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Mo Ibrahim: The limits of idealism

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By John Amoda

MO IBRAHIM is one of Africa’s global leaders who has not merely stayed at the sidelines wringing his hands in despair about Africa’s travails. Through his foundation he has set out to provide a platform for encouraging good leaders in and out office.

According to the piece in The Guardian of Tuesday February 23, 2010 titled: “Mo Ibrahim blames Africa’s woes on bad leadership” by Rotimi Lawrence, Mo Ibrahim summarises his effort thusly:

“Part of what we’re trying to do is that, if somebody had served his country well, did not steal public funds, when he leaves office, after all privileges of office must have been withdrawn from him, he should have something to live on. Our idea is that life after office, for good leaders, should be interesting! (The Guardian, Tuesday p88).

Laudable as such a project is, it matters that there be ways for estimating the impact of this Role Model Approach to Africa’s leadership development. Blaming Africa’s woes on bad leadership is based on the assumption of a causal relationship between quality of leadership and the quality of progress attending the formulation and implementation of plans for the progressive development of African countries.

Blaming Africa’s woes on bad leadership presupposes the existence of and the possibility for developing good leadership. How are leaderships to be evaluated? What are the criteria for determining the qualities that make up good leadership? It is clear that leadership cannot be reduced to leaders or to roles assigned office holders, even when the very notion of leadership entails leaders performing roles according to the rules established by leaderships. Mo Ibrahim chooses to operate upon the bases of moralist idealism and therefore sees no problem assuming what are in themselves problematic.

“According to Ibrahim those who still argue that slavery and colonialism have been responsible for poverty on the continent should also remember that many African countries have been independent for more than 50 years and yet remained very poor.

Ibrahim who spoke during the International Summit on African Leadership, held at Marriot Hotel, Poissy, on the outskirt of Paris, France, also insisted: “Unless we (Africans) take a look at ourselves in the mirror, see and admit what is good and bad about us, and be brutally frank about it, we will not make a progress”.
He wondered why Africa, with 53 countries could not come together under an economic union to make greater progress.

These views in Mo Ibrahim’s words or as summarised by Rotimi Lawrence make many assumptions about what emancipation from slavery and independence from colonial rule implies assumptions that need to be critically examined. Time since emancipation is brought into the discourse when the effect of slavery on post-emancipation condition of New World African American, North, Central and South, and on Caribbean African is the issue of policy. Time since independence is similarly introduced when the effect of colonialism on post-colonial condition of Africa is also an issue of policy. On one side are those who argue the determinative relevance of slavery and colonialism on post- slavery and post-colonial societies; on the other side are those who argue the irrelevance and or negligible effect of both slavery and colonialism on the present prospects for development and progress of societies that were formed through slavery and colonisation.
What weight is to be assigned to slavery and colonisation in the post-slavery or post-colonial societies is the issue and when so raised as an issue of policy, it is so raised in the context of politics.

On one side of the political divide are those who see slavery or colonialism as infirmities or wounds rather than hindrance, while on the other side of the divide are those who see emancipation and decolonisation as cosmetic change and would characterise the post-slavery society as neo-slavery society and the post-colonial as neo-colonial society. Mo Ibrahim disagrees with the side that sees the post-colonial as an extension of the colonial, and seems to have pitched his tent with those who do not see slavery or colonisation   as societal, but as personal misfortunes that emancipation or independence has reduced and has eventually eliminated.

There is a third position, that argues that slavery and colonisation are societal and that change of societies are political projects involving conservative parties of state who seek to preserve the order of societies and reformative or revolutionary parties of state who seek to reform the order of societies or overthrow the order of societies in order to replace it with their own designs. This third position is in fact the historical process of all movements for change of society, through reform or revolution.

It is in fact the emergence of movements for change in the order of society (reform) and change of the order of society (revolution) that there is concerted effort to defend and secure existing orders of society. Those like Mo Ibrahim who de-emphasise the need of change in the order of society or change of the order society through the translation of political grievances into the rule of the law issues, the reduction of discrimination and promotions of more inclusiveness in the enjoyment of the benefit of existing orders, are of the conservative persuasion.

Those who argue that slavery and colonialism have been responsible for poverty in the Africa and in African Diaspora are of the revolutionary persuasion who see the solution for all their grievances in the overthrow, not in the reform of the existing orders. For such all reforms are necessarily cosmetic.

For both the conservative and the revolutionary, the beginning is always the movement for change of societies-hence whether the conservative, reformist or revolutionary movement will prevail is not a matter of ideas but of the progression of the movement for change.

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