Africa 2011 — Spinning plates

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The role of leadership in driving the change agenda in Africa cannot be understated yet rarely do our daily conversations focus on the challenges and constraints of leading followers, who in the main, would rather focus on driving their personal agendas than on being part of the solution.

Robert F Kennedy correctly and eloquently observed that: “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation.”

As we look back at the African post-colonial narrative, we find that regrettably the acts of a few have effectively crowded out the acts of the majority to the extent the life and actions of leaders have tended to define not just their generation, but the history of two or three generations.

Most of Africa’s leaders are busy people because unfortunately no progress or rational decisions can be made without their input to the extent that while they are spinning plates, nations are held to ransom and the lack of economic, social and political change may ultimately lie in our collective misunderstanding of the leadership question.

After all we are all leaders, but many refuse to act to bend history leaving the task to the few who invariably end up playing God, not because they wish to, but because we allow them by our own silence and inaction.

Ultimately, leadership is about spinning plates whether in the workplace or outside of it. Human beings are in constant motion, but what makes the experience of life interesting is that one does not need to break the plates, but to maintain a delicate balance between the competing needs and solutions.

Nation building is also about spinning plates. The enterprise of nation building requires the contribution of multi-tasked and talented State and non-state actors who are compelled to act in a complimentary manner.
No single actor has the capacity and wherewithal to monopolise the space that has to be occupied in the interests of prosperity. However, each of us has an obligation to make things happen and in so doing the character of a nation is built.

Leaders and followers alike have the ability to dream about a future, but what drives change are actions.
It is not untypical in many developing states that an expectation is constructed that leaders have the obligation to spin more plates than is humanly feasible to the extent that many expect leaders to produce miracles.

By refusing to act at the personal level, leaders end up having to confront not just their plates, but the plates of others with disastrous consequences.

The lack of economic progress in Africa has unfairly been placed on leaders in the mistaken belief that in life it is possible to create a super persona in the name of a president when human civilisation
has consistently confirmed the notion that it is futile to surrender one’s plate to another in the hope of advancing personal interests.

Leaders generally spin their own plates or the plates of those they know. This leaves the overwhelming majority to address their own challenges and the sooner we all realise that no man can ever be trusted with too much power, the better will Africa’s chances of delivering the promise to all.

Notwithstanding, it is not unusual that many refuse to spin their plates choosing to surrender their future to others, let alone government.

A government is a creature of citizens in as much as a corporation is a creation of shareholders. No government or corporation can be expected to have a life independent of their creators.

Citizens and not State actors give life to the State and, therefore, the usefulness or otherwise of a State has to be located in the actions and expectations of its customers ie citizens.

In cases where citizens abdicate on their responsibilities, the consequences are as inevitable as they are predictable.

A human being can only handle so many responsibilities and the flaw in the African construction of a nation state is the inherent expectation that the State can solve all the challenges that are faced by citizens.

The post-colonial experience has produced its own absurdities including political actors who often take credit for the efforts made by sovereign citizens instead of giving credit where it is due.

Leaders should motivate, inspire, develop and encourage business, political and personal growth, but regrettably the experience in Africa suggests otherwise.

If only African leaders were modest, more could be reaped from the actions and efforts of citizens.
The tone and language used by our political and State actors would suggest that they have the ability to assume the control of other people’s plates and yet in reality they spin their own plates while pretending to be acting in the national interest.

The appetite of leaders does not necessarily take a national context when elected, but remains personal at best and national occasionally.

Why then would egotistical people be expected to spin national plates rather than their own? It is always convenient to expect others to be more benevolent and magnanimous. However, no human being has ever risen above human failings.

As we look forward, we have to invest in the change that we want to see. We are the change makers and more significantly its protectors.

It is naïve to expect that a leader will know what is in the plates of the people whose faces and voices have not been revealed to him or her.

By choosing to bend history on our own terms and through our own actions and effort, there is no doubt that the future will record such experiences as a history worthy of drawing lessons from.

Each and every generation has the opportunity of bending history and yet the propensity to dream is higher than that of acting to the extent that the time consumed is difficult to account for.

Free societies inspire citizens to scale the opportunity ladder and, therefore, it is important for citizens to spin their own plates in an environment that is secured by respect of the rule of law and where justice prevails.
The business of life is not easy.

People are compelled to make choices and act accordingly. Such choices should and must reflect the preferences of actors. When citizens defer choices to others then one must know there is something fundamentally wrong in the construction of the enterprise.

To the extent that leaders are drawn from followers, it is important to identify leaders who are and can be good followers and cheer leaders because the future is written in the actions of all people who refuse to make tomorrow someone else’s business, but theirs.