7 Essential Ingredients of Effective Political Leadership which many African Leaders lack

Lets get a few things out of the way: Firstly I am African so I think I can make the above statement without being accused of racism, arrogance or being labelled as condescending. Secondly, over the course of a good part of a decade or so, I have been closely following African politics, and have realised that the lack of certain aspects in most African leaders either renders them ineffective in their governance or are partly responsible for their failure. Finally, the factors below are not lacking in African leaders only. Many non African leaders lack one or more of these ingredients.

1. Empathy for the man on the Street

poverty-509601_1920Why did it take Goodluck Jonathan so long to comment on the atrocity of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria? Why do politicians demand massive pay hikes while the majority of people in their countries continue to suffer with abject poverty? Further, why do leaders like the late Bingu Wa Mutharika buy a private jet when the country was struggling financially? What made it difficult for him to see his people needed more help? Whatever you want to call it, for me it boils down to lack of empathy. African leaders can be so aloof to the point most don’t even know the price of Chiwaya or Kanyenya on the street. How the hell are they supposed to know how best to help the common man escape the poverty trap and live a dignified life? [Essential reading: Entrepreneurial Solutions for Prosperity in BoP markets]

2. Competent Advisers

advisorChief among the reasons why African politics stinks is one root of glaring rottenness: Bad advice. The continent is full of it. Wrong advisers who don’t care of the consequences of their advice. Officials who are uneducated (or have lied or faked their qualifications); Officials with little or no exposure to progressive ideas or development in action (so have not formulated a sound philosophy or adopted best practices and techniques that have delivered successful results elsewhere). Ignorant officials who are unwilling to learn.

These are the kind of people who are keen on titles, they like to feel important, but are completely disinterested in any form of intellectual stimulation or debate that will challenge their starved ideas or expose their narrow mindsets. To them money and material pleasures which they can solicit in the here and now is king.

Most political advisers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in particular in Malawi, are firefighters, reacting to the narratives developing around them, instead of leading the narrative. Which is especially problematic since the narrative in their countries is often a reaction to the public (or to the Media’s) as to their incompetency. Let me give an example. A London-based acquaintance once told me a story about his encounter with a presidential adviser: He had gone to Malawi a couple of years ago to sound out the possibility of a diaspora financing initiative that would alleviate forex shortages in Malawi. This was  at a time when the country was facing forex shortages. When an adviser from State House met him one evening – at a local beer joint, he was surprised to hear the adviser question why this acquaintance wanted to begin the initiative. The adviser asked this man something in the lines of “Who do you think you are to want to institute such an initiative?”. As if that was the most important thing. Unfortunately in Malawi, such an encounter with a presidential adviser is not rare, and there have been many accounts of instances where presidential advisers solicited bribes, or refused to take up ideas because such ideas had no immediate benefit to them.

The political adviser Africa needs is a person who has devoted their life to studying the successes and failures of prominent politicians. Someone who is happy to constantly delve into leaders and prominent personalities from Mandela, Lumumba, JFK and Che Guevara, to Mao, Reagan,Truman and Churchill, and extract valuable lessons from the lives and careers of these stalwarts. What were the highlights of their achievements? How did they help their peoples? What did they get right? What did they get wrong? What could they have done better? How have the times changed since, and what lessons from their leadership are applicable in today’s society (or today’s local setting)?

Tru3. Effective Operators

Having a title as the head of state, as a minister of some department or as a chief adviser to the government in itself doesn’t mean anything unless you can deliver on promises. And sometimes being the best implementor is better than having a title.  Many years ago, I read a biography of JFK that said JFK relied heavily upon the administrative abilities of his brother Robert Kennedy – who was Attorney general in JFK’s Government. It was ‘Bobby’ as Robert Kennedy was fondly known who implemented most things of importance. And the president had absolute belief in his brother’s implementation skills. This relationship is best captured by an account according to one researcher, Christian Hald-Mortensen,  in John F. Kennedy – Leadership Qualities That Moved A Nation:

Next to McNamara and Rusk, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was the most important cabinet member – in a class by himself. Undoubtedly, JFK’s ability to assert political control was strengthened by the presence of his own brother in the Executive Branch. He naturally became a close confidant of the President on policy matters that ranged beyond the jurisdiction of his own department. Bobby’s influence was felt throughout the government, as bureaucrats occasionally could pick up the phone and hear the attorney general requesting action on an initiative. “Little Brother is watching you” became an Administration in-joke

He [Bobby] was very assertive, to the nuisance of other advisors – the Undersecretary of State, Chester Bowles more than once went to the President and said: “Who is in charge here?”, “You are”, JFK replied, to which Bowles added “Then would you please tell that to your brother”

Most African leaders do not have enough capable implementors in government who can get things done, done properly, and done quickly.

4. Respect for the rule of Law

StopHow many times have you heard of an African leader using the police or army to oppress citizens of his own country? To disperse protesters. To frighten opponents,… even to murder dissidents. How many times have African leaders violated their countries’ constitutions in order to assert authority or suppress dissent? Hooligans hired to intimidate or censor the media. Thugs hired to beat up legal practitioners of their opponents. How many of these leaders self-examine to ascertain whether their actions are driven by selfish intentions, or whether their actions genuinely will benefit the country? How many will as soon as they leave office find themselves hounded by the very same laws they sought to undermine?

5. Seeing the bigger picture

robot-507811_640The common good is the bigger picture. Far removed from partisan squabbles, untainted by jealousies or fiscal shortsightedness, the common good is what we all should long for.

The question is, what can we as the government do for the people, whether they voted for us or not, to improve their lifestyle, their way of living, their health, to give them a vocation that can put food on the table, every day, to transform the country into a success, and to do all these things sustainably?

On any given day, the basic needs of man can probably be categorised as the need for Employment, affordable Food, affordable or at least decent shelter and the availability of Entertainment. To this list can be added accessible and affordable Healthcare, accessible quality Education, effective Transportation systems and a Social Mobility structure to aspire to. I’ve made some assumptions. For example I’m assuming  that a government is able to provide electricity (although this factor is not strictly necessary for people to be happy in the 21st century, it’s probably a must), clean drinking water, and sanitation.

In most African countries, even though most are past the 50 years + mark since they gained independence from colonisation, these basics haven’t been provided to the majority of their citizens. For example, in Malawi, about 80% of children do not have access to clean drinking water. Yet when you frequent the presidential palaces, and state residencies, there is luxury and opulence wherever you look?? What is stopping the country’s implementors from beginning a major borehole project to ensure that every village has access to clean drinking water? Instead of relying on aid organisations to dig boreholes, why can’t the government’s own Water Boards buy equipment and begin such a project?

Because leaders and their advisers either don’t care, or they fail to see the bigger picture.

I’ll give another example: Fuel. During Bingu Wa Mutharika’s government, the Malawian economy came close to collapse as donors pulled out, due in part to Bingu’s autocratic tendencies, and due in part to his refusal to devalue the Malawi Kwacha. While I did not agree with Bingu’s increasingly oppressive governance, in my view, the episode will go down in history as a squandered opportunity for Malawi to advance economically because the government could have taken out a loan elsewhere (say from Russia, Iran, Norway, China or Brazil) and began instituting self-sufficiency initiatives designed to curb Malawi’s reliance on petroleum.

They would have done this by investing in alternative fuels like bio-diesel, including instituting an industrial scale vehicle conversion project to enable cars in Malawi to run on bio-diesel. They could have reviewed their contracts with large multinationals to ensure that foreign companies paid their fair share of tax. They could have passed emergency legislation banning import of products like Tea, Coffee, Eggs, Tomatoes, and other perishable goods in preference for locally sourced and locally processed goods. They could have invested in Solar Technology to create a huge Solar Power farm to feed power derived from Solar panels into Malawi’s energy grid. They could have created Tax free zone for certain industries like I.T. and Manufacturing, (excluding heavy industry like mining, Oil / Gas exploration) to attract investors and create employment among the Youth. They could have started a media campaign, explaining to the electorate the real effects of devaluation and over-reliance of foreign goods on foreign exchange reserves and the economy. They could have revamped tourism in the country, including tax breaks to new companies that attracted tourists to Malawi. They could have invested in Bottom of the Pyramid Industries, and individual communities, including building new and improved markets.

Think about it: wouldn’t more self-reliance projects rolled out in the form of cooperative unions help a small country like Malawi? Things like collective ownership of farm machinery to redeem farming time, and improve farming practices, is something that is not only achievable at village level but desirable for communities that expend a lot of energy on working the fields.

Furthermore, donors and investors may promise you the moon, but never forget that they have their own, sometimes selfish interests. There is evidence that some African leaders are unable to see this fact clearly. Whether it’s being asked to devalue the local currency, being prohibited from buying tractors for agriculture, or whether a loan with dodgy conditionalities attached is being offered, there’s nothing like a free lunch. African leaders would be best advised to seek independent advice from those unconnected with such transactions or institutions before committing to agreements or contracts which will come back later to bite their successors. Organisations such as  Corporate Europe Observatory and World Development Movement are known as being independent, and standing up for poor countries. They are certainly better than hiring expensive ex-prime ministers of European countries to advise you on government policy.

6. Admitting and learning from past mistakes

When was the last time you heard an African president apologise for some misdemeanour or disastrous decision their administration had been involved in? Or better, when was the last time you heard an African president take full responsibility for some catastrophic failure his government was responsible for? You know why you haven’t heard it: because it rarely happens.

7. Knowing when to step down

WelcomeOverstayedDon’t try to lobby your country for a change of the constitution so that you stay longer in power. Don’t try to force a puppet leader onto your political party, and the people, ignoring your party’s executive council, so that you stay in charge. Don’t manipulate whoever takes over the reins – let the best and most competent politician run the show! Even after you are gone.

Why did Nelson Mandela step down voluntarily after only one term? He was not forced, not pushed, nor coerced. It wasn’t as a result of a fall from grace. Mandela wasn’t overthrown. The man simply decided he had done his part for South Africa, and that it was time to leave the reins of power to  the younger generations, those who were more imaginative and hopefully could implement the vision of South Africa which he and many others before him had dreamed of. And in doing this, he chose the noble role of an advisory or father figure – one that all South Africans loved him for.

Why can’t more African politicians be like Nelson Mandela?

Walking away with your dignity intact can sometimes be the best thing you can do as a leader. And it’s not only good for the leader, it can set an excellent example for those who look up to you, and are following in your footsteps.

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Home Economics class helps change destiny for Malawi girls

[Original Story here: Home Ec class helps change destiny for Malawi girls  via The Star Phoenix ]

Tucked away in a classroom at Mount Royal Collegiate, where sewing patterns line the walls, is a small group of industrious students. Laughter frequently punctuates the air and the sound of whirring sewing machines is almost constant.

They were working overtime in Anna Niessen’s Home Economics class at Mount Royal Collegiate to get a few hundred sanitary napkins finished before Christmas holidays.

Called Destiny Pads, they’ll be sent to a village district in Malawi, Africa through a local non-profit called Hope for Malawi.

Last September, Niessen’s students did an interior design and decorating project for a shipping container bound for Malawi. Niessen wanted to contribute to the 2014 shipment, but was unsure how to help.

Then, Hope for Malawi co-founder Elaine Zakreski, came to speak at the school. She posed a question to Niessen: “What would you do if you thought that you could help girls in Africa stay in school?”

Zakreski then explained the need for sanitary napkins — girls are not allowed to attend school in Malawi while menstruating.

“I had never thought about it. It had just never crossed my mind,” says Niessen.

“It bothered me to think of something we take for granted is not something a lot of people have access to.”

After researching materials and patterns, she got her students on board, many of whom are refugees or new immigrants to Canada, and the project began in earnest.

“They understand the ‘going without’ (concept). They were all over it.”

Most of the fabric has been donated — Zakreski purchased whatever else was needed.

Niessen estimated each girl would need five pads per month. In a matter of days, her nine students made 220 pads, enough to keep about 30 girls in school.

Destiny Pads are made from several layers of flannelette and terry cloth; the class did tests to determine which fabrics had the best absorbency. The pads are fastened to underwear with safety pins.

A few of the young women aren’t technically in Niessen’s class. One, Victoria Lafontaine, 17, has permission from her teachers to help out during her break. She says she’s happy to be a part of it.

“It makes me feel so good that I can use my sewing skills to help other people. It’s pretty easy and it’s my passion so if I can do that and other people will benefit from it, I’ll definitely help.

“I just want to help make a change and help people. It’s so easy, you just have to be passionate about it and speak up and ask questions.”

Niessen has been overwhelmed by her students’ devotion to the project.

“I don’t even need to tell them what to do. I can’t cut fabric as quickly as they can sew sometimes.”

Another person overwhelmed was Zakreski. At a Hope for Malawi fundraiser brunch in December, Niessen and Grade 12 student Yulanda Rockthunder made a surprise presentation of an additional 60 Destiny Pads. Zakreski accepted the pads with tears in her eyes, explaining to the crowd how a small group of students in Saskatoon will help change the destiny of girls half a world away.

“There’s a saying in our village (in Malawi),” she said. “I see you with my heart.”

While Niessen knows she’s helping girls in Malawi stay in school, she’s also changing lives right here in Saskatoon. Her classroom is a safe place, a place where she serves as teacher, friend and confidante to many at the west side high school. Students come and go, all stopping to chat with Niessen, the woman many call “mom.” It’s that kind of classroom. Everyone feels comfortable.

Niessen’s class has set a goal for the 2014 school year. They’ll be making an additional 500 Destiny Pads by May. That’s when Zakreski and her husband Peter will make their annual visit to Malawi, taking the pads along with them.

“They told us they … can take lots of luggage. They might be sorry they told us that,” says Niessen with a laugh.

Tommy Douglas will also be making Destiny Pads; Niessen is hoping other schools come on board, too.

(c) The Star Phoenix

Reuniting Africa: Infrastructure

It was delightful to hear news that Kenya in collaboration with the Chinese government will be investing $13.8 billion to build a railway line to link its port city of Mombasa with the capital Nairobi. It is hoped that the line will eventually extend to the landlocked countries of Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda. This is great news not only because of its Pan-African connotations, but also because it’s a step forward towards getting Africa’s infrastructure interconnected and closer to global standards ( for example to the level of the Eurotunnel).

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Whenever foreigners come to Africa to visit, they always exclaim how challenging and long it can take to get from one place to another in certain areas. It’s incredible how disconnected Africa remains. The same applies to movement of goods (a factor essential for commerce and business). Often and comparatively with say Asia, it takes longer (and costs a lot more) than must necessarily be to send goods, or receive goods from one African country to another, which is not desirable.

The vastness and distances may be a problem, and environmental degradation such projects cause is also a major consideration, but that doesn’t mean that there are no workable solutions to such challenges. Often the cause of inaction or lack of progress appears to be bad politics and selfish financial interests, which end up  frustrating well-meaning projects whose economic and social benefits could be significant for a country and its neighbours, and far outweigh the negative impacts.

Take Malawi for example. Mota Engil the Portuguese conglomerate was contracted by the government of Bingu Wa Mutharika to construct a port in Nsanje (see animation of the Nsanje Inland Port via YouTube), at great expense to the Malawian tax payer.

The  project was part of a project known as the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, and whose total cost was said to be US$6 billion would have reduced the cost of importing goods by 60%.

The Malawi section of the project took years to build, and costed the Malawian government €25 million dollars. Now, almost 2 years after the sudden death of Mutharika, the first ship is yet to sail to the port. There is little or no dialogue about the way forward, the current Malawian president is in no rush to resurrect the project, even when the Malawi Trade & Investors Quarterly Magazine in 2007 wrote that Malawi spends at least US$200 million annually to import or export goods via ports in Mozambique or Tanzania. My question is this: isn’t reducing the cost of imports for landlocked countries in Africa a priority to the whole of Africa? Shouldn’t it be a priority to all Africans? Think about it… look at the US, or for that matter the European Union, and their policy of free movement of goods.

How can the countries in Africa, let alone the continent ever develop when leaders do not collaborate or are only too willing to impede such meaningful projects before they even commence? Why can’t African leaders (including the chiefs of the African Union, SADC, COMESA and African Development bank) begin to practise continuity, and put pressure on the stakeholders to get to grips with the project? Of the countries who signed the memorandum of understanding of the Shire-Zambezi Water Way, why does it appear like no one is actively seeking to resurrect and resume the project ( Is the said feasibility study Mozambique was demanding underway? If so what is the progress on that front?), since it’s undeniable that there will be mutual benefits to the greater economy of Southern Africa?

Looking at half-hearted comments from those who think they have something to lose (other shallow comments from here), you will find that the Mozambicans have to shoulder part of the blame for the stalling of the project. Against all appearance of conventional wisdom, it seem they have been dragging their feet from throwing full support behind the project, with talk of environmental assessments, etc and greater emphasis of development of roads?? Can such a massive project have been commenced and physical construction at Nsanje began without first assessing or undertaking an environmental assessment?

I’m not convinced. Either there’s something about this project that ordinary folk like us have not been told, or there was a massive miscalculation on the part of Mutharika to begin building the port. Else, it was visionary (see YouTube marketing clip ‘overselling’ the idea here), a quality often lacking within leadership across Africa.

Having said that, it is more likely than not, that the reason some people in Mozambique are unwilling to fully support the project is to do with the alleged financial loss they expect if goods are able to go straight into Malawi or Zambia and Zimbabwe, and not via Beira or Nacala.

Such a selfish narrow viewpoint undermines any potential benefit a new transportation link may create for the region. Surely, a thoughtful and better-informed African leader would have recognised the overall impact (e.g. jobs, increased trade, tourism, easier flow of resources, cheaper import costs and societal advancement)  the port will have not only to the Mozambican towns near Nsanje, but also to the greater Southern African economy of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, or even to Rwanda and Burundi.

Very few African countries geographically formed themselves into the shape they currently take. In fact only Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonised, but even their national polity formation had a lot to do with regional colonial activity around and about them. Thus, most decisions that determined the geographical shape of African countries were made by colonialists, a figment of history most Pan Africanists would rather forget. This to me means that it is shortsighted, regressive, a deficiency in intellect and a great fallacy (most often perpetuated by ignorance), for leaders of African countries today to be fighting against each other, or indeed dashing each others economic fortunes – when there is every chance that had colonialism never occurred (as we understand it), Africa could have ended up as a vast continent of undivided Kingdoms, each with access to the sea. Something that would have looked like this:

644px-Colonial_Africa_1913_Gold_Coast_map.svg
What Africa may have looked like if colonisation hadn’t occured. What Africa may look like in the future, hundreds of years from now

That is precisely why Uhuru Kenyatta must be applauded for the visionary Mombasa Nairobi railway link.

Similar Links:

Peter Mutharika attacks Malawi govt. for ignoring ‘Ndata’ University, Nsanje port in budget

MALAWI: Dream fades for inland port project

The Shire Zambezi Waterway Project is still a priority says Sadc secretariat [August 2013]

Malawi, Mozambique agree deal on Nsanje World inland port [April 2013]

Nsanje Inland Port Mw