the last 100 years have changed the position of women. Africa is operating at less than 50% capacity because women’s leadership, ideas and energy are not being used productively.
African countries are stagnating, falling back and sinking deeper into poverty – because they exclude so much talent, new ideas and energy, solely on the basis of ethnicity, gender and foreign status. African ruling elites often do not include all stakeholders in society, opposition parties, non-state groups, businesses, civil society and community groups, as well as the state, to cobble together industrial plans , nation-building and long-term peace. The lack of coming together of the whole society to co-create industrialization, nation building and peace is one of the reasons why many African countries have stagnated and will continue to do so.
Including all ethnic, religious, regional, political and demographic groups generates continuous innovation, new ideas and energy in a country’s politics, economy and society – so essential for transformation . Their absence renders the politics, economies and societies of so many African countries devoid of dynamism, energy and dynamism – and is the cause of much despair in countries.
Since independence from colonialism, Africa’s industrialization, development and growth have been stunted because most governments have either actively discouraged or been indifferent to entrepreneurs, and have rarely encouraged institutions, policies and entrepreneurship support environments.
Since most African countries after independence inherit economies lacking highly advanced industry, skills and financial resources, entrepreneurs – who could add value to raw materials, come up with new methods of production and introduce new sectors industrial and manufactured goods – were desperately needed.
In many African countries, the true entrepreneurs who have succeeded through effort and money, and by taking risks, are often not only outside the inner circle of ruling parties, militaries or ethnic groups, but they are also often viewed with suspicion by politicians. leaders, citizens and civil society.
Many African governments have nationalized local and foreign companies or introduced indigenization or empowerment programs where the state or local political capitalists close to ruling parties obtain shares of local or foreign companies.
Many African leaders and governments oppose merit as the guiding principle of government, society and the economy. Most African liberation and independence movements only appoint cadres of their own parties or, in other cases, members of the ruling ethnic, linguistic or regional group.
Many African countries lack the rule of law. The breakdown of the rule of law often begins when the governments of African liberation and independence movements exempt party members and leaders from the rule of law, while controlling ordinary citizens unrelated to the leaders of liberation or independence movements. This unequal treatment of citizens based on their connection to ruling party leaders undermines the establishment of a rule of law culture – crucial for industrialization, growth and development.
In many African countries, corruption has become a daily occurrence: the allocation of public funds, appointments to public institutions and policy-making are done through patronage and corrupt means. Ruling parties and leaders are themselves often deeply corrupt, making it impossible in many cases to eradicate corruption.
Very few African countries have prioritized industry-appropriate education as a tool for empowering society. Obtaining the best global education for citizens, with curricula containing the best from around the world, to become as competitive as possible, has unfortunately not been a priority for most African countries. Developing human capital, through truly and purposefully providing all citizens with the highest quality education, is not only the greatest empowerment policy, but also the greatest driver of economic growth.
A question of human value
The prerequisite for successful development in Africa is that governments and leaders value the lives of Africans. Colonialism and apartheid dehumanized and reduced the value of Africans compared to whites. In the post-colonial period, the new African leaders, governments and elites continued to place less value on their fellow Africans, also viewing them as “subjects” or as voting fodder. Unfortunately, in many cases, African elites only seem outraged when Westerners, whites and non-Africans rape Africans. However, they seem not to care whether Africans are raping Africans in any form – corruption, violence and gender crimes.
Since the end of colonialism and, more recently, apartheid, democracy has always been contested in Africa, with many liberation and independence movements of the postcolonial anti-democratic school arguing that democracy should be set aside to focus on development first. The key arguments of the African postcolonial anti-democratic school are that democracy is supposedly “un-African”; and these countries need ‘strong’ leaders who should be in power for long periods of time to supposedly anchor ‘transformation’. All countries with supposedly “strong” leaders in Africa have crumbled into failed states, ethnic violence and collapse.
Another argument against democracy advanced by anti-democratic groups is that democracy would have increased divisions in ethnically diverse societies because election campaigns in Africa have become so ethnically divisive. Yet it is not democracy that causes ethnic divisions; they are selfish leaders who campaign based on ethnicity. African countries that pursued development without democracy in the post-World War II era mostly plunged into civil war, country collapse and failed states, and the few African countries that tried to pursue together democracy and development have done better. African countries that since the end of colonialism have pursued democracy, such as Botswana, Mauritius, Cape Verde and Tunisia, have done comparatively better than all non-democratic African countries.
Narcissists and Psychopaths
Good leadership is crucial for development. Leaders can either foster development, an inclusive nation and peace or undermine them. Societies that have emerged from traumatic experiences such as colonialism, apartheid and civil war need leadership that is more caring, more self-aware and less inclined to seek refuge in victimization. Leadership is more important in societies that are ethnically diverse and have high levels of inequality, and where democratic rules, institutions and governance are not fully embraced by all.
In failing African countries, there is always a chasm between the interests of leaders and the interests of the societies they lead. Leaders often act and make decisions and policies that are in direct opposition to underlying values, laws, and the public interest as set forth in countries’ constitutions.
African countries are fertile ground for psychopathic and narcissistic liberation leaders. Psychopathic leaders suffer from abnormally violent intimate, social, and political behavior. For narcissists, seizing, retaining, and defending power at all costs becomes more important than compassion, sanity, or common interests.
In many cases, all of these types of leaders are focused on their own self-glorification, often deliberately sowing societal or ethnic divisions to enrich themselves and plunder public resources. In power, they also deliberately cause chaos and uncertainty – to perpetuate their rule. These societies often vote for autocratic figures: either father figures or strongmen who can supposedly defend them against perceived threats, such as former colonial powers, “enemy” groups, and hostile former elites of the old regime.
Traumatized African societies often support autocratic, corrupt and incompetent leaders because they are “one of us”. It can also lead to misplaced racial, ethnic and communal solidarity – someone will be supported no matter how corrupt or incompetent they are, because “they are one of us”.
Honesty is crucial for transformative leadership. And they must refrain from seeking refuge in victimhood. The character of leaders is important and must be based on values such as compassion, social justice and forgiveness. The measurement of self-esteem should not be based on money, material pitfalls or power. Leaders should not make decisions based on ethnic, racial and community solidarity, but on ethical values. Harmful beliefs and traditions must be discarded.
Leaders should never seek popularity when it compromises constitutional values, human rights and dignity. DM168
William Gumede is a former Senior Associate Member and Oppenheimer Fellow at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. This is an edited excerpt from his recent speech to the Africa Caucus at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Government.
This article first appeared in our weekly newspaper Daily Maverick 168 which is available for R25 from Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. To find your nearest retailer, please click on here.