HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsEncouraging successful power transfers

Encouraging successful power transfers

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History has failed to provide working models on how best to transfer the control and management of businesses, let alone political power.

Opinion by Mutumwa Mawere

As a result, generation after generation, business leaders who ought to have passed on the baton remain in power at the detriment of the very businesses and interests they purport to promote and protect. Not many owners are prepared to let go of the businesses whose founding they are associated with.

Equally, political actors — especially founding fathers — have demonstrated a keen reluctance to give up power, co-operate with, and delegate to, any potential successor in the mistaken belief that they alone have what it takes to move the agenda of national progress forward.

The last 56 years of post-colonial experience in Africa have produced their own leaders who unknowingly or even knowingly have arrested the development of their nations by clinging to power for too long, notwithstanding the dwindling fortunes of their nations.

The lessons learned about the relationship between knowledge, policy-making and power transfers have regrettably not been shared to allow business owners and political actors to know when it is time to pass on the baton.

Even when the Emperor is naked, it is often difficult to let him know. But for Africa to live up to its promise, the baton must be passed on in the interests of all.

A lot of faith has been placed on leaders and leadership qualities to suggest that the deepening of democracy must be informed by knowledge of how absolute power can corrupt and more significantly that time can create its own irrelevancy on actors.

A leader who fails or who is not reminded that the art of leadership is a negotiated one, requiring constant and consistent research on the question of effective transition of business control and administration, can be a menace to the enterprise of nation-state building.

Effective transition of business ownership as has been demonstrated by the mobile phone industry has the potential to drive productivity benefits through fixed capital formation, human capital building, and product and process innovation.

From Joe Gatt and Miko Rwayitare to Miko Rwayitare to Orascome to Vimplecom, the torch of Telecel was passed and the customers were served better for it.

Equally from Mo Ibrahim’s Celtel to Zain and then to Bharti Airtel, the baton was passed and at each transaction point, the number of subscribers served was higher than at the previous point.

MTN, Vodacom, Etisalat, Orange and Tigo have taken over businesses and subsequently expanded the offering in a competitive setting.

However, ensuring a smooth transition of ownership can be problematic in the political space and in smaller businesses.
Whereas businesses can be for sale at the right price, political power has its own trappings that make the question of transfer a challenging and personal one.

To the extent that transfers of business power in the mobile phone industry has resulted in efficiency gains, it is important that an examination be made on the barriers that constrain political power transfers so that the hurdles that nation-states and businesses face when incumbents refuse to let go can be addressed by democratic means.

There is no doubt that when Joe Gatt and Miko Rwayitare split, it was a painful process to the Telecel family, but the company, if it had a voice, would have supported the move.

Unfortunately, badly governed nation-states have no voice because state power has the tendency to instill fear in the minds of subjects to the extent that contestation for the right to represent forward-looking citizens can easily be construed as treacherous.

Using the mobile phone industry as a reference, a review of the literature and data sources confirm that power transfers that have occurred in the industry have produced positive results to users of the service.

The exponential expansion of the subscriber base bears testimony to the dynamic role that smooth power transfers can play in advancing the interests of the people to whom the service or products of a business are directed.

A comprehensive overview and understanding of the current state of play in the mobile industry confirms that smooth power transfers are healthy and desirable.

What then are the relevant key policy issues that emerge from a study of the corporate heritage of the mobile phone network industry?

The extent and impact of power transfer problems affecting businesses are not dissimilar to those in the political sphere. The only difference is that in the case of businesses, users have the last laugh for they can choose to get the same service from competitors.

Political competition is a dangerous game in Africa for it can be resolved without the involvement of the masses.

Incumbents often take the view that they have a God-given right to preside over the state and, therefore, they know and can act better.
At independence, the expectation was that the baton would be passed on so that the book of faces representing the people in the state would change with the times, but regrettably, that promise was undermined by an investment in the wrong idea that only the founders have a better claim on power.

Business transfer relates to the change of ownership of a firm associated with an owner’s wish to retire or exit the enterprise for one reason or another.

Failure to change guard in firms on account of age or diminished business performance can undermine the business itself.

The lack of progress in Africa on many fronts may very well be related to power transfer failure where incumbents cling to power beyond what is reasonable and desirable. Viable nation-states well endowed with resources have been condemned to failure by the very people who preach progress and inclusivity when their models are premised on running away with the baton than investing in smooth transition models.

The lessons drawn are that after 10 years in power, a real danger exists for not only the incumbent but the nation that the promise of a better life for all can be manipulated to a promise of a better life to the praise singers and family members.

Just like firms can thrive on “creative destruction”, nation-states are also capable of being used by leaders for their own personal interests.

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