I have been musing on the interesting and thought-provoking analyses contained in Dialogue 1025 on (good) leadership. I am going to avoid a "transvestite" approach in my reflection on this dialogue since I am a political scientist-not an economist. My response to certain aspects of the piece is that the author was perhaps too categorical in regard to some of his views. Probably the opinions expressed issue from his discipline-that tends to be generally empirical or, as is his wont, he wanted to provoke further debate on this important topic-leadership. Take for example, the author asserts: "ŠWe 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 vagueŠ I won't attempt a definition of leadership but what I understand people [perhaps what he meant is or was some people] at this forum to mean by 'leadership' is the strong, command or military-style, authoritarian type of leadership." I beg to differ with this erudite scholar. I do not subscribe to this type of leadership, and would hasten to add that many on this forum don't. In any case, it is useless to quibble over this minor issue since arguably many of us agree that we want (political and technocratic) leaders that can provide us with the "good political life"-i.e. a good governance system that rests on accountability, transparency, respect for the rule of law, and so on.
Moreover, it is a fact that some on this forum have written on the leadership question in Africa and in some African countries. One of the conclusions reached in some of these essays is that leadership which comes in different forms (religious, political, social, etc.) is more complex than I and many others can fathom. Whereas the leadership forms in the business sectors in different societies especially in the West, North America and parts of Asia are unique, the leadership genres in these sectors (e.g. corporate America, Japan, and so on) vary markedly from that in the political arena whether in the developed or developing countries. This is one source of the definitional confusion of a (good) leader or leadership. This perplexity is aggravated by the character of the weak state in Africa brought about in part by the immense pressure from diverse interest groups laying claims on it. Indeed, the late Claude Ake explained the dilemma thus: "the unique feature of the state in [Africa] and this is typical of periphery capitalist formations generally, is that the state has limited autonomy. That is, the state is institutionally constituted in such a way that it enjoys little independence from the social classes, particularly the hegemonic class, and so is immersed in the struggle of the class (Ake 1985, p. 9)." In fact, in this kind of politico-economic setting (with numerous political and economic fiefdoms within the nation-state) the question is from which competing group/s should the leadership-good leadership-come from. Nigerian ethnic elites and nationalities are already jockeying for power and leadership in 2007 with little attention paid to the atomization of the nation-state.
The author's allusion to the carnage of 9/11 and the leadership of George Bush is an interesting one. My only concern with his conjecture is that his understanding of the attitude of Americans to the leadership genre of Bush is slightly different from mine. I situate the support for the president outside his leadership quality (which is there alright on some issues). I rest my case on the CHARACTER OF THE AMERICAN STATE. The support of Americans for the leadership of this country, I would like to argue, flows from the philosophy-some might say ideological affinity or attachment to the state (generally referred to as patriotism or nationalism) that took the political, as well as the business, class so many years to construct. Some political scientists explain this phenomenon within the context of the "organic theory of the state." By this I mean the assumption that "individuals" in a state don't matter-it is the state that matters because individuals come and go but the state remains relatively constant. Put in another way, Americans, overall, love America very much because of what the state provides-i.e. the "limitless" opportunities for them to develop their skills if they applied themselves or worked hard (many Africans, Asians and others in this country are beneficiaries of this state-system). In short, in the words of Jesse Jackson, the opportunities are there (in the very structure of the state) that allows anyone through his/her hard work to become "somebody." Even with the war and development in Iraq not proceeding as well as earlier hoped Americans are almost unanimous in urging their fellow Americans to support the troops and a priori the state (that has been sensitive to their needs). The support for the state is "total" whereas the support for the individual leader is-eh-malleable and sometimes questionable. Can African leaders (besides Botswana, perhaps) create such a state?
What point I am attempting to articulate with respect to leadership in Africa and within the content and context of dialogue 1025? It is that leadership does not occur in a vacuum and that analysts on this issue must take the character of the African state seriously. To be sure, some political analysts have suggested that the promotion of "good" leadership in Africa will require a resolution to the character of the weak and non-hegemonic state. The question, then, is: how can a political leader govern a nation-state in which the sub-national units do not wish to be governed by the center? The issue of "good" leadership in Africa is further exacerbated by the "tendency to assume the primacy of the nation-state, and to assign universal legitimacy to its existence without ever elaborating the normative justification for the validity of the nation-state. This is an inherited problem in less developed countries, where the issues of development are usually analyzed almost exclusively in national terms. Essentially, it was the nationalism of the struggle for decolonization that gave the assumed legitimacy to the new nation-states. The new state are thus the children of the nationalism, except that it would be more analytically correct to treat the new political entities as state-nations [as in Somalia, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, etc.) rather than nation-state (Anise, 1979, p. 315)." Some deconstructionists-or should I say iconoclastic scholars-have even argued that Africa should return to the traditional systems of antiquity (that is suggested and held in high esteem in dialogue 1025) because it worked. Jeffrey Herbst is also a proponent of this view. I contend, though, that the opinion of these scholars issues from the current frustrations with the poor quality of leadership and "collapsing" or so-called "failed" states in the continent.
But the characters of nation (as represented by the Igbos, Yorubas, Kikuyus, Ashantis, Zulus, Tutsis, etc.) as well as nation-states (such as Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Cameroon, Namibia, etc.) are not static. Civil wars, ethnic conflicts, internal social and political dislocations alter attitudes and cultures in virtually all societies, and Africa has had its own share of upheavals. Be that as it may, what should we do to tackle the problem of poor leadership (in spite of its definitional complexities) in Africa within the context of the state-system that we have today? I submit the following ideas:
1. Development of the economy using the abundant resources (natural and human) in the continent. When people have jobs because the economy is relatively robust, they are likely to support the leader in spite of some of his/her vices (remember Clinton's "peccadillo" and the economic surplus he and his administration created). In the late 70s and early 80s when Nigeria's economy was buoyant one popular slogan displayed on cars in Lagos was "Love Nigeria or Leave it." Paradoxically, since the late 80s and 90s Nigerians have been living the country in droves for better pastures elsewhere. In any case, this was a time when many African brothers and sisters from the neighboring countries migrated to the country to work and when Nigerians in the diaspora returned home. Instead of the leadership capitalizing on the sudden wealth accruing from oil proceeds to improve the countries infrastructures and providing "sufficient enablements (-i.e. encouraging government and private investments in industries and the like that would provide more jobs)" for the citizens, it squandered this golden opportunity. Moreover, instead of the leadership encouraging people to work even harder in order to accumulate more wealth for development purpose, citizens "partied as if there was no tomorrow until the money dried up." Not to be outdone, some of the elites who made money because of the inflow of oil dollars bought real estates, and invested, in Europe and elsewhere (with little concern for the welfare of poor Nigerians at home). A good political leader, therefore, is one who in good times reminds the citizens to continue to work hard and to encourage them to set aside some of their money for the rainy day. Arguably, when citizens say that leader X or Y is a good leader what they may be implying is that they believe the leader is "good" because he/she made economic (and psychological) life good for them. In other words, the leader is able to create the "good political life for everyone." President Reagan is perhaps a good case in point. In the African context, Botswana approximates this view.
The blueprints or documents on development that can catapult the continent to greater heights in the 21st century exist: The Abuja Statement of Economic Recovery; The New Partnership for Africa's Development (in spite of some of its shortcomings); and Conference on Bridging the Digital and Scientific Divides (dialogue 1017), just to cite a few examples. Implementation of the tenets of these documents has often been the bane of the development project because of the leadership question.
2. A good leader must eschew the privatization of power (though very difficult to accomplish in both developing and developed nations). Power not only corrupts-it tends to corrupt absolutely (as once noted by a British statesman). Mobutu, Banda, Biya, Bongo, Mugabe, Mubarak, etc are some of such leaders in Africa. To be sure, some are kept in power by rogue agents and individuals who fear that their "mentor's" demise or departure from power will mean the end of their career and in some cases their ability to loot the national treasury. So, they shower the leader with sycophantic appellations, work to subvert the activities of any contender (e.g. Egypt) and even jail and "kill" real and putative competitors for power.
3. The training of adequate technocrats for the purpose of good governance is a good idea since, arguably, the current bureaucrats have been "forcibly" politicized in many African polities. It is my opinion, however, that no matter how efficient the technocrats might be if the political system is corrupt technocrats are less likely to perform efficiently. For example, Permanent Secretaries in the period immediately following independence were "real technocrats" who performed their job by the book. They were leaders of sorts-though not of the political hue. In later years many were corrupted by politicians and military autocrats. A good political leader must respect the intellect of technocrats and accept their professional recommendations even if the suggested policies work against the political interest/s of the executive.
4. Work ethic must be promoted by the leadership especially in government ministries and parastatals. The fact that tenured civil servants "cannot" be sacked encourages mediocrity. Also, the elimination of corruption among technocrats or bureaucrats can further the legitimacy of the state, government and leader. The experience of one of our colleagues on this forum in Lusaka, Zambia, is instructive.
(Good political) leadership as dialogue 1025 suggests is difficult to define although there are certain attributes that are expected of a leader both in business and politics. Good leadership is often based on how people "perceive" the individual leader and it is contingent on so many factors and characters (in religious, business, social, political sectors in a society). But I believe that in the African case at this juncture, a "good" leader is one that promotes development (for the entire society-not regionally or ethnically concentrated), democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. And more importantly, a (national) leader is one who is determined to place the interest of the state (and the citizens in particular) above his/her parochial interests. Perhaps Mandela's genre of leadership in South Africa exemplifies this view. Finally, I argue that it would take the collaboration of both political and technocratic leaderships to move Africa forward in this century.