Leadership Deficiency and the Breathless Youths
Hundreds of years of slavery, colonialism, exploitation, resource extraction, corruption, nepotism, bad governance, extreme poverty, hunger, etc.; the continent is constantly haunted by a tragic history, a deplorable present, and a dimly dubious future. In other words, the continent has been in a constant state of limbo for too long. About half a century after the struggles for independence, the leaders of African countries have spectacularly failed to meet the basic hopes and aspirations of their people; the hopes and aspirations for freedom—political, economic, and psychological—development, prosperity, and progress.
Although some are fairly doing better, the overall reality is a glaring impotence, an egregious failure to deliver. Beyond any shadow of doubts, the continent, notwithstanding years of ruthless exploitation, still abounds in innumerable and invaluable natural resources, rich and cultivable lands, and naturally generous and productive climates. On human scale, while many regions of the world are increasingly witnessing ageing or even depopulation, Africa has the world’s largest share of young people. To be clear, the aim here is not to attempt at drawing up the balance sheet of Africa’s richness; it is too well-known to warrant repeating. Rather, it is to explore the root causes of the African paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty, and of scarcity in the midst of affluence.
Hitherto, however, the continent is yet to capitalize on its available resources. In fact, due the startling failures of the African governments, these opportunities have, mostly, been a curse rather than a blessing: corruption and nepotism at industrial scales and the ubiquitously corrupted leaderships have generated a disproportionate and widening gap between the handful rich and the massive poor; indeed, the geological blessings, the natural resources have become calamitous, ushering in factional conflicts, extreme-poverty, hunger, mass displacements, and uncontrollable migrations.
Above all, however, the gravest and probably the long-lasting consequence of this lack of delivery is the frustrated and deeply distrustful African youth. As a result, it is haunted by at least three unavoidably inter-related specters: first, juvenile delinquencies, whereby the pursuit of education becomes a futile endeavor; in lieu, petty and gross robberies and other innumerable crimes become the rule. And as they generate intermittent fears, social unrest, and insecurity, these young people are doomed to fill penitentiaries. The second specter is more or less related to the first. In a nationally unproductive economy—where job opportunities are as scarce as golds and diamonds, where there is little chance of pursuing or even getting a quality education, where chronic unemployment is the only palpable reality, where the pursuit of self-realization is a clearly unattainable dream, and where the sense of intermittent failures, idiosyncratic as well as systematic, oppresses young men and women heavily like a dead weight upon their mind, a load of misery of which they are unable to get rid—life, worldly life loses all its worth and anything else grows into meaningless promise. Consequently, these young people are seriously in danger of falling prey to terrorists, who promise tempting rewards in afterlife, a self-destruction for a promised paradise. They, therefore, turn into a danger to themselves and to the whole human race: they can blow themselves along with anyone around, at any time, and anywhere; that is the unpredictability of the tragedy! That an innumerable young people have been joining various terrorist organizations as a result of cynically losing faith in a better future, need not be demonstrated.
Ultimately, the third specter is directly related to the second. That is, faced with unbearable and unworthy living conditions in their respective countries, these young men and women do not deliberately and willingly give up on the worldly life to voluntarily join those who preach to shed-blood in the name of God; in lieu, they simply and determinedly move elsewhere (preferably, Europe as the ultimate destination), however dangerous and perilous the journey is.
No wonder, the Mediterranean Sea has grown into a deadly transit, a graveyard, for an untold number of refugees and migrants face tragic death in their endeavors to seek either safe-haven or better life in Europe. As the chokingly horrifying, disheartening and revolting images—whereby refugees and migrants are sold at ‘auction’ in Libya—demonstrate, however, the peril does not begin in the Sea.
Undoubtedly, whichever of the aforementioned paths these young people decide to take, the fallouts are no less perilous and consequential for them any more than they are to their families, communities, countries, and the African continent at large. These are the realities and challenges directly resulting from a continentally deficient leadership. Yet the consequences are far reaching for the continent and beyond.
The problem of the African continent, nolens volens, is, therefore, the problem of deficiency in leadership. To be sure, this lack of leadership is not only political, although it may be the most serious obstacle; there is also a deplorable deficiency in leadership in such crucial domains as education, business, industry, innovation, etc. It was of these deficiencies that Chinua Achebe was speaking in 1983 with a stunning exactness. Though he was writing about his home country, Nigeria, Achebe knew very well that the reality has always been the same throughout Africa. He, therefore, has no doubts in his mind that “[Africa] is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be.” Consequently, “The trouble with [Africa] is simply and squarely a failure of leadership… The [African] problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership". Indeed, it is not an overstatement to assert that the large portion of the population in Africa is certainly extremely poor no less because the continent has always been poorly governed.
What must be done to face these ever-growing tragedies? “Throughout the ages”, says PLO Lumumba, “the battles have always been the battles of the mind”. Perhaps, the statement warrants qualifying. Corruption, the institutionalized corruption (as is the case in the continent) will take more than changes in regulations to be reversed. Indeed, it will require a strenuous victory of the mind, a radical change in behavior, attitude, and practice. That is not all, however.
Achebe tells us quite accurately that to reverse the situation in Africa; to ensure that young people no longer end up in juvenile delinquencies; to safeguard them from falling prey to terrorist recruitments; and to prevent them from certain death in the Mediterranean route or from being auctioned in Libya and elsewhere, there is an urgent need of a genuine, a thorough leadership in the continent; and it is needed now. The needed leadership is that which leads by example; a leadership with a clear vision of strategies for sustainable development and prosperity, a leadership with a plain sense of responsibility for the well-being of the general population, and a leadership with a sense of priority in eradicating corruption in all its forms throughout the apparatus of governments.
The battle will certainly not be easily won. Yet a thousand-kilometer path begins with a first step. That first step in the present battle of mind will be won when African leaders realize the unavoidable dangers of cultivating and perpetuating today’s mindset of dependency; an almost complete dependency in aids, charities, and generosities from other countries’ tax-payers. Worse yet, the collected funds are hardly used to generate real economy. It is an uncomfortable truth; yet it must be acknowledged, for James Baldwin correctly reminds us that “Not everything that is faced can be changed, [but] nothing can be changed until it is faced”. It is time, therefore, for African leaders to face the truth, however discomforting it is. And the reality is that no country can ever achieve development and prosperity if the financing of its development projects is dependent on donors and charities.
Luckily, many leaders in a fairly growing number of countries have started to acknowledge and strive to face the uncomfortable truth, as the joint press conference between Emmanuel Macron and the Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo, during the former’s State visit in Ghana demonstrate, where Akufo-Addo concedes that such dependencies have always failed, and therefore African nations must change their mindset; that they must look for partners for productive investments to generate resilient economies that serve all the people, not just the handful corrupted elites. To win the battle, however, present leaders must know that society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in, as the old adage has it. In that regard, Botswana, Mauritius, amongst others, have been leading the way; other stubborn and reluctant leaders must follow suit. They must all commit themselves to improving the living conditions of their people, providing the youths with well-paid and decent jobs, and other opportunities, for they deserve better livelihoods on their native lands. Only then would Africa reverse its globally marginalized status—D. Trump’s shithole?—and achieve its 2063 Agenda of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena.”
It is a long way to go; yet it is not an unsurmountable task!