Leadership in Africa

Posted on July 20, 2015

Dr Willem Fourie from the Department of Dogmatics and Christian Ethics in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria, in collaboration with Suzanne van der Merwe and Ben van der Merwe, both from the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership, recently published an informative and helpful research article titled, Sixty years of research on leadership in Africa: A review of the literature, in the journal Leadership
With all the information on corruption and mismanagement emanating from Africa, it is no secret that leadership is an area in which this continent finds itself sorely wanting. It is therefore heartening that UP took the initiative in addressing the issues plaguing leadership in Africa. Some argue that a lack of responsible leadership is the cause of the continued challenges faced on our beautiful continent. Others regard leadership as the solution for developing Africa. In theory, leadership in Africa is one of the most exciting and perplexing topics currently available to researchers interested in comparative and enriching research on leadership in regions other than Africa. In view of the mass of written material on the topic of the failure of leadership, this research provides knowledge and information that has the potential, if applied, to assist in eradicating this blight. 
In its most descriptive sense, ‘Africa’ denotes a group of societies that share the same geography, which has gained a distinct geopolitical meaning. Politically, these societies are postcolonial in the sense that they are coming to terms with a period during which many societies with different historical traditions were merged into a single history. It would therefore seem that Africa has been searching for its own identity since historically it was obliged to operate in an economic system established and controlled in essence by the west.
The diversity of Africans presents a challenge; according to some estimates Africa is home to more than 2 100 living languages. The economic challenge is even bigger, as reflected in the most recent Human Development Report, in which the United Nations Development Programme states that sub-Saharan Africa – which includes most of Africa – has the world’s lowest levels of human development. 
One of the biggest challenges facing leaders in Africa is to combat corruption. Illicit financial flows constitute a case in point. In their well-publicised report on illicit financial flows from Africa, the African Development Bank and Global Financial Integrity show that $1,2 trillion to $1,3 trillion left Africa illegally between 1980 and 2009, with the bulk of the money resulting from various forms of tax evasion.
This research article reviews peer-reviewed research on leadership in Africa published from 1950 to 2009 and has a dual purpose. On the one hand, it provides scholars with an entry point to the relatively large body of historical literature by means of a descriptive diachronic analysis of the literature. On the other hand, it also applies a synchronic analysis, and concludes with the following four interpretative statements on the scholarship on leadership in Africa: 
(i) Scholarship on leadership in Africa has changed, and the change is lopsided. 
(ii) There is an increase in female scholars, the themes they work on differ from those of their male counterparts. 
(iii) Legitimacy remains a key issue, and continues to evolve.
(iv) Authenticity has become a key issue and is now closely related to reclaiming African values.
Even Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, an outspoken South African activist, acknowledges the dearth in leadership in Africa and states that Africa is in need of ‘authentic leaders’, by which he means leaders who search for goodness, are credible, are ready to sacrifice and lead in solidarity with their followers.
In conclusion, let us revisit the words of Africa’s iconic leader, Nelson Mandela: ‘Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.’ 
- Author Myan Subrayan

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