As we look back and reflect on the journey to independence and its experiences, we are compelled to ask a number of questions that may inspire Africans to rise to the challenge of reducing the frontiers of poverty.
The questions that immediately come to mind that were relevant at the time when the independence flag was raised as they are today include:
(1) If Africa can be regarded as a wagon, who has been pulling the wagon during the post-colonial era?
(2) Who should be blamed for the lack of motion?
(3) Are the majority of Africans riders or wagon pullers?
(4) As we go forward, whose responsibility is it to pull the wagon?
Regrettably, the post-colonial experience has placed the burden of pulling the wagon on those that have offered themselves as servant leaders.
To the extent that the State is a creature of citizens, it is important that we invest in the knowledge about what is required to make this creature a living and relevant instrument to move societies from one point to another.
The point often ignored or disregarded is that the State requires fuel to move. The bulk of the juice ought to come from the sweat of citizens.
However, if the citizens elect to be wagon riders rather than pullers the consequences are as predictable as they are inevitable.
Over the last 55 years, the majority of African citizens have tended to look to the State for salvation thinking that State actors have the magic answers and resources required to change their lives.
The number riding the wagon has increased over the years, but unfortunately the number pulling has been decreasing due to various factors, including the obvious inherent disincentive imposed by a model where others endure the pain of motion while others stand to benefit from distributive economics intermediated by the State.
The wealth that any State can distribute to wagon riders must come from a source.
The State itself cannot be expected to be the primary wagon puller as its construction and performance is predicated on service delivery and its actors are created from among the riders through a mechanism that was never meant to produce wagon pullers in the wealth creation domain.
It must be obvious then that private people who through, pursuing their own self-interest are then compelled to contribute to the State wagon that can carry riders on the basis of need rather than contribution, must anchor any sustainable model.
History has taught us that for any society to deliver its promise, the majority of its citizens must pull their own wagons.
However, when nations start organising their lives around aid and punitive taxes, the future can never be secure.
Riding a wagon carries with it no obligations, but confers benefits that are created by other rational and self-interested people who must be assumed to be as selfish as any living individual.
If you pick from the wagon with no intention of giving something back, the wagon will sooner than later be empty.
If you give to the wagon and expect no reward, then you deserve a better entry point to heaven.
Ultimately, taking from the wagon that is pulled by another is tantamount to theft unless a mutually agreed social contract exists to encourage the operation of the “greater fool” principle where progress is underpinned by the efforts of fools who pull wagons for other people’s benefit.
The leadership wagon from which a lot is expected has to be understood in its proper context. No leader, even in business, has been privileged by God to have a superior life.
All leaders are men and women of flesh and are as perishable as any common and weakest person in society.
Good leaders must know that they owe their positions to followers, for if every follower wants to be a leader then there would be no follower.
A few will always be servant leaders for their power and authority is borrowed and the trick is to find a mechanism of recycling inspiration.
Such recycling can take the form of ensuring that a constitution allows for change of personalities in power.
The real purpose of leadership is to encourage followers to look forward in a lifetime to also step into the shoes of pullers.
The pulling effort must be democratised so that every citizen must see it as a duty to be a servant leader than an imperial one.
Leaders must, therefore, seek to encourage every citizen to get off the wagon and pull their own weight.
Over the last 55 years of independence, we must pause and reflect if we as citizens and leaders have lived to the expectations of Africa.
Africa belongs to all who have chosen to breathe its air and work on their dashes in its geography. Those who add value to the promise must be encouraged to pull the wagon.
Africa is and will always be as strong as the aggregate of its parts and not a reflection of the efforts, however noble or heroic, of a few wagon pullers.
The relationship of each citizen to Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) has to be interrogated.
How many of us have had a positive relationship at the personal level?
A net positive relationship is where one is contributing more to the wagon than they are taking from it.
The public money from which a lot is expected and promises are made by political actors at all levels, often for short-term personal gain, is derived from wagon pullers and if the business of the State becomes that of taking from the wagon pullers and distribute to riders, then one must know that the joyride will surely come to an end.
Africa’s past is full of pain and suffering.
The pain has created its own cadres of heroes and heroines. Some will continue to claim exemptions from pulling their wagons on the basis of historical contribution.
Each exemption made to a rider has implications on the collective good and can be counter productive to the efforts to create a cohesive society underpinned by a social contract that inspires rather than discourages effort.
What kind of Africa do we want to see? An Africa that looks primarily to government cheques to advance human progress will not deliver the promise.
When one cashes a government cheque, for instance, and provides nothing for it, such an individual has a net negative effect on GDP.
An Africa that rewards riders more than wagon pullers will undermine its promise.
There is nothing inevitable in life, but what is clear is that when everyone pulls his/her own wagon of life, the prospect for a better and secure life is brighter.
Many enjoy watching other people’s wagons pass by while others have made careers in the post-colonial State as riders of wagons fired by the sweat of others and yet few enjoy pulling the wagon.
Every family has its own wagon pullers and an effort, reward and power matrix that is forward-leaning rather than historically premised will inform the political dynamics that emerge.
An Africa that glorifies riding while others are condemned to pull the wagon will not deliver the promise.
Each African living person has a purpose and when that purpose is accomplished by individual action, then the future will reflect the fruits arising from such efforts.
We have tended to focus in the past on leadership or lack of it in trying to understand the true nature of the African challenge.
In the face of each African is the look of a President, CEO, director, Speaker of Parliament, Chief Justice, and no face should be allowed to dominate an office with the unintended consequence of making people believe that a model of servant leadership can be substituted by a model that is premised on few wagon pullers or chiefs without visible Indians worthy of the trust to pull the wagon.
Africa has 54 political wagon pullers, but what should have been known at the time of the foundation of each State is that unless we all pull our wagons, the intelligence or wisdom of the 54 individuals will count for nothing in the business of building and securing Africa’s future.
Wagon pullers will always write Africa’s future. Volume must and will always count.
Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.