Many sad tales and stories have been told about Africa. Whenever a story about Africa is broadcast in the international media, it is almost always negative. The sad reality is that we have got so used to this narrative that it no longer troubles us.
Our default attitude seems to be: Can anything good come out of Africa? We get surprised when anything good is said about Africa. Whereas this is a fairly common narrative, the story of Africa can and must change. There is much potential in the continent that if well harnessed, can place our motherland among the highest league of nations. But, and it is a big BUT, the story of Africa will not change unless and until we embrace a paradigm shift.
This past week, I had the privilege of listening to Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – former President of Liberia – speaking on matters leadership at a Mkenya Daima dinner hosted by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA). Speaking extemporaneously, Madam President exhibited an amazing depth of knowledge and wisdom. The Nobel Laureate spoke with passion about Africa, and with extraordinary lucidity and eloquence for a person of her age. But what captivated many of us was her clarity of vision for Africa and the kind of leadership we need to transform the continent. Though almost every word she spoke was a quotable quote, some leadership factors were especially worthy of record.
According to Ellen, Africa requires leaders with a vision – an all-consuming dream that outlives the leader and transcends generations. Our leaders must visualise a better and more prosperous continent – a great place to live in. Such leadership must be people-focused – prioritising the needs of the ordinary person. No leader should be comfortable presiding over a deprived populace that cannot afford the basics of life.
Leaders that will transform Africa must be value-driven. A leader must not require the force of law to do the right thing. They should do the right thing because they respect the dictates of the law. When leaders flout the law, it sends wrong signals to citizens and could trigger impunity.
On women in leadership, the highly decorated lady – with many awards and honours to her name – was almost emotional in her advocacy for women. Women must be accorded an opportunity to attain the highest levels of leadership, but women must also not merely seek favours to ascend the echelons of power. They must demonstrate competence, confidence, and commitment to earn respect in a male-dominated field.
But, of all the things the former President said, none was of greater concern than the motive for seeking leadership positions. She repeated severally that every leader must have the interest of the nation as the chief driving force towards leadership. She argued that most of the problems we have in Africa are the consequence of having leaders whose only interest is self-aggrandisement. This has led to unbridled corruption, lack of patriotism, entering into local and international alliances and treaties that jeopardise the growth and development of our nations. According to the former President, “National interest is supreme!” It must not be sacrificed for personal gain.
The import of these assertions on the election and appointment of leaders is profound. For us in Kenya, coming at the height of our political contest, one wonders to what extent our leaders subscribe to these critical tenets of leadership. Though a lot of it can be heard on the campaign platforms – and will most likely appear in the party manifestos – history has shown us that most of it find a cul-de-sac right there. Our hopes and dreams come to an abrupt end as soon as the ballots are counted, and the winners announced.
Without any scruples, the men and women we call leaders to embark on a mission to fatten themselves on our national cake as we swallow saliva from a distance.
That is why, as difficult as it might be, we must rise above euphoria and political rhetoric. We must carefully choose leaders with the interest of the nation at heart. Our mantra should be “Uongozi Bora sio Bora Unongozi”. And as a Mkenya Daima, Nitatatenda wajibu wangu.