George Ayittey, Washington, DC reflects on the type of leadership Africa needs:

Too many of us are obsessed with "leadership." We tend to think that, if only we could get "good leaders," then our problems will be solved in Africa. The odds against that are huge. Since independence in the 1960s, we have had 203 African heads of state. Fewer than 20 can be described as "good leaders." So let us not hope against hope. Furthermore, this obsession with leadership has now degenerated into sheer lunacy.

Look at Somalia. The country has been reduced to an ash-heap of rubble. Totally broken and dysfunctional. Yet, you have educated barbarians, waging fierce battles to determine who should be the leader of the country (president).

To get from Point A (state of under-development) to Point B (developed state), you need a developmobile and a driver (leader). Nobody is paying attention to the CONDITION of the vehicle; yet everybody wants to be the driver!

Please take your time to read this, digest it before you respond.

Think about it. We are having these debates because those who promote the "leadership" model are NOT clear about its meaning. They either have no definition of leadership or it is vague. One definition is different from another.

I won't attempt a definition of leadership but what I understand people at this forum to mean by "leadership" is the strong, command or military-style, authoritarian type of leadership.

The military uses the purest form of command systems. A commander-in-chief (the President in the US) makes the BIG decisions about strategic objectives. Beneath this highest level, generals organize the military resources.
Beneath the generals, successively lower ranks organize smaller units and smaller units but pay attention to ever-increasing degrees of detail. At the bottom of the managerial hierarchy are the people who operate weapons systems.
Many U.S. corporations also use this command system, though not rigidly. A chief executive officer (CEO) sits at the top of the firm's command system. Senior executives who report to and receive commands from the CEO specialize in managing production, marketing, finance, personnel, and perhaps other aspects of the firm's operations. Beneath them are the senior managers, the middle managers, and then the people who operate the firm's machines and who
make and sell the firms products and services. Lee Iaccoca, the former chairman of Chrysler Corporation, is a classic example of this model.
But other corporations, especially European and Japanese, use the INCENTIVE SYSTEM. Instead of issuing commands, senior managers create compensation schemes that will induce workers to perform in ways that maximizes the firm's profit. Sales representatives, who spent most of their working time ALONE and UNSUPERVISED, are induced to work hard by being paid a small salary and a large performance-based commission or bonus. Even the CEO's compensation package may include a share in the firm's profit and factory workers sometimes receive compensation based on the quantity they produce. Other corporations use a HYBRID system – a mixture of command and incentive systems.

In the political arena, the command-type of leadership is uniquely American. I am the boss; the buck stops with me (the president). Now this type of LEADERSHIP, when EXPORTED finds expressions in the likes of Lee Kwan Yew, whose book some at this forum often refer to.

Now, this TYPE of leadership (the military-style) is American and un-African for two reasons. First, there were/are many traditional African societies which did NOT have leaders (the stateless or acephalous societies). The Igbo, the Somali, the Kikuyu, the Kru, the Tiv, the Ga, are some examples. These were the societies the Europeans colonialists had the most difficulty with.
The Europeans had it in their head that every society must have a leader. But the Ga, the Igbo and the Somali had no political leaders. So the Europeans created "leaders" for these "backward" peoples. In Somalia, they were called "akils." Elsewhere, they were called "colonial" chiefs or "mankralos" and "canton chiefs." Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast was one such colonial chief. But other societies were not so accepting. Each time the colonialists created such canton chiefs for them, the people immediately shunned and removed them. Such was the fate of the Ga mankralo.

Second, the traditional system of government in Africa is characterized by DEVOLUTION of authority and DECENTRALIZATION of power. More importantly, decisions are reached by CONSENSUS. The African king or chief would NEVER say: "I am in charge and the buck stops with me." That style of leadership is American, not African.

Most of the time, the kings were secluded in their palaces. In fact, their role was supernatural, not political: To ensure harmony between the cosmological forces: the sky, the world and the earth. If the sky god was "angry", there would be droughts (no rain). The king was blamed for not doing his job and off went his head (regicide). Why do you think I carry a CUTLASS? Mugabe, Museveni and the rest of them never had it so lucky!

Of course, over the centuries, the roles of traditional African chiefs and kings have changed to such an extent that the Asantehene can seek a World Bank loan.

The way I see it, leaders are borne out of crisis situations. Take President George Bush for example. In 2000, less than half of Americans thought of him as a "leader." But September 11 changed all that. A crisis situation. He did not flinch or blink. He took bold, decisive action: Invaded Afghanistan and Iraq with a "coalition of the coerced" (smile). Things are not going too well in Iraq but if Bush succeeds to bring peace and democracy to Iraq, guess what would happen. The Americans would hail him as one of their "greatest leaders." Leaders think "big," see the "big picture," take bold action and take risks too.


In normal times, I do not think so. Look at Switzerland. Who is the president of Switzerland? Scratching your head? Even a Swiss won't know! Next time you run into a Swiss, ask him who is the president of his country and he probably won't know! It is because theirs is a confederation of 13 cantons, with a weak rotating presidency – not the Lee Kwan Yew or Lee Iaccoca style of leadership. But look at Swiss society. It FUNCTIONS with clock-like
precision -- pun intended because they make Swiss watches and their trains run exquisitely on time. This is an excellent example of a society with no LEADERSHIP (American style) but remarkable FUNCTIONALITY.

In the same vein, there were many traditional African societies with no American-type leaders but they FUNCTIONED; otherwise, they would not have survived for CENTURIES. The laws of nature do not discriminate; non-functional
societies become EXTINCT.
Now, look at the MODERN societies established by African ELITES. Note the distinction between "modern societies" established by the elites and the traditional societies. The modern ones are collapsing all over the place in Africa: Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Togo, etc.etc. with more to blow and become EXTINCT.
So who or what do we need to save us? A Mandela? An Nkrumah? Noooooooooo! We need TECHNOCRATS, not "Mandelas" or "Nkrumahs"

If a car is broken down, it needs a mechanic (fitter) to fix it, not a driver to drive it.

If your developmobile is KAPUT, you need TECHNOCRATS to fix it, not Nkrumah, Rawlings, or Kufuor.

Once the car or the developmobile is fixed, then you can put a driver in to take you to your destination: the advanced stage of development.


Post-colonial Africa's problem has been the “maximum” all-powerful leaders with UNCHECKED POWER. The “president-for-life” who barks orders and has his tentacles spread over all aspects of society and his fingers in every pot.
Even his portrait hangs over every latrine! [It should be dumped into the latrine!] This type of leadership even goes way beyond the American style and it is definitely UN-AFRICAN!
The all-powerful African leaders took on such epithets as "Osagyefo," "The Redeemer," "The Guide," "Mwalimo" (teacher). President Joseph Desire Mobutu changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, which translates to "the earthy, the peppery, all powerful warrior who, by his endurance and will to win, goes from contest to contest leaving fire in his wake." [Actually, in the local Lingala language it meant "The rooster who leaves
no chicken untouched."]
These maximum leaders knew NOTHING about rule of law, democracy, property rights, how the ship of state is run or how an economy operates. The military coconut-heads were the worse. They thought by barking orders, "Produce More!" then, presto, there will be more bankyi and koobi at the market. And the civilian fufu-heads thought by APPEALING, APPEALING and chanting SLOGANS to the people, “Positive Action” “Down with Colonialism” and then, presto, there
will be more garri at the market and people's stomachs will be full.

When Africa's developmobile needed ordinary kerosene to operate, these leaders were pouring in rocket fuel, purchased on credit from the Soviet Union. They knew squat about how the ship of state runs and jammed all its internal systems and institutions. They turned parliament into a “rubber stamp,” packed the judiciary with their cronies and tribesmen. They did the same with the military and security forces. Then they muzzled the MEDIA. In fact, they took over ALL key institutions of the state and subverted them to serve their own selfish interests. Today, the INSTITUTIONS of the state are DYSFUNCTIONAL, rule of law a farce, and our developmobile is KAPUT. Tell a policeman you saw a government minister stealing the people's money and guess who he would arrest: YOU! The police and the judges protect the bandits in power, not the people.


We need TECHNOCRATS to fix our broken, dysfunctional institutions. REPAIRMEN or plumbers who will unclog the gutters or the system. CUTLASSES to chop down all the dead woods Rawlings packed into the civil service. PINCERS to de-worm the judiciary, and so on.

You do NOT need an Nkrumah (a visionary and Pan-Africanist) or a Mandela (a heroic campaigner against white injustice) because they are NOT technocrats.