The Leadership for the “Africa We Want”

As the African continent developed and people got more educated on various areas of knowledge, Africans quickly realized that they had to stand on their own feet, develop their own economies, engage into intracontinental trade,  and come up with an African based model of development. It is believed that those strategies have the potential to empower African economies, reduce dependency and help them to fulfill their Pan African Vision of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”

With that in mind, African leaders have come up with a variety of strategies, both long and short-termed. One of the most important of them is Agenda 2063, which, according to the African Union (AU), has been adopted “as the basis for Africa’s long term socio-economic and integrative transformation”. 

Additionally, in trying to achieve the “Africa We Want,” the AU has promoted the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). In fact, as I write this, Nigeria and Benin have just signed the agreement, leaving Eritrea as a sole outsider. Among other things, the AfCFTA has established the largest free trade area in the world since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995. As the Council on Foreign Affairs has suggested, the “AfCFTA will cover more than 1.2 billion people and over $3 trillion in GDP”. Following the Gambian ratification, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) officially went into force on May 30, 2019. 

African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters)

While the AfCFTA and Agenda 2063 have the potential to offer an array of opportunities for sustainable development and economic growth in Africa, scholars have warned that not all the African countries are expected to benefit equally from the free trade agreement. In addition, the United Nations has recommended African countries to “go beyond tariff reduction and include, among other things, improvement of efficiency and connectivity of trade logistics infrastructure, facilitating movement of labour as well as capital, eliminating non-tariff barriers and harmonizing regulatory measures, and promoting the integration of member States to regional and global value chains in Africa.”

According to The Conversation, a not-for-profit media outlet, “It’s estimated that 20,000 highly educated professionals leave the continent annually, with up to 30% of Africa’s scientists among them.” While war and political instability account for the most extreme factors, a significant part of people is leaving the continent in pursuit of “higher pay, better opportunities, and the search for a conducive research environment – one where infrastructure and management help drive careers and research potential,” indicated The Conversation.

Now more than ever, it has become clear that for the African continent to achieve all the goals it has set for itself, Africans need to work on their leadership first. Despite approving the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and promoting the Agenda 2063, the current political leadership in many African countries remains questionable. Recent social unrest and civil conflicts in countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, Angola´s expulsions of Congolese migrants and other issues demonstrated that it is extremely imperative to revise and improve the domestic leadership of each individual African countries, as well as the African Union´s.

Now that we understand that there is a need for leadership change, we remain with the task to respond to some key questions moving forward: what kind of leadership do African countries really need to achieve the “Africa We Want?” How can Africans work more effectively together? Will Western nations allow Africa to gain economic independence? If not, what kind of leadership does Africa need to defend its interests?

Surely, the answers to those questions depend on who is answering them and where that person comes from. However, I dare to say that we need more inclusive and responsible leaders, who demonstrate higher levels of cultural competence, open-mindedness, and innovative mindset to allow for the younger generation to flourish and contribute with their ideas. Additionally, Africa needs leaders who are capable of strongly represent and protect the African interests before international partners and bring the African people together regardless of who they are, what they are, and their economic status. 

“what kind of leadership do African countries really need to achieve the ‘Africa We Want?'”

Africa probably needs more leaders like Fred Swaniker. Considered one of the most influential leaders in Africa, Mr. Swaniker is a Ghanaian entrepreneur and expert in leadership development, who is the chairman and founder of the African Leadership Academy, the founder of African Leadership Network, Global Leadership Adventures, and African Leadership University (ALU). With his projects, Mr. Swaniker brings young people from across Africa and other regions together and uses a unique “individualized, student-focused leadership curriculum” to empower students with “21st-century skills and network that will remain relevant amidst rapid global change”, according to ALU, whose main mission is to build 25 campuses across the continent of Africa and produce 3 million young African leaders by 2060.

For Mr. Swaniker, “there is an indisputable imperative to build a new generation of dynamic leaders with the skills to be effective and with the values to ensure the socio-economic transformation of the continent.” Not only that, to emphasize what was said before, there is also the need of more effective, responsible and visionary leaders, able to make and enforce the right policies to tackle the most complex problems of this age, for example, corruption, nepotism, climate change, poverty, and hunger. 

Although it has become clear that Africa needs revise its leadership if it wants to achieve the goals of the Agenda 2063 of AU, it is also important to acknowledge that some of the current political leaders have been exceptionally good at leading their nations to achieve high levels of human and economic development despite some failures. For example, President Paulo Kagame of Rwanda is, for many, one of the greatest examples of modern African successful political leader.

Considered “one of the greatest leaders of our time” by Bill Clinton and called a “visionary leader” by Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, better known as Tony Blair, President Kagame has not only been working very hard to develop his country Rwanda, but he has also become the prodigy, modern, and visionary leader of Africa. In fact, he has been seen by many as the “face of a new, self-confident, economically vibrant African narrative that buries the passivity and victimhood of the past”, as The Guardian suggested.

As we engage in these kinds of conversations, we present some issues and recommendations, it is always necessary to focus so that we are more effective in finding the correct answers to various of the issues that many African countries are currently facing and prepare them to positively respond to unpredictable challenges.

Even though most of us have a pretty good understanding of why thousands of Africans risk their lives almost every day to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe or other regions, we are yet to understand what concrete actions are being taken by African governments and the civil society to ensure peace and stability, and better standards of living across Africa.

Given the current struggle to develop, should African trust the current leadership to bring about positive answers to issues of today? What are some other ways through which Africans could effectively promote the kind of leadership needed for the “Africa We Want?”

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