21st century Afri-CAN leadership

OSISA and the African Leadership Centre have just run a course in Lusaka on Leadership and Society. We asked the participants to send us their thoughts

October 29th, 2013

OSISA and the African Leadership Centre have just run a course in Lusaka on Leadership and Society. We asked the participants to send us their thoughts

The 21st Century presents a good opportunity for leadership emergence in Africa. The continent’s vast resources, the unprecedented youth bulge, optimistic economic growth projections, the wide penetration of new ICTs and our increased awareness of the importance of indigenous knowledge are all indications of how the continent can take strides in this century and possible become the leader in growth and development.

But repositioning Africa demands continuous leadership emergence, inter-generational dialogue and critical thinking about how existing challenges can be transformed into opportunities.

And the challenges require true leaders’ ability to utilise the wisdom of the majority rather than the intelligence of the minority – something that questions the fundamentals of our perceptions and the current practice of our democracies. We need to make democracy work for Africans!

Although the existing model of representative democracy (with its foreign roots) is premised on the concept of rule by the majority, for Africa it seems to perpetuate the dictatorship of a minority by creating an elite ruling class, which detaches itself from the rest of its people the moment that it gets elected into power.

But beyond elections, we need to develop leaders and systems that promote participatory democracy, where there is collective visioning and dialogue on what Africa needs and the architecture of how to get there.

It really is time for us to focus on creating leadership at multiple levels, something that we have already identified in African wisdom, as captured in our famous proverb – ‘one finger can't crush lice’.

A leader – no matter how great – cannot single-handedly change situations and as such we need a slight departure from the thinking of the ‘great leader’, the ‘mwalimu, the ‘father’ or the ‘wise old leader’.

Another critical challenge for the continent's leadership is how to create effective succession processes. The dynamism of the world requires us to create opportunities for the emergence of new leaders – to take advantage of changing times.

We also need to depart from current thinking that is fearful of diversity – where different means ‘bad or worse’ – and start to see diversity as one of our strongest characteristics and one that can enhance our collective creativity.

But all these considerations will amount to nothing as long as we continue to perceive leadership as something about ‘them’. More often than not we are critical of political leaders, pointing out all their bad leadership tendencies – but without taking time to look within ourselves for a minute. During the Leadership and Society training by the African Leadership Centre in collaboration with OSISA, one thing came out strongly that leadership starts with us (you dear reader and me).

Africa needs a new generation of leaders who are more focused on making a positive social difference rather than on securing a position of authority. The power of this new generation of leaders will not be their ‘positional power’, instead it will be their power to influence – from wherever they are and in whatever capacity they find themselves.


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