Since the wave of independence in the 1960s, Africa has consistently experienced serious development challenges. In this moment, as we face COVID-19, our structural deficiencies are flagrant. Faced with a disease that requires people to wash hands regularly, we must admit the fact that 40% of our population does not have access to running water. Confronted with the need to provide emergency services to millions, we must come to terms with our wholly inadequate healthcare systems.
In this moment when the population needs reassurance and encouragement to face extremely difficult choices, some African heads of state are on the frontline demonstrating vision, strategy, persuasion, communication as they build self-confidence, trust and ethical behavior in their people. Sadly, the majority are not.
Crisis, by definition, demands leadership. So, this moment of crisis, is as good a time as any to take a hard look at the fundamentals for African leadership on our continent, in our countries and in our companies.
To the question “Is there African leadership?” STRATEGIES!’s answer has, of course, always been a resounding “Yes!”. The reality of African leadership can be verified over centuries and is represented through countless figures including:
Leadership is contextual and must be tailored to the specific elements of each society.
For African leadership to solve contemporary problems of governance, security, youth employment, education, etc., it is important to anchor it in:
- African culture: African thought and philosophy that has captured leadership theory as seen in Adinkra symbols, ubuntu philosophy, etc.
- African history and the leadership exercised during great historical events such as the ancient empires of Zaria, Ghana, Songhai, etc. as well in modern day companies and institutions.
- African creativity and innovation: In African cities and rural areas a large number of individuals are already developing solutions to African problems. They are building companies, creating technology, developing approaches that are often unknown even in their own countries. Leadership must be anchored in this pool of innovators and creators to succeed.
- The diversity of African societies. From its people to its social and economic environments, Africa is one of the most diverse continents on the globe. Leadership for today must draw lessons from the leadership that has been exercised with this wide variety of people and in this wide variety of contexts.
Strengthening leadership in Africa, therefore, requires knowledge of African leadership as it has been exercised at different moments in African history and in its wide variety of settings.
Nelson Mandela said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
African leadership to meet the challenges of today
Even as the African continent continues to face unique and complex challenges, it is unquestionable that each of these challenges also represents an opportunity. The inexistence and/or weakness of governance systems in Africa also means that there is opportunity to build systems almost from scratch taking into account key factors in our modern environment that can enable the continent to leapfrog. It is possible on this continent to build systems that take into account elements such as:
- Climate change
- Diversity and Inclusiveness
from their very inception.
The current moment in African history, requires leaders who are well anchored in their continent, who know their continent’s history, and culture, are aware of the contemporary creators and innovators in their environment, understand the complexity of African challenges yet still have the pulse on global trends and advances which provide opportunities for Africa to develop extraordinary solutions to its challenges. This moment requires leaders who are anchored in Africa’s past, yet are active in contemporary environments where solutions are being developed from within and without the continent.
For STRATEGIES! it means that the leaders who are capable of managing teams that will provide solutions to the continent’s challenges on the scale of potable water, electricity, education and healthcare for hundreds of millions, must be truly African in their understanding of history and context, yet connected to the rest of the world and able to identify the knowledge, skills and opportunities within the continent and across the globe that will enable rapid, durable solutions to African problems on scale. This is leadership that is resolutely turned towards the future to find solutions from Africa’s unique perspective and integrating its unique contribution to the world.
If these are the types of leader we need, then how do we build them? – STRATEGIES! approach to African leadership development
At STRATEGIES! African leadership development has several key components:
- First, we affirm that leadership, good and great leadership is African and we enable participants during training sessions to learn more about both historical and contemporary African leaders, taking a close look at their style, their fundamental principles as well as the strategies and tactics they deploy.
- Second, in African leadership training, STRATEGIES! insists on the absolute necessity of evidence-based analysis to develop vision, strategies, and tactics. This means using research, data, and analysis to obtain objective understandings of situations. It also means identifying both micro and macro trends within countries, regions, on the continent and within specific sectors of focus.
- Third, learning from the African and the global experience. This means learning from how others have addressed these problems in other African countries and at the global level, drawing from the experience of others and adapting to define contextually adapted solutions.
- Fourth, at STRATEGIES!, leaders are taught participation as a principle as well as a wide variety of methods and approaches to ensure participation within teams. Leaders are taught to use collective intelligence and diversity as a competitive advantage.
- Fifth, in the STRATEGIES! approach, there is a focus on management and implementation systems. It is not sufficient to develop a vision or strategy. Good leadership ensures that strategic and operational plans are developed; that human, financial, technological resources are mobilized and managed to achieve results. Finally, systems must be put in place to measure, monitor and evaluate the results that are being obtained.
- Finally, and most importantly, STRATEGIES! emphasizes on the fact that good leaders build other leaders and teams. Leadership is about building people; enabling them develop new skills, new abilities, self-confidence, decision-making capabilities, ability to motivate and discipline themselves and others, ability to gather and analyze information to develop sustainable solutions in increasingly complex and challenging environments.
At STRATEGIES! we believe the measure of a leader is the number of other leaders s/he has built.
What does Africa’s leadership of today and tomorrow look like?
The leadership Africa is building today and what it’s leadership will look like tomorrow is:
- Young, tapping into the 425 million-strong workforce of the world’s youngest continent.
- Female as well as male, drawing on Africa’s history and tradition of strong female roles in leadership and management; building on the education and training of today’s young women, the continent has the ability to achieve parity in its leadership.
- Diverse, in terms of ethnicity, culture, religion, socio-economic category, etc. as well as inclusive of people who have traditionally been marginalized on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender or because they live with a disability.
Africa will only succeed when its rich diversity is equitably represented in its leadership.
African leadership of today and tomorrow should resemble the African continent.
It is this vision and approach of developing African leadership that STRATEGIES! makes available to private and public institutions working for the development of Africa.
By STRATEGIES! Team, led By Vanessa TCHINDJE , Consultant.