Local Drummer: Africa – A continent in crisis?

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Words like “crisis”, “famine”, “disaster” and “scourge” are words we see all too often used to describe Africa and Africans.

They make us feel angry and disempowered and leave a bad taste in the mouth. Why then would a self-proclaimed lover of all things African write under such a bleak headline about the object of her affections?

This week I am in one of my favourite countries in Africa, perhaps even in the world. I often get into trouble for demonstrating what is considered an unnecessary exuberance for South Africa.

But of course you and I know that love is not a pie and that if I love my neighbour, it doesn’t mean I love Zimbabwe any less.

It wasn’t my intention to write about Africa’s problems. In fact, I set out to celebrate some of its success stories.

While here, I will be attending a conference for African journalists, where media practitioners will have the opportunity to interact and discuss some of the burning issues facing the continent.

“For 14 years the Highway Africa conference has been at the centre of Africa’s debates on journalism and new media. The conference has over the years become the largest annual gathering of African journalists in the world.” (www.highwayafrica.com).

This year the conference will focus on how our media in Africa reports on climate change, food security and overall global sustainability.

According to the Climate Change Information Centre, the people of sub-Saharan Africa are the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of climate change.

How appropriate then to find journalists making this a priority conversation when they meet.

In another couple of weeks Forbes magazine will be launching an African edition.

As one of the world’s most renowned business lifestyle magazines, Forbes delivers the stories behind the stories of successful businesses all around the world.

More than this, it tells the stories of the individuals who lead multi-million-dollar businesses, chronicling the success stories and tracking the activities, lifestyles and habits of the world’s richest people.

So an African edition of such a magazine suggests that Africa has come of age.

It suggests that we are ready to compete with the best of the world’s best and that we have sufficient stories of money, power and success to keep such a magazine in narrative for a long time to come.

It also implies that there are enough interested people who would want to read the stories of these victors and villains.

I hate anything that suggests that Africa might in some way be inferior to the rest of the world, because I truly believe that this is not so.

I hate anything that presents Africa as a problem child in the grand scheme of world affairs or which fails to recognise the hand of the rest of the world in Africa’s tribulations.

But loving Africa as we do means we must be ready to look ourselves squarely in the eye and admit it when we have a problem.

It means that even where the fault is not entirely ours, we must take responsibility for our portion of the problem and be prepared to fix it.

While the debate is raging about which high-profile business leader might grace the cover of the first issue of Forbes Africa, there is an internal debate of an altogether different sort raging in Zimbabwe’s politburo about what might happen in the aftermath of the recently published WikiLeaks reports.

At the same time not too far south, our neighbours’ news media are jam-packed with debates on their own set of leadership dilemmas; from Julius Malema and his controversial songsheet, to newly appointed Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, whose deliciously musical name seems in direct contrast to the “dignified silence” he maintains under pressure.

These stories are examples of where I believe Africa’s real crisis lies. Yes, we have problems of poverty, corruption, HIV and Aids, environmental dilapidation, gender violence and warfare, to name just a few.

But most of these problems can be traced back to a paucity of proper leadership.

In May this year I came across an article about how Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame had responded to a message a British journalist had posted about him on Twitter.

He responded passionately and a candid exchange ensued, with supporters on both sides weighing in with their own tweets and re-tweets.

It was a first for an African president to engage with the media in this way and even now Kagame’s Twitter feed is impressive in its demonstration of an accessible, engaged, accountable African politician.

But why should President Kagame be such a rarity?

What happened to the notion of servant leadership and the realisation that our political leaders actually work for us, are accountable to us and are answerable to us when we want to know stuff?

Unfortunately it’s not just in politics that the weaknesses in our leadership models are evident. Even in business and society, leaders all around us seem to lack the courage of their convictions. People are afraid to make decisions or unwilling to take responsibility.

Or they take action but they don’t want it articulated into words or labels, because that would come with expectations or obligations that they don’t want to commit to.

Its a weird thing and I am not sure where it comes from. Perhaps we can add it to the list of deficiencies that we can blame on our colonial history!

In the face of the challenges around us, powerful people-centred leadership is a scarce resource. And so the question remains: I

s Africa really a continent in crisis, or is the major crisis we face one of inadequate and deficient leadership?

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer