The winning of the Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Award by former Namibian president Hifikepunye Pohamba is certainly one of the many important events that may have happened in Africa in the year 2015. Its significance was that Pohamba won the award after it had eluded the continent on four successive occasions. The fact that the award has eluded the African continent for four years shows how the continent is fairing in terms of leadership.
The intention of the award is noble: influencing accountable leadership on the continent. The award has a monetary prize of $5 million over a period of 10 years. However, judging from their leadership conduct, few African leaders have shown any interest or concern of winning the award.
Many African leaders, including those leading the purportedly listed and cherished democracies, tilt the balance in their favour of personal gain. Many African leaders are wealthy individuals who are less likely to be motivated by monetary rewards to promote good governance.
But then this is not the sort of leadership that Africa needs for it to get out of its abject poverty. Africa needs leaders of the calibre of Pohamba, Joaquim Chissano, Festus Mogae and Nelson Mandela, among others. It has to be borne in mind that Chissano and Mogae have won the award before.
Africa needs leaders that are selfless and have the plight of the masses at heart. It needs leaders that acknowledge the price that must be paid and the risks that must be taken for there to be change in society be it social, economic or political.
Mandela provides a very good epitome of such leadership. Mandela’s life reflected the deep, soul wrenching, life changing sacrifice and suffering that is a mark of true leadership. He understood the power of suffering for doing the right thing. This type of suffering can be transformative for both the sufferer and for the community in which they live.
Mandela’s life stands as a witness to this truth. The fact that he was able to come out of a terrible experience not vengeful, but with reconciliation is not only remarkable in itself. It is also a key factor in South Africa’s transformation from a draconian and racist State to one that is more progressive, inclusive and democratic.
In his first speech to the South African people after leaving prison in 1990, he said: “I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
He went on to serve as South Africa’s president from 1994 to 1999. What motivated him was certainly not personal gain as the majority of the present African leaders, but the desire to serve the masses and get the best deal out of the prevailing circumstances for his people.
Pohamba won the award for forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy, social and economic development. He was also awarded for being able to command the confidence and trust of his people, sound and wise leadership as well as maintaining humility throughout his tenure.
Under Pohamba, Namibia has become something of a poster child for what can be accomplished through constitutionalism, the rule of law and good governance.
Respect for the rule of law is a cancer in Africa. Most African leaders opt to choose not to respect the constitutions of their countries and use their clout to change the law to suit their needs. For example, in Malawi, Dr Bakili Muluzi unsuccessfully attempted to change the Constitution so he could rule beyond the constitutional mandate of two terms. And this attempt, caused parliamentarians to concentrate on third term issue rather than debating on national development issues. Section 65 is still an issue that keeps popping up and presidents continue to turn a blind eye to it.
At the moment, Burundi is making headlines of looming genocide because of the incumbent president’s desire to run for a third term which many deem to be unconstitutional.
And in Rwanda, Paul Kagame has won a third term bid through referendum, and the question is that is he the only caretaker of Rwanda. Of course he has brought tremendous development after genocide but others could also govern better.
In essence, African leaders must govern in a way that maximises democratic terms. This will enhance good image of the continent in terms of principles of democracy which is paramount in sustainable development of our continent.
They must take real action to raise living standards and to provide lasting peace and stability for all of their citizens. Good governance should be a constant expectation instead of a sought after goal.
Leaders should be able to read the danger signs and do the needful; not seeking another term when they see the danger signs. They need not to be fooled by their self-serving advisors who feed them with lies. They should also know they are not the best things that ever happened to their country and that life will still go on in their absence. They should be mindful of the old adage that a new bloom sweeps better.
Therefore, to achieve socio-economic development African countries will require significant changes in current economic policies and unwavering political will on the part of African leadership. n