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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Infrastructure

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While you’ll find several references to Infrastructure on this site, I think this time around I’ll leave it to the experts to do the convincing. Paja akulu anati mutu umodzi siwusenza denga

And if one takes time to browse through the cited references below (some of which are straight off page 1 + 2 of Google), it’s hard to argue against the fact that Infrastructure is one of the essential drivers of economic development. In this sense, and for the avoidance of doubt,  infrastructure is not limited to roads, railways, airports and buildings (for hotels, schools, Universities, hospitals, business centres, research facilities, etc), but also includes for example a good telecommunication network (internet, voice, data and the like) and power supply.

Infrastructure for sustainable development – European Commission

Intro reads: ” Good quality infrastructure is a key ingredient for sustainable development. All countries need efficient transport, sanitation, energy and communications systems if they are to prosper and provide a decent standard of living for their populations. Unfortunately, many developing countries possess poor infrastructure, which hampers their growth and ability to trade in the global economy. “

Infrastructure’s value to economic growth – Richard Lee, Partner, KPMG (via BBC)

which includes the statement : “…In fact, a recent KPMG International survey found that an overwhelming majority – 90% – of business executives said that the availability and quality of infrastructure affects where they locate their business operations…”

Needs For and Benefits of Infrastructure Connectivity – Asian Development Bank Institute
which includes the statement: “… The rapid economic and population growth of Asian economies in recent years has put huge pressure on its existing infrastructure, particularly in transport and energy, but also in communications. Asia’s infrastructure is world-class in parts, but is generally below the global average. This is a bottleneck to future growth, a threat to competitiveness, and an obstacle to poverty reduction.”
which includes the following statement: – “…An adequate infrastructure is a prerequisite to economic development. Transportation and communications are important in developing and strengthening social, political, and commercial ties. These ties must be developed before trade can be handled on a regular basis.”
Why Is Infrastructure Important – David Alan Aschauer, formerly Senior Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and now (at the date of writing/publication) Elmer W.Campbell Professor of Economics, Bates College
Infrastructure and Poverty – The Global Poverty Project
the Intro reads: “Infrastructure – physical resources like roads, telecommunication networks, schools and drains – is necessary for a society to function: people can’t access healthcare if there are no hospitals; trade can’t take place if there are no roads on which to transport goods to markets. Infrastructure facilitates the basic functions of a society that are necessary to transport resources and people, produce and trade goods, provide essential services and ultimately reduce poverty.”
it follows with ” Lack of infrastructure also leads to lack of employment by acting as a disincentive to investment. Companies who struggle to produce and sell goods in an area with inadequate roads, electricity or water supply do not want to set up the factories or businesses that could potentially generate employment, improve living standards and reduce poverty. “
and “Lack of infrastructure can also lead to poor health and high mortality. Where there are no clinics or hospitals available, or where lack of roads or bridges makes them inaccessible, people cannot access the medical services that they require to be healthy and productive. A villager in Mozambique explains “The most dangerous thing is that [cholera] has always appeared during the rainy season, and it is then that the river is in spate and boats cannot cross.”
The Broader Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure – Ian Sue Wing, William P. Anderson and T.R. Lakshmanan, Center for Transportation Studies and Dept. of Geography & Environment, Boston University [similar article here]
uses the term Meso-scale to describe their approach. A slide from their presentation is quite appropriate in summarising some of the developmental + ‘equilibrium’ impacts, and worth replication:-
infra-messo
Finance and Infrastructure: The Economic Benefits of Infrastructure Projects Procured with Private Finance –  Andrew W Morley, International Congress Washington, D.C. USA, April 19-26 2002.
Infrastructure – Engineers Against Poverty
Intro reads as follows: “Without significant progress in the provision of infrastructure services it will be impossible for many countries to significantly achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Globally, more than 1 billion people have no access to roads, 900 million do not have safe drinking water, 2.3 billion lack reliable sources of energy, 2.5 billion have no sanitation  facilities and 4 billion are without modern communication services.”
which contains the paragraph “When it comes to infrastructure development, Thailand has done very well compared with some other Southeast Asian neighbors. In fact, appropriate infrastructure, including access to power and water, has helped Thailand fuel rapid economic growth during the past three decades. Good infrastructure has made Thailand attractive to foreign investment, helped facilitate international trade, and improved the efficiency of everyday business activities. All of these led to more jobs, and more jobs led to more income for the poor. For some not-so-poor people, good infrastructure also helps them improve productivity or fulfill their lifestyles.”
RURAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT –  Dr. Mohammad Tarique, Lecturer, University Dept. of Economics, B.R.Ambedkar Bihar University, Muzaffarpur.
Abstract reads: “Infrastructure development has a key role to play in both economic growth and poverty reduction. Failure to accelerate investments in rural infrastructure will make a mockery of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in poor developing countries while at the same time severely limit opportunities for these countries to benefit from trade liberalisation, international capital markets and other potential benefits offered by globalisation”
Private Sector Participation in Infrastructure:the case of Thailand – Deunden Nikomborirak – Asian Development Bank Institute Discussion Paper No. 19
Road Funding: Time for a Change :- Economic Growth Benefits of Transportation Infrastructure Investment – Dr. John C. Taylor,  Associate professor of marketing and logistics at Grand Valley State University and a senior policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.
which contains the statement “…No, the key benefit and reason for transportation investment is from helping to make businesses and individuals more productive, across the geographic landscape. We rely on our transportation investments to increase the economy’s overall productivity – both in terms of making individual travel (business and personal) faster and more reliable, and in terms of the productivity benefits of making freight flows faster and more reliable…”
World Bank — Malawi’s infrastructure: A continental perspective: Vivien Foster; Maria Shkaratan, ISSN: 1813-9450.

As you can see, the above papers + articles present a credible argument that a good and functional infrastructure is essential for economic development.
But that’s not to say that there are no credible counter arguments against infrastructure. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m sure one can cite the prevention of deforestation or preservation of natural habitats as factors against excessive infrastructure. Also, there is the issue of encouraging tourism which could probably mean encouraging greater biodiversity, creating / preserving forests  and wildlife reserves (but even in such circumstances, you still need a world-class airport for a good first impression (the kind of impression you get when you first land at Hong Kong International); functional roads (at least 3 lanes on each side between major cities) that minimises journey times; and world-class hotels and resorts. Why should you give tourists (who in large numbers can be the source of much-needed forex revenue) less than what they are accustomed to, and expect that they will return to your country, or recommend a visit to their friends?). Never mind recommendation, how can you compete on the global stage, when your facilities are substandard? Further, why shouldn’t it be possible to build modern factories with reduced carbon footprint (see Marks & Spencer’s ‘eco-factories’ initiative here) side by side with wildlife/forest reserves?
So, considering all this, I find it hard to imagine a credible setting in which arguments against infrastructure may find pre-eminence, over arguments for infrastructure; especially for a poor country whose majority infrastructure was built  50-year ago; whose roads are littered with pot-holes, with virtually no world-class business centres; that has old airports – with poor facilities including smelly badly looked after toilets; a country that experiences intermittent blackouts almost every week; that is struggling to attract significant investment from abroad; a country where 74% of the population live below the poverty line; which is heavily reliant on agriculture and dwindling tobacco exports + has negligible industrial output; has few natural resources; has a large relatively unskilled young population and suffers widespread corruption and cronyism, even in the upper echelons of its government.

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My question to you then is: why are the leaders of such countries not investing heavily (sooner than later) into major infrastructure projects, when it is in fact a determinant factor in economic development and a serious game changer? Is it because they are in fact not cut out for the job and would be better followers instead of leaders?

100 Voices: No 3

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My next guest is an Accountant and someone who I have known for many years.

Mr Lusayo Mwalilino, thank you very much for taking the time to do the 100 Voices interview.  But before we begin, could you please take some time to summarise your background?

My name is Lusayo Mwalilino, I am an accountant, currently working as an auditor, in Lilongwe. I come from Karonga, bachelor, challenge addict, some say I’m extremely cool, but that’s their opinion… 🙂

  1. As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family? – Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability is very important to me because it gives me hope for the future and makes it easy for strategic planning, but most importantly I think it makes it possible for one to realise their full potential in such an environment.
  2. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain? In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges? – After nearly 50 years , there has been  some  general improvements in the country’s  infrastructure such as roads, hospitals, schools, introduction of democracy, improvements in  ICT, although it should be mentioned that the infrastructure mentioned above is mostly in poor condition and there is still so much that needs to be done in terms of progress as a country.
  3. What modern and progressive ideas in other foreign countries have had the greatest impact on you, and why? – I have not lived outside Malawi however I have read  and heard  of modern & progressive ideas in other countries. Most countries moved from developing to developed economies by moving from  agricultural based to industrialised economies – making goods that they were able to trade on the world market, also up there is putting ones country first, collective patriotism.
  4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas? – Malawians need to revolutionise their agricultural methods for example sophisticated irrigation methods and extensive R & D in agriculture, manufacturing of fertilizer etc. In addition to this revolutionise tourism, this could then fund a much-needed thriving industrialised economy.
  5. In your opinion, what is the greatest sign of improvement or development that has occured in Malawi in recent years? – I live here in Malawi so I would say the way the HIV/AIDS has been managed is quite remarkable, also improvements in ICT, it seems more people are using the internet, it also seems more people have access to clean water, not sure what the stats are though.
  6. What has struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression? – The biggest sign of stagnation is just generally the state of the economy and of course the greedy and corrupt leadership.
  7.  Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a new president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges? And specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of creating sustainable development and foreign reducing aid dependency? – Sometimes it feels like African countries are going through perpetual cycle of ‘elect and regret’; however one must remain hopeful, I believe Malawi needs an exceptionally intelligent, selfless, driven leader who is truly passionate about making changes to the country.
  8.  As you know, Tobacco is Malawi’s biggest source of export revenue. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives? – Other viable alternatives are; cotton, coffee, supplying fresh bottled water to Middle Eastern countries, rice, fish exports. Some of these are already being done but could be done in a more sophisticated way, and on a larger scale.
  9.  Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, most recently when Bingu Wa Mutharika was president, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world? – Malawi cannot win by depending on these institutions, which do not understand our economy, and may advise us with ulterior motives. Our leaders should strive to think of what is best for their country and not just adopt a herd mentality, fiscal discipline is key.
  10.  We now know that Malawi has some precious minerals, including Uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the present government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources? – I would give the present government a  4 out of 10, not very impressive. Botswana on the other hand has done well in managing their minerals [see sources 1, 2], we could learn from a lot from them.
  11.  In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better? – Yes they can, basically by making sure the interest of the country , not an individual or any mining organisation  are put first, come up with mining contracts that ensure this is achieved, as well as thorough reviews of these agreements. Learn from other countries that are doing it successfully.
  12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa? – By putting in systems and controls that prevent corruption from occurring, as well as a system that annually reviews progress being made on corruption and transparency , from the highest office in the land to the lowest paid civil servants  by an  independent group of audit firms. This could mean amendments to the constitution.It seems possible in theory but may realistically, be extremely hard to implement, because as long as there is abject poverty, corruption will exist, which gradually becomes a culture, even at organisational level changing an organisations culture is a difficult task, it could minimise it though.
  13. Any famous last words? We cannot let the easy seductive funk of despair, negativity and doubt undermine the critical forces for change; hope, faith and action  –  Cory Booker

100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi.