Africa needs great leaders

2012-05-26 11:10

My favourite leadership statement has always been the one from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.”

Leadership is about greatness and in the eyes of any society great leaders will forever be revered. But this changes when leaders abuse or betray their followers’ trust.

For centuries the abuse of greatness has come in invariable ways, but perhaps the most common has been the annoying delusion of indispensability displayed by some leaders, which, according to Shakespeare, is when power becomes disjoined from remorse.

In leadership, indispensability is usually displayed by arrogance, indifference and blatant disregard for the
people.

Described as the ability by a leader to connect to his followers’ sense of identity and self, transformational leadership is touted as the preferred form of leadership of our time.

It involves, among other things, being an inspirational role model, challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work or organisation, and being patriotic and proud of their nation and continent.

It also involves understanding people’s strengths and weaknesses so that the leader can align followers with tasks that optimise their performance.

Looking at the Afro-pessimistic view of leadership and the scepticism about the continent, transformational leaders in Africa are rare or have, perhaps, become extinct.

It’s also said that the last generation of such leaders were the likes of Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria).

Unfortunately, because of the legacy of patriarchy in politics and academics, most examples of good leadership on the African continent and the world over, have always been men.

The absence of women leaders isn’t something found only on this continent.

This is in spite of the many and great women leaders such as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Mamphela Ramphele (all South African), Anna Tibaijuka of Tanzania and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Despite her stupendous achievements, both as a political leader and a government minister, Dlamini-Zuma is one of the most underrated leaders South Africa has ever produced. She epitomises a blend of transformational and matriarchal style of African leadership – a woman who is highly respected by both men and women alike.

Unlike her contemporaries who perhaps lack political or business representation, Dlamini-Zuma’s style of leadership is defined not by her attempt to become an honorary man but by a strong maternal instinct.

Last year, I had an opportunity to witness some of these qualities in Dlamini-Zuma.

I was part of the national population register campaign, an initiative she started in 2009 when she assumed the ministerial role in the department of home affairs.

It was a grassroots and community-based campaign aimed at taking government services to the people, and it is an initiative that endeared the minister to millions of poor South Africans.

Even before she became a government minister and a political leader, Dlamini-Zuma served South Africans with great distinction.

It was perhaps for thise same reason that when she was tipped for the African Union (AU) Commission post, some of us were devastated.

But in hindsight I now believe that having her as the AU head will go a long way towards transforming this continent.

Her appointment will certainly help in Africa’s battle for gender transformation, something that we so desperately need on the African continent if we are to change perceptions about women as great leaders.

She also brings a wealth of experience in international affairs and diplomacy.

Furthermore, her signature campaigns concerning health and immigration laws will help African nations with proper documentation of their citizens and also put us back on track as a continent in meeting our Millennium Development Goals.

»Mkhize writes in his personal capacity


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