Development in Africa has over the years, been ridden with several setbacks despite the natural resources available. While several factors have been raised to be mitigating factors hindering its smooth growth and development, it is bothersome that leadership crisis and followership failure remain top of the list of these identified factors.
Africa’s development has defied several strategies, a precarious situation that has left us at the mercy of foreign aid and world sympathy. As attempts are made to redeem our image, it becomes imperative that leaders and followers stand up to their responsibilities if any significant development is to be achieved.
According to the World Bank, the opportunities in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa are vast, despite its persistent challenges. Africa, which is home to the world’s largest free trade area and a 1.2 billion-person market, the continent has been projected to create an entirely new development path harnessing the potential of its resources and people.
However, whether this projection can be actualised remains a question on the lips of everyone, considering her political willingness and skill in pursuing sustainable development. In the recently concluded African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, the slow pace of development in Africa was traced to the unending violence in several parts of Africa.
The African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, asserted that “violence has derailed the gains made through the years, and rampant conflict and emerging crises have dictated that it is imperative to amplify efforts in achieving and sustaining peace.”
For Africa to move forward, there is a need to create more robust mechanisms linking food security and nutrition to peace and security. “Our destiny must be taken into our hands to create more opportunities and robust economies.” The AU Summit’s theme, “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development,” further establishes that violence remains a striking factor against the development of Africa.
While it is justifiable to blame our leaders for the slow pace of development, it has also become imperative for Africa to re-examine the role of its citizenry in its scheme of governance. We all have a mutual role to play if our desired targets are to be met. Silencing the guns would not be offered to us on a platter of gold, but a collaborative effort is all that is required to pave the way for development.
As of 2019, the World Bank reported that “several challenges remain and are holding back the progress of Africa.” “Public debt levels and debt risk are rising, which might jeopardise debt sustainability in some countries; the availability of good jobs has not kept pace with the number of entrants in the labour force; fragility is costing the subcontinent a half of a percentage point of growth per year; gender gaps persist and are keeping the continent from reaching its full growth and innovation potential; and 416 million Africans still live in extreme poverty.”
These troubling statistics show that Africa must be on the right track to attaining sustainable development in all sectors. The African Development Bank Group, in its 2020 African Economic Outlook, acknowledged the “slow” progress in recent decades but also insisted that “Africa still lags behind other developing regions in education and skill development.”
It was advised that policy actions taken by leaders include measures to improve both the quantity and the quality of education and align education policy with labour market needs, a move that requires expanding access to schools in remote areas, increasing incentives to invest in education, developing a demand-driven education system that caters to employers’ needs, investing in nutrition to help poorer children, and building STEM and ICT capacity.
Should we blame the leaders?
Corruption on the part of our leaders has been identified as a vital factor that has hindered development in Africa. This is because many of our leaders have been alleged to have always taken advantage of their powers to divert and embezzle funds, even amid the daunting challenges faced by the continent.
Whitlaw Mugwiji, in a publication online, revealed that “our leaders have created the “personal rule paradigm,” where they treat their offices as a form of personal property and a source of private gain.” “They openly appoint under-qualified and even incompetent personnel in key positions at state-owned institutions and government departments, while building patronage and at the same time undermining development.”
Transparency International reports that Africa is the world’s second fastest-growing region, yet 100 million more Africans live in extreme poverty today compared to the 1990s. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is home to the largest share of people living in extreme poverty.
Corruption continues to harm efforts to bring people out of poverty. In recent years, many national governments and the African Union have declared the fight against corruption their priority. Still, in contrast to political commitments, more than half of all citizens think corruption is getting worse in their country and their government is doing a poor job tackling corruption, according to the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB)—Africa.
It was also revealed that African countries are losing at least US$50 billion annually to illicit financial flows. Even though this money could have been used to fund initiatives and public services that improve the lives of African citizens, it has instead been funnelled abroad using offshore financial structures, often with the help of complicit or negligent banks, lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents.
In an online report by the World Economic Forum, Sam Adeyemi asserted that “incompetence in leadership in most African countries is not only the problem of people who occupy positions in government; it is a reflection of the leadership culture.” We’ve had different leaders with the same results for decades.
Cultivating leaders with exceptional character and skills is critical to Africa’s development. And Africa’s development partners should recognise that it is too late to teach someone who occupies a high position in government how to lead during side talks at global events. They should also bear in mind that there has to be alignment between the sense of identity of the leader and that of the followers for leadership to work.
Or the followers?
While it is easy to lay the blame at the feet of our leaders, followership failure remains a perennially problematic issue in several African countries. Unfortunately, government leaders are not held responsible for their actions and inactions. Selective criticism of failure remains the order of the day, especially when it involves people of interest.
Objectivity is a “long-forgotten” word in the dictionaries of African citizens. We are easily divided along ethnic and religious lines, a tactic our leaders have used several times to distract our sense of reason. Our blind loyalty to any cause that benefits us has hindered us from seeing the larger picture of development.
We are quick to make unfounded judgments, especially when decisions do not go our way, and our indifference to political issues has been duly exploited by our “wise” leaders. While it is easier to hurl stones and insults from the comfort of our homes, it is also imperative that we do all we can to rescue Africa’s development from the hands of its abductors. The development would only be attainable if we rose to our responsibilities and challenge the status quo.
However, until we all (leaders and followers) understand our role in the governance scheme, we will continue to wallow in the wilderness of nowhere. It is not the time to assign blame but rather to reflect and act accordingly. The journey to development will not be easy, but with conscious effort, we can be assured of a safe landing.