With 54 sovereign states, Africa’s population estimated at one billion is more than three times the population of the US and yet the promise of a better life for all has been as elusive as the question of statecraft.
To the extent that we are all actors in the theatre we call life, we can accept the State is a theatre dominated by citizens that are commonly described as politicians and bureaucrats.
So much is expected from the class of citizens described as politicians and yet so little is understood about what makes a good or bad leader in the State.
The process of creating first citizen of any country is simple, but it produces outcomes often contested and disputed notwithstanding the fact that in its proper construction the activity by which states are maintained and given form requires legitimacy and validation from the very people who naïvely expect that when elected, State actors acquire some superior wisdom in the management of public affairs.
The colonial story with its pain and squandered opportunities is known to suggest that any attempt to put the blame on lack of progress in post-colonial Africa on it will not advance the interests of the living and unborn.
State actors are no different to movie actors for they are primarily in the peoples’ business in which propaganda and other tactics may substitute the essence of what is expected when people surrender their sovereignty to a few in the hope skills, techniques and judgment required to effectively and efficiently discharge State duties is resident in the people to whom matters of State are vested.
It is remarkable the majority of Africans devote so much of their conversations on the exploits of State actors as if to suggest that a textbook of politics exists that can give pointers on how well or poorly the craft of State administration can be practised.
Can the trait of utilising knowledge and experience with common sense and insight be generated through electoral politics?
We all value the role of leadership in advancing the cause of nation state building, but it would be foolish to expect the process through which leaders are created in Africa will necessarily produce better and smart outcomes than any haphazard or nonchalant process.
As we look back on the journey of the post-colonial experience, we are compelled to rate Africa’s custodians of the state to establish if the objective of creating a cohesive and inclusive society that informed the liberation struggles of Africa has been advanced by people elected or otherwise.
The faces of Africa who have occupied or continue to occupy state houses are known, but little is known about what they are actually do on a day-to-day basis. What is their job description? Who monitors and evaluates them?
A good politician is often the one who speaks a lot about the many subjects he/she knows little about.
In the battle of ideas, words and images, post-colonial African leaders excel because they have demonstrated not just the mastery of the former colonial masters, but they often have answers for everything to the extent that citizens generally expect that everything good or bad that visits the country is a consequence of the actions of these mortal beings.
The faces of Africa’s state crafters may be different, but what is common in Africa is not the wealth in the hands of the majority, but the poverty and other vices that visit mankind when the very people who are the guarantors of nation progress surrender their future to a few wise men and women who may not be as wise as they speak or pretend to act.
What makes a nation a winner? If words could move a country from point A to B then surely Africa would be at the apex.
The last 56 years of independence have generated speeches by State actors, politicians, images that are carried in the media, and more importantly the rhetoric about what kind of Africa is expected, but regrettably the Africa we see today is economically weaker and politically less free than one would have wanted to see.
No amount of slogans or rhetoric can substitute for the efforts of ordinary citizens to build a better life for themselves under a free and just dispensation.
The role of the state is contested and must be so because if the state existed and could take the place of hardworking citizens then governments can self perpetuate. However, great nations only become so because of the efforts and actions of ordinary people.
If the perspective is accepted that the best state crafter is a person who understands and appreciates the limitations of the state as an agent of change, then the people who choose to cling to power in the mistaken belief that their departure from state office would undermine the promise of a better life for the majority would find no justifiable reason of imposing their worldview on others against a backdrop of diminishing economic welfare of the majority.
It is easy for state actors to listen to their own voices and Africa must be credited for creating its own tyrants and dictators.
What is ironic is most of the bad leaders have no mechanism of knowing when it is time to let go as the true custodians of the state ie citizens have no knowledge about what happens or is said in the corridors of power. My submission is that when African minds meet so little time is devoted in conversations about the values, principles and care required to make our continent a winning geography.
Although Africa is a strong geographical and geological fact, it must be accepted the experience of post-colonial nation state building has failed to connect all the important dots that deal with values and not personalities.
Instead of addressing the real issues, conversations typically focus on God’s creations ie land, minerals and other gifts of God that state actors take reckless credit for their existence to the extent they exhibit charitable or philanthropic postures when they use the state to selectively give access to land, minerals and other resources to a few forgetting any nation premises its future solely on what God has created will fail to deliver the promise of a better life for the majority.
We often hear land is the economy and the economy is the land. While this may be true, what is clear in Africa is countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola or even Nigeria have vast tracts of land and not only liquid fuels and minerals in their bellies, but have little to show on the barometer of millennium development goals.
One would expect younger countries like South Sudan and South Africa would learn from the experience that attempts to use the state as a driving force for economic and social change will fail, because if it was true minerals in the ground and the land on top of minerals belong to the living then surely the richest nations would exhibit the traits of success merely by answering the existential question.
I am reminded by the words of Cecil Rhodes who often told his fellow settlers: “Remember that you are an Englishman and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life” and as I reflect on what it means to be African, I realise we have a lot of work to do before we can truly say being African represents a first or even second price in the lottery of life.
Today, I write in English and even speak in the language that Rhodes devoted a large part of his life on earth to ensure that it should be the language of rulers in our beloved part of Africa, which confirms the durability of the idea that informed Rhodes’ actions.
Although he is long gone, he can claim credit English and not Spanish or Italian is the language of business in many post-colonial states.
Rhodes’ worldview is well established to suggest it would be wrong to draw any positive lessons for any black African from him, but it would be naïve to ignore the values that informed his choices and why English people would still consider him as a great man.
We need our leaders to help shape and define the character of a new Africa.
Such leaders are difficult to find because followers make it easy for persons with blurred and distorted visions to assume the driver’s seat going nowhere solely, but with a lot of words that inspire the dead and not the living.
Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.