Where have all the great leaders gone?

2018-05-20 00:01
Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara

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In the past century, the African continent has been bestowed with leaders, great and small, who ruled both economically depressed nations and economically prosperous nations.

What is known is that there are different styles of leadership, including democratic, socialist and communist – but no leader would ever stand up and call him or herself a dictator.

The African continent has had its fair share of leaders who were well educated, well read and well travelled. Once in power some of those leaders surrounded themselves with equally educated people who served as the president’s council and advisers.

In the ranks of the great, educated and focused, these leaders spring to mind: Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (before the wheels came off), Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Anwar Sadat of Egypt, John Garang of Sudan, Seretse Khama of Botswana, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.

One is not arguing that education and educated leaders are the panacea to Africa’s problems, but having an educated leader is an advantage. Education, while not everything, equips the holder with technical skills.

Mbeki used his intellectual prowess to punch mostly Western leaders into submission by putting forward rational thoughts backed by either scientific or management research. He used his knowledge of statistics and economics to question certain documents produced by international bodies, such as the UN, and, mostly, the authors of such articles could not provide appropriate answers.

It raises a question: Does what they wrote, and write, reflect their thinking about African nations and African people.

Mbeki stirred the pot by advancing arguments that South Africa was one nation of two classes. He said one was mostly white and mostly economically prosperous and the other black and mostly economically marginalised. The so-called white press took unbridled umbrage at his utterances. They took a sledgehammer approach towards his arguments, showcasing white poverty to try to drown his arguments.

The former president had numbers to advance his case and his mostly white detractors and black apologists, such as the chaps at the Free Market Foundation, had bags of emotions backed up by no scientific, economic or statistical evidence.

History books will indicate that Mugabe became the first black leader to hold white people accountable for the Lancaster House agreement of 1978. The agreement was one of the conditions attached to Zimbabwe’s independence from the UK. How many know that he began the campaign of taking farms only after the UK government of Tony Blair failed to honour the Lancaster House agreement? Mugabe had flaws, but who is flawless?

As citizens of the African continent, are we fine-tuned about the range of topics being discussed in the African Union? In 1986, while addressing his Organisation of African Unity colleagues, President Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso alluded to self-sustainability and self-reliance of the nations of Africa as the way to grow. He wore military fatigue – the material used to weave that fatigue came from the hands of farmers in what was then known as Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).

Sankara was assassinated in a coup d’état. How far are African nations close to trading with one another 32 years after his death?

Sankara and his ilk were great and somehow, when you compare them with the present riff raff that is governing this great continent, you might weep. At times our leaders are a shameful bunch, willing to sacrifice their pride and sanity at the slightest mention of a get together with Western leaders.

In 2014 the then US president Barack Obama invited African leaders to the White House for nothing at all, just to smile and be seen with him. What we know is that they scrambled and ran over themselves like kids in a candy shop to be seen with Obama. Truly shameful behaviour. Their spin doctors might say the presidents went to the US for investment opportunities. Then the question arises: When they returned what was the worth of the investments they brought back with them? The great men mentioned in this article spoke with one voice about advancing Africa’s interests and development. What is being said today?

- Legodi is a City Press reader from Limpopo

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