By Ing. Yayah A.B. Coneh
The inability of African leaders to translate the euphoria and optimism, which followed the immediate post-independence period into concrete socio-economic development, has been fundamentally attributed to a crisis of leadership.
Post-colonial Africa has witnessed the emergence of a myriad of leaders, who have had a more devastating impact on its socio-economic, cultural and political futures. The continent has long been saddled with poor leadership accompanied by a host of economic illiterates, who have made it lag behind enormously alongside its European and North American counterparts in defining its developmental trajectory.
It has been concluded that the main reason why Africa’s people are inflicted by acute poverty is because their leaders have made this choice. Poor leadership, accompanied by poor policy choices, has been at the heart of the African continent’s deeply-entrenched malaise.
It has been anticipated that a continent where most of its countries stumbled into independence over 60 years ago must now be able to perform optimally in order to fully realize its economic potential.
Some questions that readily come to mind are why had Africa failed to adopt the policies for growth that had proved successful in other parts of the developing world? In an attempt to respond to this question, some scholars have argued that no amount of money will ‘transform and fix’ African states if their leaders continue to make the wrong development choices.
The refusal of most African leaders to surrender power reflects a problem that is deeply rooted in how people conceive of power itself.
Indeed, rather than seeing politics as a public service, it has become an avenue for personal enrichment wherein careers that are absent in other sectors of the economy are being built and solidified therein.
It is quite lamentable to state here that many democratic institutions in Africa are dysfunctional, or ignored altogether. Equally, most political leaders in Africa only feel safe and secured when they still wield the reigns of governance, not the reverse when the power base shifts and a new government comes into existence.
Some African political leaders view their God-given nations as their personal property, to be toyed with as and whenever the need arises.
In developed countries, private citizens and entrepreneurs are generally the best paid. This is quite the reverse in black Africa where politicians are mostly the best paid, as is evident in countries like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, to name but just a few. No wonder therefore that most people of some enviable standing in the African society always want to trod upon the corridors of power and become addicted to it simply because of the enormous benefits and remuneration that go with it.
There is virtually no need to ask if African leaders are addicted to power. Attempting to ask such a question is synonymous to asking if the sun will rise tomorrow, or if babies love their mother’s breast milk. The answer to this, undoubtedly, will always be in the affirmative- a resounding ‘Yes’.
Indeed, African leaders are always obsessed with power; they are totally addicted to it. Most of them, in fact, have viewed the presidency as a lifetime profession, which a father bequeaths to his son, such that they end up positioning their sons as the only viable successor to the throne.
Sadly, it is only in Africa and a handful of other developing countries around the globe that leaders remain in power for life. Many of them ascend to it by rigging elections and stay there indefinitely.
The majority of them never get there on merit basis. There are cases of those who attain power through armed rebellion. It has become common phenomenon for some to propose constitutional amendments that allow them to run for a third term after serving their maximum two-four or five year terms, as dictated by the constitutions of their various countries.
The moment they succeed in manipulating with the constitution and cling to power, they start suppressing the opposition. They succeed in surrounding themselves with a bunch of cheap opportunists who would do anything in order to please their masters. Eventually, they end up getting a heterogeneous mixture of thieves and looters within the system who would hold the whole country to ransom. Every effort of theirs would then be geared towards the gratification of their selfish desires.
It may even sound ridiculous to point out here that the so-called Western Powers like to go into shady deals with some of these despots, especially when they know that they can profitably tap from the abundant mineral wealth, or the like, possessed by their countries of origin.
It is a shame that these same Western Powers, who call for African countries to be democratic, end up being unable to protect both leaders and countries in periods of crisis. Instead, they subject these leaders to lots of Western pressures as they would want to continue to get cheap economic resources from these former colonies.
Absolute power, they say, corrupts absolutely. So most African leaders deliberately create loopholes to rule with impunity, as a host of government structures on the continent lack checks and balances for purposes of transparency and accountability.
A good proportion of Africans have always asserted that, despite being Africans, it is lamentable to say that development is not coded into the DNA of the average African. Some people of African blood might feel offended by such a statement, but the unfortunate truth is that we will always be like that, except our leaders adopt a complete change of positive mentality in their governance style.
A handful of emerging issues need to be addressed by the electorate in the process of electing their leaders.
Firstly, African democracies need term limits. In most African countries today, there is ambiguity hovering over term limits, and even less clarity and agreement on succession. Term limits are changed on a rolling basis, like what recently transpired in Guinea-Conakry where the constitution was amended to the detriment of other citizens.
Secondly, the continent demands more transparency regarding its leader’s health. Presidential candidates are obliged to disclose their health status before they are vetted and elected to power in more developed democracies. African presidential candidates should not be left behind in this aspect. They should make similar information available.
Lastly, successful democratic transitions should be spelt out such that they require transition processes outlined in the constitution for the comprehension of all stakeholders.
Once these measures are adopted and appropriate safeguards put in place, the risks of administrative paralysis, internal conflicts and instability including political tension, which characterize situations in many African democracies, would have been minimized, if not eliminated altogether.
Ing.Yayah A.B. Conteh is the Director of the Mechanical Services Department (MSD) of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA)
Tel. Nos: 076640364/077718805.