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The Kind of Leadership Africa Needs


I want to talk about the kind of leadership we need to transform Africa. I want to look at it from a slightly different perspective. More like context setting first. So which Africa are we talking about today? I will take us back a bit. I have at home two 4-year-old sons. It is amazing what these boys do at home with technology- iPads. They know how to take selfies. They know how to zoom the camera when they want to take a photograph. It is quite amazing what is happening. This is the world we live in today and this is part of the world we are talking about. The kind of leadership we need to take Africa to the next level.

I have my daughters who are in school and every day I interact with them because of technology. We do what is called Facetime. FT technology helps you talk to someone in real time. You see and you speak. Today we talk of instant photos. While I was growing up, polaroid was the closest to being instant but then we all know the problems associated with it.

Traditionally, we had cameras. You take a picture, you develop, you print and spend days before you get the pictures. Right now, it is pictures on the go. It is instant. That’s the world we live in. A lot of technological changes occurring in the world.

Today, I read online that we have 160,000,000 telephone users in Nigeria. A few years ago, we had less than 200,000,000 Nigerians with access to mobile phones. This is the world we are talking about. So, when we talk about leadership in the 21st century or leadership to take Africa to the next level of transformation, we need to remember this context

Today, we have Uber. In fact, Uber as a company does not own their own cars but they control the biggest fleet of cars on earth. That is what is happening in the world we live in today.

Some years back, I was a branch Manager in Port Harcourt, Nigeria where I interacted with customers and their requirements. To send messages to the headquarters would take 2-3 working days. Today, you are in NY and you want feedback from someone in Lagos or Kampala, you can get it immediately. That is the world we live in today. So, when we talk about leadership in this kind of world, we need to keep all of this in view and in mind.

Let’s look at the education sector. When I was growing up, people were proud of attending local universities. In Nigeria at the time, if you went to a Nigerian University, you were seen as very intelligent and those who went abroad were seen as those who could not get admission to go to local universities. The Africa we live in today, it is more fashionable to school abroad and not just about being fashionable, you actually get better content when you school abroad. That is the Africa we live in today. That is the setting in Africa today.

If we look at the health sector, life expectancy in Africa before was 47 years. Today, it is over 70 and in fact inching towards 80. So, in that area, things are changing. We have a lot more people being born in Africa today than before and at the same time fewer people dying in Africa today. So, we have more in terms of population. How are we planning for this in Africa?

Let’s look at our society today, out of about 1.25 billion Africans, about 720 million are under the age of 30 in Africa. How are we planning for this population explosion in Africa? Keep in view that more people are being born every day and fewer people are dying.

There is a lot of youth unemployment issues in Africa today. Joblessness is an issue for us in in Africa today. Extremism has become a major issue in Africa. Growing up, we knew about pressure groups and Government respected these pressure groups but in most societies today, we hardly have pressure groups again.

What about the economy? A lot has happened. We have growth today but we are told that the growth is not inclusive. We have more poverty around us today in Africa. This is the Africa we are talking about and asking ourselves, what kind of leadership do we have today?

We have inequality. The poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer. That’s the truth. Even though, we do not have to criminalise wealth. We need to support the rise of the private sector because there in comes the ability for the economy to create employment and address some of the issues and challenges we have.

The middle class in Africa is almost gone in most societies. You have the rich and the poor. So, when we talk about the kind of leadership that we need for this kind of setting, it should be a long soul-searching exercise.

Leadership is not just about the public sector, presidents, state governors or provisional leaders. Leadership also includes people in the private sector, civil society, churches, traditional leaders and so on. Leadership is all encompassing.

Leadership should not be about heaping blames on one sector. We need to take a collective responsibility to do something about this. This is the reason I propounded the philosophy of Africapitalism which is a call on the private sector and development partners that we have a role to play in our continent and we need to play this role by investing so we can create employment and prosperity in a manner that will help to alleviate or address some of the problems we have in the society today.

This is also one of the reasons why at the Tony Elumelu Foundation, we decided to set out some money to support young Africans. We realised that we all have a role to play in shaping the kind of leadership we need as a continent and also in making sure that we work together to fulfil the common aspiration of all in this century to have a better African society.

I believe that the leaders we need in Africa today are leaders who care about humanity. We need leaders who are interested and genuinely committed to leaving the society better than they met it. We need leaders who understand and care about legacy. We need leaders who are genuinely committed and care about the future of Africa.

We need leaders who realise and know when there is need to speak up because evil prevails when good men look the other way or keep quiet. Those are the kind of leaders we need in the private and public sector to create the future we need for Africa.

We need leaders who realise that poverty anywhere is a threat to mankind everywhere. So even if there is so much food at home and your neighbour is hungry, you might not live in peace. We need leaders who understand this because these are values and things that will make leaders want to go the extra length and mile in trying to shape a better society.

We need leaders who know that true wealth is not what you have in your bank account or assets accumulated for self and family only. We need leaders who understand that true wealth is the investment made in others. We need leaders who value lives. Every life is as important as one’s life. This will help us in transforming Africa. It is simple but very profound.

We need leaders who embrace inclusive growth. If the wealth we have is not inclusive, if the prosperity we have is just for family and self, it will not help us create the society we need.

Young Africans are very energetic, enterprising, entrepreneurial and hardworking. They want to succeed, they want to make a difference but the point has always been, “what environment do they have to operate in? What support do they get from all classes of leader- private and public?”

Until and unless we begin to prioritise these young ones, it will be a problem for all of us in Africa. The joblessness we have in Africa can’t be fixed by government alone. Government does not create the kind of employment we need to put the 720 million plus people. Every year, over 80 million people come into the job market in Africa. How are we prepared for this? Government needs to create the right environment and people who are also endowed in Africa including development partners in Africa must work together in the 21st century to intervene in a manner that is different.

That is why we embrace entrepreneurship. That is why the Tony Elumelu Foundation calls on partners and others to team up to create more entrepreneurs in Africa. That way, we democratise prosperity on the continent. That way, we are able to create employment.

When the President of France visited Lagos last year, he said that if Steve Jobs were African, possibly, he might have died with all his ideas if the right environment was not there. How many Steve Jobs do we have among us in Africa? How many Bill Gates do we have? What opportunities are we creating for these young Africans to actualise their dreams, their creativity, their ingenuity, their ideas. This is critical in deciding or choosing or taking about the leadership we need in the 21st century to transform Africa.

We need leaders that realise that no one but us will develop our continent. We need a new mindset. We need leaders to begin to realise that there is no sense of entitlement again- that people colonised us. Therefore, they must also come to make us good. We have to do this ourselves. We need leaders who understand that in the 21st century, it is not right that we do not have appreciable access to electricity in Africa.

There are things leaders who believe in legacy should tell themselves. As a private sector leader, what am I doing in these critical areas that will face challenges in Africa? Number one being access to electricity. Almost 60% of our people do not have access to electricity in Africa. What kind of life are we living? So, this to me, are critical issues we need to talk about. This should shape the type of leadership that we seek, the type of leadership we yearn for in Africa in this 21st century.

By Tony O. Elumelu, CON

Founder, Tony Elumelu Foundation.