It is pertinent to commence with some critical statistics if we want to be able to adequately understand the juncture that links the leadership issue in Africa with the continent competitive performance as a development issue.
Statistically, Africa is practically absent from the Global Competitiveness Report. And the record shows that it has been absent for several consecutive years. In the 2017-2018 Index, the whole of the continent occupies the “Worst” area of the Competitiveness continuum. In the 137 countries ranked, Africa made its first appearance at number 45 with Mauritus (4.5), then South Africa at number 61 (4.3), Botswana at 63 (4.3), Morocco occupies number 71 (4.2).
While these countries put up some kind of commendable performance, the real story comes from the unfortunate fact that the bulk of Africa occupies the last rung of the Index, including Nigeria at a dismal number 125 with an abysmal score of 3.3. Mozambique brought up the rear, at 135 (only beaten to the last position by Yemen)!
This is just one side of the whole story that I intend to interrogate in this article. The other side of the story is told in another index. This time, it is the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG). While the Global Competitiveness Index measures the drivers of prosperity and productivity, the IIAG monitors governance performance in terms of “the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from their state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.”
And again, the statistics is dismal. For 2017, the IIAG reports that “Africa’s average governance improvement has slowed down…. In the last 5 years, more countries decline than in the last 10 in all the IIAG’s governance categories apart from Safety & Rule of Law.” This governance report produced a startling consequence in terms of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Prize for excellence in African Leadership. Since its inauguration in 2006, the Prize has been awarded only four times (2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014). The Prize Committee could not name any winner in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.
In his 2007 book, Anthony “Lee” Iacocca asked a seminal question as the title of the book: Where Have All the Leaders Gone? Even though the context for that question is the United States, everyone can appreciate the question’s resonance within Africa’s depressing statistical performance in governance terms. Iacocca’s question enables us to generate two significant questions, for the sake of argument. First, is it really the case that Africa is unable to produce a leader with the competence and capacity to make a unique difference to his or her immediate environment, in governance terms? The Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Prize provides one way to answer this question. Or, at a second level, could it be that potential leaders have been held up to a leadership standard that is too strict and unrealistic, given the circumstances that define the African polities? In whatsoever way we look at the issue, the leadership issue defines a most significant dimension of Africa’s development dynamics. Iacocca is right to wonder where all the leaders have gone to. Africa’s leadership deficit is complicated by two factors—one, the thorny issue of political selection and succession (how political leadership is put into office); and two, the critical issue of how these leaders perform when they eventually get to office and began to deploy political power.
Africa’s leadership deficit is measured against the background of Africa’s inability to inaugurate developmental states. These are states that have the capacity readiness to tackle Africa’s debilitating governance and infrastructural impasse. A developmental state is one that has a world class public service that is capacity ready to achieve democratic service delivery that empowers the citizenry. The development challenge of the African developmental state is therefore that of articulating and executing an infrastructure recovery model that has the capacity to open up the economic space for competitiveness in a manner that inevitably reduces the poverty level. Unfortunately, what Africa has, on the contrary, is an infrastructural gap that has debilitated democratic governance and renders it ineffective.
There is always a transformational virtue in benchmarking good practices of those states that have made a turnaround in terms of development and economic growth. The closest to the African experience is Asia, and the miracle of the Asian Tigers. What was it about, say, Singapore that translated it away from the third world into the first world of stupendous economic stability and buoyancy? How, for instance, did Singapore and the others break out of the mold of external dependence to grow into manufacturing powerhouses for the world market in automobile, electronic appliances, computer technology, etc.? There are six iconic comparative structural readjustment frameworks that could be adapted as among the first steps in Africa’s attempt to capacitate her states into developmental ones. All six are foregrounded on the urgent need to look inward into local and indigenous dynamics that take foreign models and paradigms with a pinch of salt in a world of capitalist hegemony.
First, there was a rejection of import substitution for a pursuit of a bold and aggressive export-oriented development strategy. The second, and corollary, development framework is the discipline that export strategy imposes on the cultivation of local consumption and local industries in a way that enable steady growth. Third, this cultivation of local consumption is geared towards the improvement of national productivity. This therefore makes it necessary to invest aggressively in education and training that inevitably leads to increase in per capita productivity in the national economy. Fourth, a corollary of this investment in training and education has to do with investments in research and development (R&D). Developmental states are states that immediately see the significance of industrialization as the marker of progress. And this requires a dynamical relationship, for instance, between industries and higher education that enables action research to fuel industrial breakthroughs which in turn become research projects. Fifth, developmental states cannot afford to become profligate with national finance. This automatically calls attention to transparency and accountability in the management of the national account. A by-product of this is the setting up of a solid anti-corruption strategies and structures that can bark and bite! Lastly, and most significantly, developmental states take their public service institutions seriously in terms of reforming them into becoming world class performance structures operating on meritocracy and competency-based human resource management.
However, the success of any developmental state depends on the cultivation of a realistic understanding of leadership. Indeed, it is the leadership of such a state that facilitates the harnessing of disparate and composite factors that are transformed into developmental strategies and economic growth.
But when adequately interrogated, the idea of leadership goes beyond its orthodox understanding as a single person that magically makes all things possible. As has become so obvious everywhere, there are so many factors that make governing very difficult for a single leader. But, on the other hand, there are so many others that facilitate success. This is essentially what the new understanding of governance, as opposed to government, has introduced to politics. The idea of government is founded on a group of (s)elected people handling the entire dynamics of governing the people. Once it becomes clear that the governance expectations of the citizens have increased (since the people themselves have become more politically sophisticated), and that government is not the only governance player interested in the well-being of the citizens, it became immediately necessary to expand the governance space.
The implication of this enlarged space is so that the service delivery functions can be shared with legitimate governance actors like the private sector, individuals, civil society and voluntary organisations. However capable the elite administrative corps of policy advisers may be, they are bound to share expertise with a range of subject specialists, think tanks, policy networks, and research-enabled interest groups which also have a strategic role to play within the governance space the government is attempting to define through policy and regulation. This collaboration stimulates an institutional form of networking for imbuing policy with the energy required to give it direction and values. This enlarged governance space automatically restructure the policy management, regulatory and service functions of the government. What is then required of the government is the aggregation and articulation the demands of the citizenry as well as providing the fund for financing the public goods.
This proposal for performance and a radically improved dynamics of economic competitiveness on a global scale calls for the invention of a new understanding of leadership in Africa. The type of leaders Africa needs are those who are motivated by passion, professionalism, vision, commitment and intellection to shun tribal sentiments and personal aggrandizement in order to dig deep into the peculiarities of the African context as the needed motivation to transform it. For these new corps of leaders, both political and bureaucratic, it will not be sufficient to just sit down and lament Africa’s underdevelopment. On the contrary, what will be required will be a studied measurement of the limited progress that Africa has made in economic and political terms as the platform to distill a new ideological framework infused by a local agenda of development. It becomes an imperative first step for this new leadership to confront the neoliberal ideology, represented by the pernicious Washington Consensus, which has placed a limitation of Africa’s development possibilities for far too long.
It becomes significant at this level to return to the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG). This Index, compared to the Global Competitiveness Index, serves an immediately crucial purpose. It stands as an intermediate standard by which African economies and leadership can be assessed within a context of African political economy with its own unique challenges and successes. As things stand with the failure to produce a distinguished leader worthy of the Leadership Prize, this becomes a daunting expectation, but it is not insurmountable. On the one hand, the IIAG benchmarks African governance dynamics around critical issues of infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, health and primary education, higher education training, good market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market sophistication, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication, and innovation. And this is where the existing continental monitoring institutions like NEPAD and APRM become significant partners in Africa’s economic recovery and competitiveness.
Leadership may be a universal issue that draws Africa and African states into a global benchmark of what is required of any leader in terms of governance and economic competitiveness. But then, and most essentially, leadership is context-bound. We assess a leader based on his or her capacity to redefine a specific context. Africa is such a context, and if an African leader fails or succeed, let it be according to how we perceive our environment and what we want it to be in terms of development and democratic governance.