At the 4th MBA International Literary Colloquium held in Minna, Niger State, last week, chairman of the Forum of Former African Heads of State and Government, and winner of the 2007 Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Award tasked Nigerian and African leaders on what could be described as principles of leadership. Here are excerpts from his keynote entitled, Leadership and National Development and Post Centenary Nigeria.
By Uduma Kalu
Allow me now to focus on the subject of leadership and national development from the perspective of the broad and general “ propositions I made earlier and also allow me to share with you some of my own experience as a leader and the leadership I had to provide to the people of Mozambique during my tenure of office. During that time, it was clear to me that the way to a successful leadership was to put the people and the country before me….
Put differently, what the people want is a leader who is with them, discusses their problems and applies his or her mind to solve their problems. That is what they would call accountability and accessibility.
Additionally, the common people want to see tangible things. After experiencing the horrors “ of war, they want and cherish peace and stability. They want food in their tables and food security. They want to see roads, hospitals and schools being built. They want to feel respect for their human rights. Their major concerns are basic human needs and they will respect the leader who can deliver such services. Many leaders remain locked in their offices while leadership is about going to the people to discussing with them and addressing their concerns and demands. Leadership is about delivering on promises made. If you make a promise, you must deliver – and that is what accountability is all about. A leader should not promise what he or she cannot deliver. The challenge of leadership is to anticipate demands and aspirations of the people and design appropriate strategies to address them. Therefore a leader must be a visionary. But the vision of the leader cannot be imposed on the people especially when they were not prepared to understand what it means for their lives.
The use of land, water and other production factors for instance requires a good combination of the leader’s vision and the traditional practices of the citizens both in the rural and urban areas.
Land and water sharing is a problem to be solved in a smart way. This is one of those problems which may require a long term exercise of mind-set transformation.
The leader may see a shortcut solution but he has to use his best skills to transform it into a people’s’ solution. Here I would like to bring to our reflection the importance of people’s inclusion in the process of decision making on the main issues affecting the life of the nation.
This is important for development. It is my opinion that people’s participation is the most important part in a country’ democracy. The sense of belonging to the exercise of power is very much reassuring to the citizens.
Gender equality and the empowerment of women, the rural women in particular, are of the utmost importance for a country’s development. Women are the majority of the labour force that produces food in Africa. They are the ones who take care of our children particularly during the critical ages from zero to five years. The good care of the child at this period of life is a guarantee of her or his healthy, strong, intelligent and happy adulthood which enables her or him to fully participate in the development process with high productivity.
We in Mozambique came from a background of a prolonged armed liberation struggle followed by a protracted war of destabilization in which many people were killed and others were massively displaced. The social tissue was disrupted, hatred was built up, and the unity of the country was threatened.
In face of these circumstances, the preoccupation of the leadership was national reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction and development. The leadership understood that without peace there could not be development and without development, peace was illusive.
Therefore, national reconciliation was given priority in the name of peace, security and stability. We entered into negotiation with our enemies and adversaries almost against the will of the people but we also recognized that the end product would be a peace dividend. We have a saying that “for the sake of peace, one may even be forced to swallow a live frog”. Otherwise how can we explain the reasons for negotiating for peace with those who committed mayhem? This requires strong leadership with foresight and the commitment to introduce and sustain durable peace for the sake of the people and the country. Our decision to engage in negotiations with our adversaries paid off and peace was restored through the Rome Peace Accord, in 4 October 1994.
The experience of the Mozambican leadership may be an exception rather than the rule. I am neither suggesting that one-size fits all nor trying to sell you magic and infallible formulae.
What I am suggesting here is that leadership, both as an art and a science, requires the full understanding of the existing objective reality in the cause, the circumstances surrounding it and what are the demands and aspirations of the people. Additionally, it is equally important to select what would be the most appropriate methods of addressing those demands and aspirations of the people. Visionary leadership would assess the objective reality as it relates to national development and adopt appropriate strategies for addressing the challenges facing the nation.
We know that poverty is the single major threat to security, which, in turn, is the precondition for peace that provides the environment for sustainable national development. Therefore, poverty eradication should be at the centre of the policies for social and economic transformation and development.
To this end, leadership must have the requisite capacity to anticipate, or in other words, to read ‘ the minds of the people and address their expectations.
As I said earlier, there are no magic or infallible formulas that will take you to the success. There is a high element of risk and uncertainty involved, but the best way to manage those risks is to be in constant contact with the people, is to be accessible to them. When this happens, people will always have opportunities to share with you their views and sentiments about the prevailing situation, even making suggestions and proposals to correct errors and mistakes.
With these working methods, the leader ensures the participation of the people, the common citizens, in addressing the developmental challenges of the country, thus making room for them to complement the work of the elites and technical experts.
These working methods provide a new dimension of accountability, which is people-centred, but again, in complement with what experts produce.
In this regard, leadership requires organizational structures and systems focusing on addressing the demands and aspirations of the people.
Aspirations of the people
In the current wave of social media, leaders cannot promise and not deliver, for this will, almost certainly invite something like what is now commonly referred to as the Arab Spring. Discontent and popular uprising may be part of leadership’s failure to deliver or lack of participation and respect for human- rights.
Sometimes, leaders see things but they do not believe what they are seeing. Some people ca1l this cognitive dissonance. Leadership for development is anticipating and addressing potential trouble spots and not waiting until it is too late. Early warning demands early action.
Before concluding my remarks, I should like to suggest that the notion of leadership and I national development is easy to discern in the literary world, but very complicated in the real world, in the world of practical action.
In this case, we make a distinction between leaders and leadership. It is often said that in Africa we have leaders but we do not always have leadership .
Perhaps this is true, if one considers a leader as an individual and leadership as a system. But there is no leader without a system, even informal systems. Put differently, there is no leader without leadership. It may be bad or poor leadership but it is leadership anyway.
However, leadership for national development presupposes a leader with a leadership style that focuses on national development. It would seem to me this is what is needed in Africa. We need thoughtful leaders.
National development is the major responsibility of leadership at the national level. It involves addressing the national priority for social and economic transformation and development.
It is about building developmental state, capable of addressing the development needs of the people. It is also about planning for development which requires leadership vision for development. This development always requires optimal utilization of both human and natural resources.
Africa is a continent full of resources but Africa is considered as a continent of poverty, “the wretched of the earth”.
It is often argued that leadership in Africa is a bad mixture of African and foreign cultures which tend to suggest that leadership the continent is devoid of indigenous cultural imperatives.
For this reason a culture of dependency has been entrenched in the continent forcing Africa to consume what it does not produce and produce what it does not consume. Leadership and development would suggest that Africa should consume what is produced in Africa and export the surplus. This means that Africa must go beyond exporting, commodities to exporting processed goods.
Why does Africa export cocoa to Europe and then buy chocolate at a colossal price from there? How difficult is to access to the technology to produce chocolate? To make production in Africa a viable undertaking…