Africa's Lack of Leadership

Many point to external factors as the primary causes of Africa’s problems, especially European colonialism. While it is true that colonialism contributed its fair share to Africa’s woes, its legacy has long been used as an excuse by African governments to cover up the true problem: their own corruption and ineptitude.

Instead of dismantling the autocratic vestiges of colonialism, Africa’s leaders further consolidated power and reinforced the systems that enabled the exploitation of the continent’s people. Centralized control, tempered with “statism” – a system in which massive economic power rests in the hands of government – permitted the elite to siphon the wealth of the continent, destroying what little infrastructure the colonialists left behind.

Africa’s economies and its supporting institutions are now largely in place to ensure that the powerful few remain in power. For these leaders, the economy is defined by a network of inefficiently run government enterprises; and all competing sources of wealth generation – the entrepreneurial zeal of the people, for example – are perceived as threats that must be suppressed. In many instances, Africa’s own leaders have, with much success, engaged in economic sabotage. All the while, these regimes point a blaming finger to the west, previous administrations, or both.

These deceptions, like all other excuses, have over time lost efficacy. A new generation of Africans is beginning to challenge these beliefs and look within Africa for the root of its problems and possible solutions. This generation will uproot the gerontocratic and visionless leadership of its forbearers. While it recognizes that Africa’s cultural, political, and economic evolution was rudely, albeit unwittingly, interrupted, it is summoning up the will to retrace and rebuild.

Africa’s new leaders understand that only with functioning judicial, monetary, and political institutions, will the continent surmount its challenges. These institutions and systems will not simply be transplanted from the west, as has been hurriedly done in the past, but will be Africanized and built on the continent’s rich heritage.
There is no panacea. There is no easy road. But Africa can and will turn around. The dark colors of Africa’s degrading terms of trade, unmanageable foreign debts, decaying infrastructure, and general economic instability paint a grim picture. But it is important to see that these colors mix and mutually reinforce on a palette of corrupt leadership that is now being naturally swept away by the proliferation of participative politics.

Africa can and will turn around and this is not a dogmatic assertion. All we have and all we need, I believe, is inspired leadership which clings with resilience to our optimism and hope, as seemingly baseless as they may appear.

February 11, 2002
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