Africa’s leadership: short-termism – our bane, our cross to bear? [Column]


South Africa is in turmoil, raging fires have engulfed Africa’s most advanced economy. All thanks to the ruling ANC’s blundering leadership and failure to read the modern economy. As if that’s not enough, the country’s scandal-prone leader, President Jacob Zuma, seems to be working overtime to ensure nothing remains of the State when he vacates office in 2019.It’s like watching a train wreck – in slow motion. You know the point of impact will be catastrophic and probably result in loss of many lives. It’s gut- wrenchingly awful to watch as society descends into madness and desperation. The ANC is clearly out-depth on running a 21st-century state and has hit the self-destruct button. Who will save the ANC, from itself? Deja vu.


The plethora of crises unfolding in South Africa today are not the subject of this piece but they provide the necessary scaffolding, needed to build a case, to challenge the current leadership in Africa to some deep introspection, soul-searching. The corrosive leadership of President Jacob Zuma has reached a point where every forward-thinking individual, with the futures of the continent at heart, should get worried and act before the inferno obliterates what was to be the continent’s anchor, leader.

The current leadership’s agenda now seems firmly set on stealing South Africa in order to make a present of it to South Africa. Nothing new there. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe long captured the State and it remains to be seen when and how he decides to deliver what used to be a jewel to the Zimbabwean people. What makes South Africa’s case unique are not just the vast numbers involved – with a migrant population of over 4 million sending remittances all over the continent – but the loud silence of the region’s elders to save what remains of the industrial behemoth. The ones who ‘have seen it all’. It’s an all-too-familiar story, innit? It’s no longer about the students at Wits University or the poor of Soweto who formed long, winding lines on 27 April 1994 to vote in anticipation of liberation from decades of economic marginalization. It is about Africa, her future. It’s an epochal moment, an opportunity.

The University today, the mine tomorrow

The running battles playing out at University campuses across South Africa represent more than just a bunch of poor students suffocating in their country of birth, 22 years after independence. They symbolize a game-changing moment of a society that has reached its nadir – a process that accelerated on 3rd of August 03 after the electorate sent a clear message of disapproval to the ANC. In most functioning states that would have been enough for any self-respecting leader to tender in his resignation the morning after. This, we now know, did not happen. We also now know that, in brazen fashion, the state president went on to reappoint some dodgy characters to lead critical stage enterprises.

We also now know that, without deep structural changes to the economy – which the current leadership neither has the will nor wherewithal to implement – free education will remain a pipe dream South Africa’s poor. Cuts will have to be made somewhere to raise the estimated R71- billion needed subsidize tertiary education. The protesting students know this fully well but the anger is no longer just confined to the campus. The deep-seated anger for the unemployed brother, the struggling family that’s struggling to make-ends-meet while a few elite skim the cream off the economy is beginning to emerge. In the near-term – because of a host of challenges – chief among them, a declining economy that has not diversified in tandem with the changing global economy, the protests will get more frequent and dangerous if tough action is not taken now, namely, the resignation of Jacob Zuma. Enough.

Of Mars and the missing leader

Last week, one global leader – with less than 100 days left in office – was announcing his nation’s plan to partner with the private sector and send humans to Mars by the end of the next decade. The ambitious plan of sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time was announced at about the same time one other country was looking for its President who ‘disappeared’  just after delivering his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 20th.For one month no one knew of his whereabouts, until the government was forced to release a statement that the President was, ‘enjoying very robust health’ and would return within a few days. It would be no big deal if the latter country, Malawi, was not facing its largest humanitarian catastrophe where a devastating drought threatens the lives of 6.5 million people. How bad can it get?

To be clear, this is not a self-loathing piece meant to induce tears and sympathies for poor Africa. Volumes have ventured into that territory and it will not be helpful to readers to delve into challenges facing Africa. In any case, no society is without its ills, malcontents that it would rather not reveal to the world. Just look at the run-up to November 08 and how America wishes this fiasco was over already. It is a reflective opinion of how we arrived at this place and why almost 60 years after independence celebrations reverberated across Accra, and indeed Africa, we still have major regional economies dependent on copper, minerals of the earth – on the eve of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Short-termism (and not third-termism) in my opinion is the real reason our leaders have let millions down. Short-termism – the tendency to focus one’s attention on immediate gains at the expense of long-term success – is why our leadership has continually negotiated bad deals in global markets and international fora, why Jacob Zuma is working overtime to destroy every institution of the South African state, why Joseph Kabila will not relinquish power even when its abundantly clear his time is up and not many in Lubumbashi will miss him. Short-termism is bad in business, bad in politics, catastrophic in leadership when millions depend on your calls as a leader. You lose a slice of cake tomorrow, for crumbs today.


Young African Leaders Initiative

2001-2008 saw the bulk of African states experiencing massive economic growth rates due to the commodities boom. It was a good time for the political elites as deals were cut left, right and center. Not only was the period a good omen on the economic front, it was also a period of relative peace and calm on the continent. While efforts were made to save and build infrastructure here and there, they pale in comparison to the massive revenue flows that poured in from all corners of the globe. That the majority of our economies remain anchored on ore and metals is a serious indictment on the continent’s leadership.

As debate shifts to the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution where artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, robotics etc. will inevitably shift the global economy from labor-intensive manufacturing to these forms requiring less and less of Africa’s richest asset – human capital – is it not time for us to look beyond the horizon and see what can be done today to enjoy a bigger slice tomorrow? As debate shifts to the possibility of a three-day-working-week in the not too distant future is it not time our leadership focused on what can be done today to avert a worse tomorrow? Studies have shown that Africa’s population growth will be one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in the continent’s history and its population will more than double to 2.4 billion within a few decades. Nigeria, about the size of Texas, will be host to a half-a-billion people by the end of the next two decades at current rates.

Which is why the situation in South Africa presents us with a fantastic opportunity as citizens of the continent to say enough is enough. It’s an opportunity for students across the continent to rally behind their South African counterparts. It’s an opportunity to bring pressure to bear upon the African Union. It’s an opportunity for us to find common cause in the belief that Africa deserves better leadership than we have at the moment, and that we demand clean, transparent and accountable government that has the best interests of citizens at heart. The Carlos Lopes, Donald Kaberukas, Strive Masiyiwas, the Sipho Pityanas are speaking up but they will need active citizenry support across all sectors. It cannot be business-as-usual for Africa. We cannot afford it.

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