This article traces the triumphant, treacherous and turbulent tale of leadership in Africa through centuries past to the present day and creates a foundation for the development of leaders and the practice of leadership into the 21st Century.
For a thousand years Africa existed in harmony with the rest of the Earth. Each continent content in relative isolation managed its own affairs as best as each knew how. Africa was a kingdom of communities where culture was the instrument of government and goevrnance. Village setups provided essential infrastructure for social organization. Communities were bound and bonded by common heritage, history and homage. In these circumstances leadership facilitated the common good and regulated social interaction, justice and peace managed through communal objectives, events and activities. Though survival may have been an occupying engagement there is plenty of evidence to show that industry, mathematics, architecture, enterprise, education and innovation were not neglected.
Africa was first a nation of communities and it would take another thousand years to make the transition to a community of nations. In the beginning the intricate web of race, relatives & respect made up the core of social order and organization. Strong community bonds ensured that interaction between communities was minimal, as kingdoms remained essentially ethnic. Though leaders in each community were chosen by different systems, leadership remained a social function. In a closed cultural system there is a practical and direct relationship between age, experience and therefore wisdom. Leadership was a developmental function often marked by initiation or certification rites and graduation through social ranks. However, while culture thrives in isolation it becomes open to question when compared to other cultures or is removed from its “home” context.
What is not commonly appreciated is that culture is a creation and tool of leadership. It is a condition of organization that can be addressed. It can be both learned and communicated. It is not a permanent feature of people and organization it is a created or formed element of organization. It can therefore be influenced and directed by leadership.
All this was to change forever at the turn of the first millennium. Three intrusions would distort the face of Africa and disperse the kingdoms therein: Slave Trade, Global religions and Colonialism. In between would flow the exploitative trader. Africa was dragged into the global arena through the humiliating door of slavery. This trade de-capacitated leadership development across the continent and exported its leadership potential. The capacity to organize the kind of resistance necessary to put an end to this evil was disjointed. As slave trade in earnest was winding up leadership in Africa was sent reeling from the effects of global religious campaigns that swept and crept across the North, East and Southern mainland. Before leadership in Africa could prepare a frame of reference to address this new incursion in came the colonialists who formalized their stay by carving out geographical boundaries to bring multiple indigenous communities under one government for the first time in history.
1900…the turning point
The turn of the 19th century marked an intensification of leadership activity in Africa. Leadership in Africa had now come into contact with the wider world and was now facing a dilemma as to how to associate with it. The fact that Africa suffered perhaps irreparably from its misadventure on the world stage up until 1900 is recorded history. The leadership loss incurred through the slave trade may never be quantified; neither will the cost of setbacks to the preparation of Africa to participate effectively in world affairs ever be determined. One could say that this misadventure continued well into the 20th century. However, this was to be so with some major differences.
Much as the slave trade threw leadership out of its cultural cocoons, it also opened leadership’s eyes to its neighbors and friends. The carving up of Africa introduced the continent to matters of globalization, governance, administration corporate institutions and bureaucracy. Kingdoms began to establish networks, communication structures and cooperation strategies. Leadership in Africa moved from isolation to consolidation of its capacity. The seeds of national leadership were planted in association, cooperation, education and organization. Leadership in Africa began to use informal order to organize resistance and outright rebellion with rising success. During this time leadership in Africa entered a period of intense development on a scale not witnessed before outside the cultural context. Politics presented the platform for new leadership in Africa.
Many of these movements were led by the formally educated in society at the time. This is probably why later leadership in Africa was strongly associated with formal education. It was believed that education would empower one to understand the colonial structures and systems and return power to the people. The goal was therefore to take over the existing administration. This could be achieved through a popular informal movement disrupting colonial governance. And so Africa launched its first corporate effort to self-determination under the banner of political leadership. Political leaders harnessed the support of people power, available in ethnic blocks, into the freedom struggle. They took power from the colonialist who had so far succeeded in keeping them divided. This strategy much as it was successful in deposing the colonialist has cost Africa dearly in nationhood - the ghost of ethnicity refused to go away.
Political leadership is still considered as leadership in many different spheres of Africa’s existence today. Politics pervades leadership in business, social life, science, education almost everything is politicized where leadership is required. But leadership is not politics and politics is not leadership. Leadership influences the quality of politics. In fact leadership influences the quality of any endeavor. Events of the last 50 years have shown that though politics is a powerful force in informal organization, it is often inadequate to drive development in formal environments. Africa needs to develop other forms of leadership to drive its development agenda in the 21st century. Institutional leaders need to be visionary and transformational change agents who give balance, support and substructure to development and growth initiatives across the continent. Nonetheless leaders also need to learn how to manage the new forms of institutions that regulate social interaction outside cultural frames such as schools, banks and business institutions that provide social services at a fee. The social template of mass education (schools, universities); mass healing (hospitals); mass money lenders (banks) … are all foreign. Thus leadership in Africa did not go through a ‘natural’ transformation process to prepare them to handle leadership of modern social institutions.
LEADERSHIP IN AFRICA
Leadership development in Africa was a corporate social responsibility. While social leadership positions existed leadership was a social duty. In other words Leadership is the sum total shared responsibility of all those in authority and control of institutional resources or charged with organizational responsibility to achieve corporate goals. A group of people beyond an individual leader was charged with leadership responsibility. This approach to leadership extends the responsibility of achievement beyond the leader to the team. Alongside the modern requirements of vision, teamwork and technical competencies this approach needs two important ingredients to success; EXPRESSION and PARTICIPATION. These two ingredients draw on the strength of engagement and irrepressible spirit of the people to participate in social and economic affairs. Leaders in the 21st century will need to use more inclusive strategies to harness this vibrant social energy.
Source: Thinking Leadership in Africa
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