Challenges to Governance and Leadership in Africa

It is undeniable the fact that governance and its progeny, leadership, pervades every aspect of human life and existence. In nations, organizations, families and wherever human life is found, these two variables exist in one form or the other. It is also a truism, that there exists a huge governance and leadership gap in many countries in the world, especially, in Africa. The slow pace of Africa’s development is concomitant to this governance and leadership predicament. A 1989 World Bank report on the topic “SubSaharan Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth: A Long-Term Perspective Study” affirms this position by stating that “underlying the litany of Africa’s development problems is a crisis of governance” (p60). In a similar way, Walumba et al posited that “while African countries are richly endowed with all manner of natural resources, their economic performance since independence has been generally abysmal with a few exceptions” (426). They further argued that “ultimately a country’s economic performance is contingent on the effectiveness of its leadership” (425). These assertions, dispassionately underscores the governance and leadership predicament in Africa. Consequently, this essay seeks to discuss some of the reasons why governance and leadership still remain a big challenge in Africa, and also proffer ways to alleviate these bottlenecks, respectively.

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To begin with, this essay would want to point out that several reasons contribute to why governance is impoverished in Africa, especially in the Sub-Saharan region. These reasons include the wrong form of governance the continent practises as a result of colonialism, selfish leadership, weak institutions, and too much foreign interference on the continent.

First and foremost, it is not a ruse that the governance and leadership challenge Africa faces is an upshot of the wrong form of governance the continent is practising or being coerced to practise. Historical evidence have shown that, many years ago, before Africa was colonised by the Europeans, Africans governed themselves through the chiefs, clan and family heads, etc and the form of government they practised was gerontocracy and monarchy. These systems of governance as practised by these pre-colonial Africans had its root in their cultural and religious beliefs. Thus, governance and religion/culture were intricately interwoven. Yet, after being colonised, the Europeans forced their form of government on the indigenous people. These forms of government, which are the different forms of democracy we see around the world nowadays, had obstructive and damaging consequences on the religio-cultural orientation of the indigenous people. However, the colonial masters turned a blind eye on these developments. Decades after Africa gained independence, these colonial forms of governance are still being practised in Africa, with much complicatedness. This is simply because, the cultural and religious underpinnings of the African orientation of what governance is, and should be is different from those of the colonial masters. As Africans, our cultural upbringing upholds, fundamentally, communalism which is expressed in our proverbs, religion, folklores, songs, and mythology. In a sharp contrast, the colonial masters’ form of governance had as its foundation, capitalism. Hence, putting the square peg in the round hole has led to the current governance and leadership challenge in Africa. African leaders are thorn between satisfying their people based on tradition and pleasing their colonial masters because of the carrot and stick model of diplomacy they (colonial masters) employ. This complexity is the basis of the governance and leadership predicament in Africa.

Moreover, selfish leadership is a major setback to good governance in Africa, and the underdevelopment of the continent. Post-independent Africa has seen the rise of selfish, stomach-driven and inconsiderate leaders. Some came to power through coup d’etats, amidst shedding of innocent bloods, destruction of infrastructure left for the continent by the colonial masters, and looting of the wealth of these African nations. These leaders used the power they ceased to amass as much wealth as they could for themselves, their families and cohorts at the detriment of their nation’s development. Obviously, these leaders had no expertise or knowledge about governance or effective management, hence the worsening of the socio-economic lives of their country, and countrymen. Principles of fundamental human rights were not honoured, while individual, ideological, partisan or even labour dissent were strongly stamped out. The result was regimes’ collapse either internally or externally engineered between 1963 and 1966, and which attracted international outcry against the governance style of post independence Africa- Leaders.

The other set of leaders, who supposedly were elected to lead their countries, were of no significant difference from their predecessors. Most of these leaders only have as their aim, the comfort and satisfaction of themselves and their families at the disadvantage of the populace. They had no clear vision for their countries. Democratic rule, in their various countries, witnessed horrible governance style, mismanagement of resources and propagation of self-aggrandizement. Undoubtedly, the leaders Africa has had after independence, under the guise of liberating their people, have rather contributed to the free-fall/underdevelopment of their countries. This they did by their profligate spending, inept management of state resources and infrastructure, and visionless governance.

Furthermore, weak institutions since independence have contributed significantly to the governance and leadership predicament in Africa. After most African countries gained independence, instead of the leadership to focus on building strong institutions, where in their absence, those institutions could work to achieve the development they sought for which reason they fought of independence, they rather built strong personalities and empire around themselves. This phenomenon has continued perpetually till now. In Africa today, there is the practise of “rule by law” not “rule of law”. This is because, people in authority (government) use their power, position and influence to tweak institutions in their favour when it comes to matters of the law. Institutions cannot hunt certain individuals in society nowadays because those people are above the law. This phenomenon which is brought about by the partisan politics we practise, have corrupted majority of the state institutions in Africa. It has made justice, accountability, transparency and fairness a fairy tale, simply untenable. Institutions in Africa are simply weak and frivolous. Adding to the non-functional institutions is a collection of skewed and corrupt civil society organizations. Instead of these civil societies to be a watchdog of the populace to strengthen state and institutional efficiency, most of them are pursuing partisan agenda.

Even more, too much interference of foreign nations on the continent is worrying and highly destructive. This phenomenon is as a result of globalization. Virtually every decision and every action that most African leaders make, is contingent on the approval of their pay masters, the foreign nations. These foreign nations come into the continent in de guise of helping develop it, but with the mindset of draining the natural and human resource of the continent. They determine for us almost everything, from economic policies, to education, to religion, to who should lead the country etc. The ordinary African has a limited stake in deciding for himself and in helping build his country or continent. The Constitutions’ in most African countries rarely exists due to rule by foreign powers. The ordinary African is not consulted on any issue as power is in the hands of these overlords while our leaders only serve as errand agents to ensure compliance of their subjects.