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THE LAST WORD: Rethinking Africa’s development

Why our intellectual elites need to begin an entirely new conversation about our nations

By Andrew M. Mwenda

African intellectual elites exhibit a conceptual contradiction. When economic performance is poor they argue that the major source of the problem is bad leadership. And when they talk of leadership, our intellectual elites often mean one person – the president. Their argument implies that they believe the destiny of our nations can be shaped by the actions of a single man or woman. This is the “great hero of history” thesis as championed by the Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle. It actually calls for strong man rule, unrestrained by either institutions or other societal forces. This is a call to tyranny.

At the same, our intellectual elites also argue that African leaders should be democratic and rule through institutions. Some assume such institutions to exist and, therefore, claim leaders are stifling them. The more thoughtful ones recognise the infancy/absence of these institutions and argue that leaders should create/grow them.

But whatever the premise, these arguments want a president to act as a tyrant and a democrat at the same time, to personalise and institutionalise power all at once, and to exercise unrestrained authority over the nation and yet be subject to checks and balances.

If our leaders are the problem, why is our continent singularly unlucky to produce them in large numbers? Besides our presidents and their entourage do not come from outside the continent; they are born and bred in our communities, educated in our schools and … in our churches and mosques. So they reflect the values, norms and shared mentalities of our society.

Africa has had 278 changes of government since 1960. With the exception of post-genocide Rwanda there has not been much fundamental change in governance over these 50 years and more. This implies that the problem must be more deeply structural. Indeed, how come Western nations do not produce these bad leaders?

So the belief that the problem of Africa is leadership is narrowly focused. Consequential leadership has to be diffuse. Successful nations have good leadership at all levels of society. There has to be good leadership at home level, the village, local school, and religious centre etc. There has to be good leadership at individual business and businesses associations’ level, in religious, civic and educational institutions, etc.

Look at Western society: which president transformed the USA from a poor agrarian society into a modern industrial complex? Which prime minister, chancellor or president transformed the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy or Sweden? Which political leader launched the industrial revolution and built the institutions of these societies?

Many people may refer to East Asia and point to Lee Kuan Yew, Deng Xiaoping, Park Chung Hee, or Chiang Kai-shek. Yet East Asian societies had achieved a high level of social organisation by 1000AD that Europe could only envy. Introduce capitalist dynamics in these societies with their history of nationhood and statehood, their accumulated technical skills and institutional competences and you would need a short time to transform.

3 comments

  1. Yes you are excusing the sorrow state of leadership in Africa. They play the most important role in setting the agenda and shaping the future of these young countries. That is the very definition of leadership. Look at South Sudan, do you really think it is a lack of a business class that is responsible for the barbarity that is unfolding now? Hardly. Even a relatively developed (in terms of your business class hypothesis) South Africa has quickly descended into the barbarity of killing African immigrants in their midst, at the prompting if not acquiescence and prompting of the political leadership. In the USA Washington was instrumental in setting the tone of what was expected of an American president. He could have easily chosen to rule as long as he wanted. The other founders who were always constantly bickering amongst each other (sounds familiar isn’t it?) wanted him to lead for ever, probably as a solution to their in fighting. He thought otherwise and handed over power peacefully. The political leadership is key especially in the initial stages before the formation of a strong(er) business class. To suggest otherwise is to put the cart before the horse.

  2. Africa is just an unfortunate continent events that happened in the 17th Century in Europe & America are still happening in Africa now yet the world was created on the same day but some how we have that convenient scapegoat of ” our leaders are the problem”

    Because of winter in Europe and America the citizens there are forced to think hard coz the cold there alone can kill e.g if one has no warm clothing and heating systems in the home they can freeze to death,2ndly they need to plan how to preserve their crops and livestock thats why incidences of famine are unheard of instead they donate food to Africa yet most of its parts have relatively good climate.

    When the Chinese come to Africa they really salivate coz of the abundance of redundant resources.

    Africa is trapped by the views of international activists and NGO on issues of climate change and environmental concerns.There is no way Europe would have developed if these concerns were raised during their time of industrial revolution that’s why industries were established in peace .Back in Africa international activities must have a say in every project. of recent ,the Chinese were being condemned for sand mining yet i see Ugandans extracting the same sand from the lake for construction one wonders why its ok for Ugandans to mine sand and its a crime for the Chinese to do the same 2ndly fish is from water bodies doesn’t that also affect the “environment”

  3. 1. When govt heard of the death of Kaweesi they were trembling with rage; every horror had its definition. if the assassins wanted to hurt ugandans they really did. Those who killed Kaweesi should know that the Justice of the church is not a mockery.
    2. The way Kaweesi was killed showed the dangerous power of the assasins.
    3.The assasins panicked when they 1st shot Kaweesi’s semi bullet proof car (Coz the front and behind screens did not break)so they thought they had been trapped thats why they acted that way 2ndly, The person who shot Kaweesi had unresolved issues with him coz a trained assasin will hit you once and take off once he has confirmed that you are dead but it appears that the guy who killed Kawessi did it while saying some words otherwise why spray all those bullets?

    4.If Govt ordered FBI to investigate his death they would 1st begin with his friends,workmates and business associates.they can be trailled espacially if one all over a sudden is seen with huge sums of money.

    5. Since purchasing bullet proof cars is costly,All top ugandans should at least have a camera installed in their cars.

    6. i dont like it;There are no secrets in the intelligence unit any more back then, the Luo and Baganda were the top intelligence officers then they can be trusted with secrets not our brothers from western Ugandan 2ndly intelligence is the best avenue for generating wealth once misused.
    7. I strongly believe that Kaweesi’s death is linked to ivory deals and drug dealers who were netted of recent Kayihura should immediately follow up this up.

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