Afe for Vanguard

February 8, 2023

Leadership challenges in sub-Saharan Africa (4)

By Aare Afe Babalola

Lugard’s observations on leadership in Sub-Saharan Africa: A lack of self-control, discipline, and foresight 

LUGARD’s assessment of Black men’s characteristics, made close to a century ago, seems to be as correct then as it is today. In his writings, Lugard stated everything that is wrong with the African psyche. He described how the African is drawn to power despite being unaware of its responsibilities.

He stated how the Black African has little apprehension for the future and, therefore, fails to make adequate plans even where such are required. He described the Black African as lacking in self-control, discipline, and foresight, lacking the power of organisation, and conspicuously deficient in the management and control alike of men or business. Are these statements true? If the answer is affirmative, how does it affect Black African leadership? 

Self-control can roughly be stated to be the ability to refrain from engaging in conduct that one would, in the absence of a given set of circumstances that make such conduct less appropriate or ill-advised, have freely engaged in. Discipline, which is also closely related, is the ability to determine and follow through on a course of action that is best or proper in any given circumstance. Foresight, on its part, is the ability to recognise and make plans for future contingencies. As far back as 1926, Lugard’s finding was that Black Africans “lack self-control, discipline, and foresight and are conspicuously deficient in the management of men and business.” 

On proper examination, the statement seems true of most Black African leaders and their followers. Leadership anywhere in the world should be about service to the people. It should always be about constantly evolving ways to improve the lot of the governed. However, Black Africa has been “blessed” with leaders who obviously had no inkling about the demands of their office. In most cases, this flaw has been demonstrated the most in the manner in which most leaders have displayed an utter lack of self-control and discipline in the affairs of their office. 

A government or leader should be able to plan adequately for the future. He should possess the ability to plan, based on current indices of development, for challenges that are bound to occur occasionally. However, our leaders seem to have been unable to grasp this all-important aspect of their duties. Many are unable to fashion out any long term plans for the development of their country. Many leaders simply react to the present in the hope that the future will sort itself out. Many of them reason that they will not, after all, be in government forever and that problems of the future should be addressed by governments of the future.  

Lack of success and partnership: But perhaps the Black African’s failure to appreciate the responsibilities of power lies in what an online writer, Ogochukwu N., has described as “a lack of succession and a lack of partnership”. While the former refers to African leaders’ failure to groom capable successors, instead preferring to keep themselves in power or install members of their families, the latter refers to leaders’ failure to build on the success of their predecessors in office. Change is an inevitable factor in life. “

The old order changeth, yielding place to the new, lest the old corrupt the new,” said Shakespeare. Death itself is nature’s way of ensuring that life as we know it does not come to an abrupt halt. Therefore, it is necessary that there be a seamless transition between the old and the new. Without nature’s inevitability, the world might still be living in the dark ages rather than the current age of free speech and democracy. Yet Black African leaders have been most guilty of failing to accept this fact. Leaders such as Robert Mugabe maintained power despite massive opposition from both within and outside the country. 

The fate of some, like the late Muammar Ghaddafi, failed to convince him of the need to relinquish power. In Senegal, an 84-year-old President Wade attempted to make an amendment to the Constitution that would not only have enabled him to serve another term in office but also led to the creation of a new position of Vice President, which many suspected had been reserved for his son. In Togo and Gabon, sons replaced fathers as presidents in 2005 and 2009, respectively. 

Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the largest tropical rainforest in the world, is also very rich in minerals. However, since their independence on June 30,1960, from Belgian colonial masters, they have hardly known peace. Soon after the Congo’s independence from Belgium in 1960, Moise Tshombe, the governor of the gold-rich province of Katanga, rebelled against the country’s central government, led by popular President Patrice Lumumba, who was taken to Katanga and brutally murdered in chains. Ever since, it has been one coup after another involving Moise Tshombe, Joseph Kasavubu, Laurente Kabila, Mobutu Sese Seko, etc. 

The huge Black country has been afflicted with human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni was accused of having appointed several members of his family into key government positions. He was also accused of grooming his son, who had been promoted to General, to be his successor. Continuity is also lacking in governance in many Black African countries. Many elected leaders see their period in office as a personal accomplishment. 

They fail to situate it in a larger picture of national growth and development. They, therefore, set their own agenda, irrespective of whatever positive direction the previous government had taken. This often leads to a wholesale reversal of the policies of the previous government without any consideration of the individual merits of those policies. The proverbial baby is always thrown out with the bathwater, all in the name of setting the country in a new direction. 

The moment a new government is sworn in, it immediately sets about probing its predecessor government. Abandoned projects become a common sight. This should not be so. Such a development cannot encourage investor confidence. In a particular instance, in the Yoruba speaking region, a new government revoked Certificates of Occupancy granted to a company that had been invited to invest in the state. It did not matter that the company had invested hundreds of millions of its own funds into making the project a reality. A better approach would be to build upon the good achievements of past governments. It is only by doing so that there can be development in the long run. 

Failure of leaders to perform on assumption of office: However, one must ask why many Black African politicians fail to perform after being sworn into office. Is it due to a failure to appreciate the enormity of the challenges of the office? Is it due to a lack of ability to confront and solve the numerous problems that have hampered the development of many Black African countries and, indeed, the continent in general? 

Or is it due, as Lord Lugard has posited, to the inability of the Black African, despite his crave for power, to appreciate the responsibilities that come with it? It is my view that Lord Lugard’s view aptly captures the Black African leader’s love for power without appreciating the responsibilities that go with it. When the remark was made in 1922, Black Africa, also known as the “Dark Countries”, was a continent largely untapped and unexplored for its full potential. However, almost a century later, the political and economic landscape of the continent has changed. 

No Black African country is under any form of colonial rule. For the better part of 50 years, most Black African countries have been self governing. As I noted earlier, the agitation for self rule, aside from any political considerations that may have made them imperative, was underscored more by the belief that the interests of any people could only be best assured by self rule and determination. However, Black Africa has been let down by its leaders. 

The saying that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” rings truer of African leaders past and present than of any other region in the world. Ours, it would seem, is a continent whose history is replete more with tyrants and despots than with statesmen and global leaders. 

Many who doubt the truth of this need only compare the resources of many Black African countries with their present state of economic development. Nigeria, for example, is a classic case of a country that has failed to realise its potential mainly as a result of the preoccupation of its leaders with attaining power alone. I will not bother to discuss the many ills such as corruption, nepotism, tribalism, and mismanagement, which many agree are great stumbling blocks in Nigeria’s path to social, economic, and political greatness.