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African leadership: Perspectives of 20 senior African leaders and heads of state

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Yene H. K. Assegid
A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the
California Institute of Integral Studies
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in Humanities with a concentration in
Transformative Learning and Change
California Institute of Integral Studies
San Francisco, CA
UMI Number: 3434786
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Assegid, and that in my opinion this work meets the criteria for approving a
dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy in Humanities with a concentration in Transformative
Learning and Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
Joanne Gozawa, PhD, Chair
Faculty, Transformative Learning and Change
Constance A. Jones, PhD
Faculty, Transformative Learning and Change
Russ Volckmann, PhD, MBC
External Committee Member
Clive Neel, FCA
External Reader
© 2010 Yene H. K. Assegid
Yene H. K. Assegid
California Institute of Integral Studies, 2010
Joanne Gozawa, PhD, Committee Chair
Does the concept of leadership in Africa compare to leadership in Western
discourse or is African Leadership a particular and specific practice based on a
different philosophy? In support of evolving leadership capacity in Africa, this
study sought stories, insight, and wisdom from 20 individuals who have
experienced and exercised leadership in Africa—elder African leaders and
visionaries such as heads of state, directors of multilateral organizations, spiritual
leaders, and community opinion leaders.
Using an organic inquiry method, this research focuses on exploring the
principles and foundations of African leadership through conversations with
elders. This study was a quest to know what in Africa requires a unique
leadership, to understand African leadership and how it can be tapped for
economic development and social welfare. Through organic inquiry this research
enters the space of the sacred and presents that which is not verbalized, is not
written, holds wisdom, and unfolds through stories from the heart.
This research contributes to an understanding of the dynamics of
leadership and human systems in Africa, in subtle and nuanced ways evoked by
the collective stories from elders. This understanding accesses a subtle realm of
realization about Africa and the role of leadership in African development, which
contributes to a sense of clarity and direction for the future of the continent. This
research might also contribute to how the next generations of African leaders
effectively address the complexities of African development. The results of this
inquiry may be of interest to African leaders, teachers, development practitioners,
and all of those working to improve the situation on the continent.
The findings suggest a substantial difference between leadership in the
Western discourse and leadership in the African discourse: African leadership is
focused on the collective, whereas Western leadership is rather focused on the
individual. These differences might be related to the context in which the
leadership is exercised.
A Moment of Silence: An Offering of Gratitude and Appreciation
This dissertation was made possible by support and guidance from so
many individuals ranging from my family to many friends, colleagues, mentors,
and teachers, as well as the magical and generous support of many individuals—
complete strangers in my life—who went out of their way to help me on my path.
To my best friend, life partner, and husband Matthias Reusing, my
daughters Rosi-Selam and Leoni-Almaz: Thank you for your never-ending
encouragements and sacrifices to let me pursue my Doctoral studies, and most of
all, thank you for your never-ending understanding for all the times I had to travel
away from home to carry out my interviews in so many countries around the
world. It is your support, your love, and your encouragements that are the pillars
of my life. I am because we are.
To my Doctoral Dissertation Chair, Dr. Joanne Gozawa: Dearest Joanne, I
have to tell you that it is your spirit, your gift to listen to the subtle messages of
the universe, your faith in me, and your compassion for my inquiry that have
guided me, encouraged me when the road was getting tough, and kept me going to
the finish line. You have to know how much you have touched my heart and that
you will remain with me throughout my life as one of my greatest teachers. I am
because we are.
To my Doctoral Dissertation Committee, Dr. Connie Jones, Dr. Russ
Volkmann, and Mr. Clive Neel: Thank you for your guidance. Thank you for your
support and for all the conversations we have had, especially Clive. Thank you for
encouraging me to tell stories. As much as the person you marry can define the
quality of your life, I think a Dissertation Committee defines the quality of the
work and the quality of the learning process. And in this respect I can say that I
could not have wished for a better committee. Russ, thank you for encouraging
me to write; you have gently led me along the path, empowering me to tell the
stories that dwell in me. May you each know in your heart how grateful I am to
have had you as a committee: I am because we are.
To my editor, Anna M. Fitzpatrick: Anna, I could not have made it
without you. I thank you so much for your deep understanding of the very
personal quest this research represented for me, as well as for all of your kindness,
excellence, patience, and willingness to work with me throughout the process,
even though I was miles away. It has been such a pleasure to work with you, and
it gave me such comfort to know that I could count on you: I am because we are.
To my cohort, as Maryanne Faziofox has said in the acknowledgement of
her dissertation: “I also bow deeply to each and every member of my great
cohort, Cohort 20, who made the doctoral program a transformative and
unforgettable experience […] Thank you—Sister Amani Joy, Doreen Maller,
Mary Aebischer, Tom Shaw, Joy Meeker, Muhjah Shakir, Rachel Seiler and to
you Maryanne Faziofox”— I am because we are.
To my parents, Assegid Tessema and Sally Makonnen, and to my sisters
Fabian, Noel, and Lily Assegid: Thank you for your unconditional love and
support. Thank you for all the times you had to support me acquiring my books,
making payments, and sharing your air-miles to allow me to travel. Thank you to
my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all my cousins for the inspiration for
education they instilled in me since my youngest age—especially to my
grandmother, Almaz Haile-Mariam, my greatest life mentor, teacher, and spiritual
guide. To all my cousins and relatives, wherever I go you have been with me in
person or in spirit, and throughout the path, I knew I could always count on you.
To all my friends in Sierra Leone, especially Harm Beskers, Jessica Horn, Ina
Ismael, and many others, your support has been amazing. Thank you for bearing
with me in so many ways throughout my research and throughout the process of
writing. I have no words to express my gratitude for all your encouragements. To
Yeshi Seyoum, I bow to you. I have no words to express the gift of your patience
of bearing with me patiently and all your prayers to see me through this process.
I am because we are.
To all the participants of my research, it is the interviews that you have
extended me that have allowed me to emerge this perspective, this understanding,
and this comprehension on the subtle truth of leadership in Africa. How can I ever
thank you enough for your time, for the dialogue and exchange we have had, for
the stories you have shared with me, and for your continued encouragement. I
only pray that I have brought out the stories and passed on your messages in a
way that reflects the dignity, wisdom, and insights you have so generously shared
with me. I am because we are.
Last but far from least, I pause for a moment of silence to thank Spirit,
thank God, our Divine Creator and our blessed Universe. Dear Spirit, Archbishop
of Botswana Dr. Trevor Mwamba once said to me that we are prisoners of our
gifts until we open the gates to exercise these gifts and share them with the world.
To me, I think that we are also prisoners of our inquiries and the fundamental life
questions that dwell within our being, and until we open the gates to engage in the
quest and strive to find the answers, to find the clues to quench our thirst for
understanding, for clarity, for awareness, and an informed consciousness—until
then, we might remain captive and prisoner of the inquiry that dwells in us. I am
because we are.
This research represents the beginning of the quest I undertook to resolve
my deepest inquiry, despite the fact that I may not have had all that I materially
needed to engage the journey. Even though I could not even fully articulate the
questions of my inquiry, I followed the sense of the inquiry and trusted that the
right questions would emerge along the way in due time. Something inside me
spoke and invited me to just take a first step, only one step at a time—and here I
am today, almost five years later, thousands of steps later, each taken one at a
Dear Spirit, it is through your guidance, through following your lead
wholeheartedly that I have dared to walk this path. It is in knowing that you are
by my side that I dared to enter terrains that were sometimes so unclear and
foggy, at times even scary. Sensing your presence allowed me to continue forward
even though it seemed that there was no road to follow. It is through being aware
of your presence and remaining genuine to my inquiry that I have mustered the
audacity to call on Africa’s—and also the world’s—greatest leaders to complete
this research. I am humbled by our partnership, honored to hold your hand and
walk this wonderful trail in search of wisdom, insights, and stories of the essence
of African leadership. Thank you Spirit, our Divine Creator, for this life you have
blessed me with and for all the inspiration and guidance you continue to give me.
I will always find you within the silence of my soul. I am because we are.
“… I would like to leave behind me the conviction that, if we maintain a certain
amount of caution and organization we deserve victory [....]
You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness.
In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the
old formulas, the courage to invent the future.
It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able
to act with extreme clarity today.
I want to be one of those madmen. [...]
We must dare to invent the future...”
—Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso, August 21, 1983
(Sankara, 1988, pp. 141–144)
Table of Contents
Abstract .................................................................................................................. iv!
Acknowledgments.................................................................................................. vi!
List of Figures and Tables.................................................................................... xxi!
Chapter 1 Introduction .............................................................................................1!
Background and Context..............................................................................2!
Statement of the Problem.............................................................................6!
The Research Question ..............................................................................11!
Organic Inquiry Method ............................................................................12!
Significance and Purpose of the Study ......................................................18!
Researcher’s Relationship to the Topic: A Life-Long Inquiry ..................22!
Chapter 2 Literature Review..................................................................................36!
Background and Context............................................................................38!
The Importance of Learning from Africa’s Elder Leaders ........................46!
Basic Tenets of African Leadership...........................................................51!
Western and African Leadership: A Comparison......................................57!
African Cosmology: A Defining Factor for African Leadership...............61!
Integral Approach/Theory and Leadership ................................................67!
The Four-Quadrant Model .............................................................68!
Levels or Stages of Development ..................................................70!
The Lines of Development.............................................................72!
Leadership Through the Integral Lens...........................................73!
Reflecting on Visionary Leadership in Africa ...........................................76!
Effective Versus Poor Leadership in Africa ..............................................79!
Conclusion and Reflections .......................................................................84!
Chapter 3 Method ..................................................................................................87!
Organic Inquiry..........................................................................................87!
Phase One: Preparation ..................................................................91!
Phase Two: Inspiration ..................................................................95!
Phase Three: Integration ................................................................97!
The Appropriate Method for This Study .......................................98!
Effects on Data Analysis..............................................................101!
Approach to the Inquiry ...........................................................................102!
Participant Selection ................................................................................105!
Selection Criteria .........................................................................108!
Protocol for Securing Participants ...............................................109!
Protocol for Participants Known Personally....................110!
Protocol for Participants Not Yet Known Personally ......110!
Data Collection Process ...........................................................................112!
The Interview Questions ..........................................................................113!
Questions About Leadership in General ......................................114!
Defining Leadership.........................................................114!
Exploring the Qualities Among African Leaders Versus
Leaders From Other Regions ...........................................115!
Investigating the Leadership Role of African Regional
Institutions .......................................................................115!
Investigating the Greatest Challenges for African
Leaders’ Personal Stories and Experiences .................................117!
Personal Questions on the Sources of Inspiration and
Personal Questions on the Source of Inspiration,
Energy, and Determination ..............................................118!
Personal challenges and lessons learned..............119!
Role models, teachers, and mentors.....................120!
Looking into the future, passing on messages
of wisdom and guidance. .....................................121!
Speaking to the young leaders of today, what
would you say? ....................................................122!
Data Analysis ...........................................................................................123!
Presentation of the Findings.....................................................................125!
Validity Procedures..................................................................................129!
Delimitations and Limitations of the Study .............................................131!
Chapter 4: Findings..............................................................................................134!
Preamble: Taking it “One Step” at a time................................................134!
Encounter with the Elders: The Stories and My Transpersonal Experience143!
Delving Into the Process: My Journey.....................................................145!
Participant 1— Mr. Azmi Samara ...............................................148!
Participant 2—H.E. Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, First President of
Zambia .........................................................................................154!
Participant 3—H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan, Former Secretary
General of the United Nations .....................................................160!
Participant 4—H.E. Mrs. Josephine Ouedraogo, Former
Deputy Under-Secretary General of the United Nations
Economic Commission for Africa, and Secretary General of
ENDA Tier Monde ......................................................................163!
Participant 5—Dr. Moustapha Gueye, United Nations
Development Program, Global Leadership Development and
HIV/AIDS Senior Advisor...........................................................164!
Participant 6—Dr. Akwasi Aidoo, Founder and Director of
Trust Africa Foundation...............................................................165!
Participant 7—H.E. Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki, Former Prime
Minister of Niger and CEO of NEPAD .......................................167!
Participant 8—Mrs. Sena Gabianu Senior Economist and
Former World Bank Official........................................................169!
Participant 9—Lady Almaz Haile-Mariam, Sage........................170!
Participant 10—Reverend Dr. Themistocles, Orthodox
Church of Sierra Leone................................................................172!
Participant 11—Mr. Youssou N’Dour, World Renowned
Artist and Founder of the Youssou N’Dour Foundation .............175!
Participant 12—H. E. Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Former Minister
of Education and Current Head of the National Election
Commission .................................................................................177!
Participant 13—Mr. Abdul Rahman Turay, Head of the
Strategic Policy Unit at State House and Principal Advisor to
H. E. President Koroma of Sierra Leone .....................................179!
Participant 14—Mr. Tokyo Sexwale, Businessman,
Politician, and Former ANC Activist...........................................180!
Participant 15—H. E. Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, Chief
Justice at the Constitutional Courts of South Africa....................183!
Participant 16—Mr. Ahmed Kathrada, Senior African
National Congress Official, Former Cabinet Minister in the
Mandela Government, and Lifelong Political Activist ................187!
Participant 17—Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, Businessman, ANC
Official, and Former Politician ....................................................190!
Participant 18—H. E. Dr. Trevor Mwamba, Archbishop of
Participant 19—H. E. Dr. Amos Sawyer, Former President of
Liberia ..........................................................................................198!
Participant 20—H. E. Dr. K. Y. Amoako, Former
Undersecretary General of the United Nations and Executive
Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, and
Current CEO and Founder of the African Center for
Economic Transformation (ACET) .............................................200!
Introduction to the Themes of the Findings.............................................203!
Leadership: Universal Perspectives .........................................................208!
Defining What Makes a Leader ...................................................208!
Vision Steeped in Local Context But Broad in Scope.....209!
Societal Influence.............................................................210!
Communication Skills......................................................215!
The Ability to Create Consensus and Inspire People to
Follow ..............................................................................216!
A Gift of Potential?..........................................................218!
Good Character ................................................................220!
Courage ............................................................................221!
What Defines Great Leaders? ..........................................224!
Qualities Among African Leaders Versus Leaders From
Other Regions ..............................................................................226!
Qualities of African Leaders............................................227!
Communal orientation in connection, values,
and priorities. .......................................................227!
Consensus decision-making.................................229!
Forgiveness. .........................................................233!
Work ethic............................................................234!
A certain kind of bearing. ....................................234!
The capacity to transform. ...................................236!
What Our Leaders Should Learn From Others ................237!
Rethinking Africa from a communal
perspective. ..........................................................237!
Critical evaluations of democracy for Africa.......238!
Value of examining countries of success.............241!
Critical evaluations of consensus decisionmaking..................................................................241!
Leadership qualities African leaders can learn
from others. ..........................................................242!
The value of encouraging free thinking. ..............243!
Commitment to human rights. .............................243!
The ability to be assertive and self-confident
on the world stage. ...............................................243!
The value of risk-taking. ......................................245!
The value of connecting to Africa’s history
and knowledge from ancient times. .....................246!
The need for institutions. .....................................248!
Long-term future thinking....................................249!
Open competition for leadership..........................250!
The benefits of time-limited leadership. ..............251!
Transparency at the governmental level. .............252!
Neither From Africa, Nor From Other Regions:
Leadership Without Borders ............................................252!
The Leadership Role of African Regional Institutions ................253!
Assessments of the Success or Failure of Regional
Institutions .......................................................................253!
Leaders as the Decisive Factor in the Success of
Regional Institutions ........................................................255!
The Role of Regional Institutions in Africa’s Global
The Need for Leaders to Create a Plan for Africa’s
Relationship to Other Regions .........................................258!
The Benefits of Integration ..............................................259!
Development challenges. .....................................259!
Lack of infrastructure...........................................260!
Lack of social networks. ......................................260!
Progress toward a better future. ...........................260!
Challenges for Regional Organizations ...........................261!
Political boundaries..............................................261!
Consensus orientation. .........................................262!
The Greatest Challenges of African Leaders ...............................263!
Corruption ........................................................................263!
Stability ............................................................................266!
Democracy .......................................................................266!
Ethnic Divisions...............................................................268!
Nurturance of the Next Generation..................................268!
Relationships With International Peers............................269!
Lack of a Plan or a Firm Position ....................................269!
Reflection: Can Great Leaders Fail?............................................269!
Reasons for Failure ..........................................................270!
Lessons to Learn From Failure ........................................270!
Leaders’ Personal Stories and Experiences .............................................271!
Sources of Personal Inspiration and Leadership..........................271!
Sources of Resilience, Energy, and Determination .....................274!
The Leaders’ Personal Challenges and Lessons Learned 275!
The Role Models, Teachers, and Mentors of the
Looking into the Future, Passing on Messages of
Wisdom and Guidance.....................................................278!
Speaking to the Young Leaders of Today: What Would
You Say?..........................................................................280!
Chapter 5: Analysis of Findings and Discussion .................................................282!
Limitations of the Study...........................................................................282!
Organization of the Chapter.....................................................................284!
Part 1: Analysis of Findings in Line With the Literature Review ...........285!
Lessons Learned...........................................................................286!
The Meaning of Leadership in the African Context ....................289!
The Principles of African Leadership ..........................................293!
Western Versus African Leadership Discourse ...........................296!
African Leadership From the Perspective of the Integral
The Meaning and Implication of Visionary Leadership for
Africa ...........................................................................................300!
Effective Leadership Versus Poor Leadership in the Context
of Africa .......................................................................................301!
Effective Leadership and Development Opportunities for
Africa ...........................................................................................302!
Part 2: Insights and Analysis of Findings From a Personal Perspective..303!
Insights from Elder Leaders to the Next Generation Leaders......303!
Particular Areas Bringing Deeper Understanding About
Leadership and Africa..................................................................306!
Sharing Selected Stories of Leadership .......................................309!
Re-Viewing and Re-Defining Leadership in Africa:
Reflecting on the Stories That Touched Me the Most .................311!
Brief Analysis of the Findings From an Integral Perspective..................318!
Conclusion of the Analysis Discussion....................................................330!
Chapter 6: Conclusion..........................................................................................331!
Transformation for Africa Through Leadership ......................................335!
Considerations of New Research to Follow.............................................338!
Reflection and Way Forward ...................................................................341!
Appendix A: Committee Member Bios ...............................................................357!
Appendix B: Geographical Locations of Interviewees........................................361!
Appendix C: Letter of Solicitation and Letter of Confirmation ..........................362!
Appendix D: Interview Introduction Note and Questions ...................................365!
Appendix E: List of Selected Interviewees..........................................................368!
Appendix F: Short biographies and background of participants .........................370!
Figure 1
The Four Quadrants or All Quadrants, All Levels (AQAL) Model ......................69!
Figure 2
My Perception of the Meaning of Leadership in the African Context ................290!
Figure 3
Research Findings Represented on the Four-Quadrant Map ...............................320!
Table 1
Geographical Locations of Interviewees .............................................................361!
Table 2
List of Leaders Interviewed, in Order of Completion..........................................368!
Effective leadership is essential for economic development and good
governance but it has often not been present in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that
has time after time endured poor leadership, challenging economic and human
development, and poor governance (Edigheji, 2005). The continent exists at the
margins of world concern and almost on the verge of extinction with regard to
global development, yet the dismal performance on the continent is not for lack of
effort (Adejumobi, 2002). Three major factors have been attributed to Africa’s
perpetual challenges: inappropriate policies, bad governance, and corrupt and
ineffective leaders (Gray & McPherson, 2000).
Leadership is a pivotal leverage to move African nations onto the path of
prosperity. However, the current concept of leadership is mainly defined by
Western discourse that might not always be applicable to the African context
(Nkomo, 2006). In order to witness substantive results, it is essential to
understand the nature of leadership in Africa and how this leadership is practiced.
It is equally important to define the parameters of African leadership theories and
understand their relation to the prevalent leadership theories. This study aims to
explore the basic parameters of leadership in Africa. The discussion highlights the
differences and similarities between leadership as conceptualized in Western
discourse and African leadership as defined by African cosmology.
My inquiry aims to find the wisdom and knowledge of African leaders in
the context of governance and nation-building. My intention is to learn from
senior African leaders, such as former heads of state and recognized visionaries,
through their stories. I trust that these stories and these conversations will enable
me to re-view the concepts of leadership in Africa in a holistic way. I have
intentionally used re-view because I intend to look at that which was once in view
for the people of Africa, that which was known in our traditional systems, and that
which the stories with the elders will walk me through again, so that we may view
it again together, so that we may re-view what was so, and re-establish some of
the parameters.
What might these elders have to share with us about leadership and about
the kind of leadership needed or best suited to advance the development of the
continent? What are their stories, their experiences and messages on this topic?
What is it that is not written, that is not stated, that is not apparent to the naked
eye, but which defines great leadership for Africans and for Africa? What is the
essence of traditional African leadership and how does it manifest in leadership in
Africa today? What African leadership traditions and wisdoms can be drawn from
to increase the leadership capacities of the next generation of African leaders to
enable them to deal with the growing complexities prevalent on this continent?
Background and Context
African tradition depends upon stories that house wisdom, offer gems of
knowledge, and hold precious gifts of insight. These stories commonly find their
way from one generation to the next through an oral tradition; African oral
tradition refines the essence of human experiences, molding them into remember2
able and retrievable images, stories applicable to wide scopes of situations
(Scheub, 1985). Wisdom and insights are often coined in short parables, proverbs
and anecdotes (Malunga & James, 2004).
A San man defines story as follows: “a story is like the wind, it comes
from a distant place and we feel it” (Scheub, 1985, p. 1). A lot is held in this
simple definition. When we talk of stories and the messages they hold, it is not
about understanding with our brains, but rather feeling with our souls. Stories
come from a distant place, and that place is in the timeline of generations. It is
like the wind, meaning that the message of the story is almost intangible—it exists
in the subtle realm and can only be felt when the listeners are also in this subtle
realm. “A story does not expend itself the way information does, it preserves and
concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a very long time”
(Benjamin, 1973, as quoted by Scheub, 1985, p. 1).
In Africa, knowledge (wisdom, know-how) is often transferred from one
generation to the next through interaction with elders (Malunga & James, 2004).
We know, we do, and we learn by being part of the process of living in our
communities and families. We establish norms that sustain our lives, not from
scientific prediction per se, but rather from learning to interact with the gifts and
challenges of our environments. There is no particular time for learning; it is all
part of life. From the moment a child is born, it is through interaction with the
community, with the environment, and with family that this child grows into
adulthood, learning, doing, and being mindfully at all times. It is one of the
reasons why, in Africa, we give such importance to where one was raised and by
whom, near whom.
The same process of learning applies to the issues of leadership,
governance, and nation-building, which depend upon socialization in formal
education as well as by elders and Elder-Leaders. However, modern times have
not allowed such traditional interactions among leaders and subsequent
generations. I, personally, sense a gap in our learning channels and on the bridge
where knowledge and wisdom are transferred in African leadership. Interference
from lifestyles, mass global movement, and “not taking the time to sit and talk”
for the sake of listening to the stories our elders have to share have become an
obstacle for knowledge transmission—the energetic field of learning often comes
only when we take time to be together under the same roof, at least to establish
the ground of exchange, and then the channels of wisdom can flow uninterrupted.
In an attempt to address this gap of know-how transfer, I suggest that the
first step is in finding the means to link the traditional and the modern, the means
to draw upon wisdom the traditional way and at the same time explore ways to
apply this wisdom to modern situations. I ask whether we can find grounds where
we can listen to our elders and learn as our ancestors have listened and learned
from theirs, while still being in these contemporary times. Is there a way to
reconcile and restore the subtle field of existence in Africa that will set free the
boundaries of learning?
The traditional, inherent, African ways of knowing are bypassed in favor
of modern ways of knowing that require numbers, indicators, and figures that
assess the impact of the usual three- or five-year project plans. Nowadays,
intuition, wisdom, and long-term visions might not necessarily find their place in
the process of development work. I appreciate the value of modern ways, but I
also suggest that it might be wiser and more efficient in reaching the ultimate goal
of development if the modern was complemented by traditional African ways.
Only relying on modern methods of work without taking into consideration the
traditional might actually lessen the efficiency of interventions and possibly
challenge the sustainability of advances achieved. Throughout the centuries
various African kingdoms and empires enjoyed peace and sustained growth. This
was lost through time with the advent of slavery, colonialism, and inappropriate
subsequent applications of modern practices of governance. Calling upon
traditional Elder-Leaders and visionaries for their stories brings wisdom,
experience, and knowledge that will open the way for better understanding of the
opportunities and the challenges that face the continent’s development. My wish
was to collect their stories and their wisdom and transmit them to men and women
working for Africa, to those who want more for this continent and who work
relentlessly to defy the challenges that have shackled this region. I hope that the
stories and the wisdom will support African leaders to assimilate the past and
work in the present for a transformed future full of opportunities and prospects for
better living conditions and growth.
Regarding a formula for transformation, I would say that transformation
emerges in the long run, when the change that occurs in the moment is integrated
into the “current” reality to create a “new” reality. In my view, Reality 1 +
Change 1 = Reality 2; sustaining Reality 2 is the emergence of the transformation
that has taken place. My aim as a researcher is to find the opportunities, insights,
and wisdom that can lead to a definition of “Change 1” and how this change can
be integrated into our present reality (Reality 1) to result in a transformation on
the ground (Reality 2). My aim is also to identify thought patterns that may lead
communities to initiate such a cycle of change and transformation by learning
what the elders have to offer, by integrating the insights from elders into existing
practices, and by working to bring to the surface continuously evolving realities
that favor development at all levels.
Statement of the Problem
Leadership capacity in the public sector is failing (Adamolekun, 1988) in
most African countries mainly due to the paradox of the focused objectives of
national independence and the elusiveness of post-independence development. In
turn this leadership challenge affects both economic and human development in
most African nations. The continent is the worst hit by the growing crisis of
survival under the dynamics of globalization (Adejumobi, 2002). Africa therefore
represents the poorest of the poor. Although the international community might
provide financial and technical support as well as resources to support the
development process of African nations, it is unrealistic to assume this support is
enough to rid Africa of the challenges it faces (Isimbabi, 2004).
While Africa remains the most strained continent on the planet, Africa’s
predicament is not for lack of ideas and efforts from African people or leadership
on how to halt the slide and initiate sustainable development (Adejumobi, 2002;
Edigheji, 2005). To date, the majority of black African states, south of the Sahara,
are among the weakest in the world. State institutions are less developed in subSaharan African than anywhere else in the world, with political instability
prevalent in the decades following independence (R. H. Jackson & Rosberg,
1982). However, the issue of leadership is a recurrent reality associated with the
challenges of development. My argument is that one of the main factors
associated with inadequate leadership appears as the lack of opportunities to
transfer knowledge, wisdom, and essentials of leadership for governance between
the generations. This same gap is hindering African leaders from passing along
their wisdom to the next generations, a situation that breaks down the continuity
of the collective memory/wisdom. Consequently, much is lost along the way and
therefore has to be re-done, re-built, re-invented.
We are not learning from one another. Our elders often take their wisdom
with them when they pass away, partly because African traditions are mostly
passed on orally (Malunga & James, 2004) and writing, documenting, and leaving
tangible records is not as mainstream in African culture as it may be in other parts
of the world. It is therefore hard to pass on information, knowledge, and wisdom.
This loss of inherent wisdom is also a result of the increasing lack of space, time,
or support for the transfer of traditional, oral wisdom.
As much as there is a discourse about poor leadership in Africa that is
corrupt and not development-oriented (Masango, 2003), a distinction must be
made between such poor leadership and leadership that lacks wisdom or long-
term strategy. What can be said about “ineffective” African leadership? Leaders
such as Patrice Lumumba and Thomas Sankara stood for growth, for human
development, and for social change, but their lives were ended abruptly—it seems
they were far ahead of their times, came too early in the process, lived in turbulent
times, and did not get to bring their vision to completion (Glickman, 1992; Rake,
1994). What was it in their leadership that did not work for their context and
time? It was certainly not poor and corrupt leadership—it was perhaps a
leadership style that lacked patience, pacing, and persistence or strategy. There
are many African men and women willing to invest themselves to better this
continent and willing to take leadership responsibilities. It is my hope that making
available the wisdom of Elder leaders will help young leaders, present and future
Sankaras and Lumumbas, offering them the knowledge and perspective to
implement their vision without tragedy.
There are many Africans who could, given a change, contribute
substantively to this continent: How do we make space for them? How do we
engage them in the process of change and transformation to benefit African
communities, to benefit Africa, and all of humanity for that matter? What will it
take to create a ground of collaborative work, where we can draw on both
tradition and modern ways? Where do we start? Holding a position of leadership
is a risky matter in most African nations (Rotberg, 2006); can change take place
in order to create a safer environment to allow leadership to flourish? How must
the cultural context of governance transform to allow adequate structures and
policies to emerge? Leadership in Africa comes with a level of risk that may sway
leaders toward short-term, economically destructive policies (Goldsmith, 2001).
The risks of holding office are very high in the region, and countries where
leaders face less risk tend to have more liberal economic policies and have lesser
incidence of apparent political corruption. Democratization creates a political
environment that is less perilous, and one that encourages leaders to govern with
an eye to longer-term results (Goldsmith, 2001).
Africa is the only continent that has been experiencing digressing
development. Often some have derogatorily referred to it as the “hopeless
continent” (Adejumobi, 2002, p. 3). Yet, it is also the continent that is least
populated, despite widespread perception to the contrary, and the continent with
the highest concentration of natural resources. It is a continent with great potential
for development to serve its communities and even benefit other communities
globally. Yet poverty, conflict, natural disasters, epidemics, and so on have
become almost a norm. Africa counts the highest number of conflicts and is the
only region in the world where armed conflicts are on the rise: In the 1990s, there
were more than seventeen major armed conflicts in Africa alone, as compared to
only ten in the rest of the world (Moyo, 2009, p. 59). Increasing the leadership
capacity of future leaders to address the complexities of the continent will help
African nations to attain development levels more in line with the potentials of the
African governments, international development agencies, and
international donors spend billions of dollars funding development programs. In
the same breath, development practitioners put in immense effort to bring change.
Yet, the resources spent do not proportionally correlate with the results achieved.
Evolving leadership capacities to a level beyond the complexities on the ground
will help create a platform for better harmonization of development efforts and a
synergy among development practitioners (within and outside the continent) in all
There are of course many variables affecting development, change, and
transformation. Leadership is widely recognized as the main variable, and one
that is a key leverage point to boost development (e.g., Kirk & Shutte, 2004;
Moses, 2010; Sharma et al., 2005; Zevenbergen, 2006). Bringing about
transformation in the mindset of the leadership at the highest level is essential
because it is this very leadership that formulates policies, designs programs, and is
responsible for program implementation at both the country and regional levels.
In African traditions, problems, challenges, and enigmas that are
unresolved are brought to elders. It is the circle of elders that direct, guide, and
show the path to possible solutions. In this same way, I feel that this problem of
leadership and the related development challenge must be brought to our elders—
in this case, our senior and former statesmen. Their wisdom, their experiences and
stories, will give us insights and clarity and open the way to an adapted, more
suitable approach to leadership development in Africa—the African way. I trust
that they will share with us the principles of African leadership and other
leadership principles that best address the needs of the African communities.
No single model of leadership can accommodate significant variations in
societal culture and their influence on organizational behavior (Blunt & Jones,
1997). The present study is an attempt to find the kind of leadership(s) needed to
address the development challenges in Africa today and in the coming years.
What is unique about Africa and African nations, culture, and traditions that
might require a re-view of the leadership needed on the continent? Re-viewing the
concept of leadership in Africa and how it relates to the current reality on the
ground, as well as how it can be harnessed to bring change to benefit
communities, is the ultimate goal of this study. The process of re-viewing the
concept of leadership using different lenses and perspectives allows the
opportunity to reframe, rediscover, and reacquaint ourselves with what is so in
African leadership.
The Research Question
The main question investigated through this inquiry is: What is unique
about Africa and Africans that requires a different way of leadership for
transformative change?
Sub-questions developing from this main question include the following.
What traditional wisdom exists among elders that would be appropriate to
contemporary models of leadership? What means of knowledge transmission
could be created to repair the transmission gap?
Organic Inquiry Method
The key determinant in finding the answers I search for is identifying the
most appropriate research method, one that is appropriate for both the inquiry and
myself as the researcher. Braud and Anderson (1998) contend that the researcher
is a key component of the entire research process and his/her personal
characteristics (e.g., background, history, sensitivities, biases, etc.) greatly
influence the outcome. It therefore seemed essential to choose a method that
worked with my life, my perspectives, and my worldview. The right method is as
important as having the most appropriate tool, the same as having the most
appropriate flashlight to explore an unknown terrain. Organic inquiry is a method
very much anchored in listening to Spirit—that of the land, that of the Universe,
that of the people, that of my own being—Spirit that I live with at heart, in
thought, in action, in writing, in reflecting, in being, and in listening. For all of
these reasons, for allowing space to receive the stories, I have anchored my
investigation in the organic inquiry approach in order to find, to collect, and to
reflect on the sacred stories of our elders.
Organic inquiry also aligns with the non-duality of African culture, in
which ordinary African life is in essence a harmonious blend of both the
practical/material and the spiritual/moral. Organic inquiry allows a shift of focus
from floodlight to spotlight and from ground level to aerial view, to be in one
lifetime yet benefit from the eternal as it applies to story. Organic inquiry is an
emerging qualitative method that allows the research to travel in a sacred space of
inquiry in partnership with Spirit (Curry & Wells, 2003) to find answers to
questions that might otherwise be too elusive for other methods. It is an embodied
research method that incorporates the researcher, the participants, and the readers
of the findings in grasping that which might not be readily apparent, but that
needs the researcher to enter into a more subtle level of consciousness to carry out
the inquiry (Curry & Wells, 2003). The fundamental technique of organic inquiry
is telling and listening to stories (Braud & Anderson, 1998) in a way that allows
the research to grow out of the researcher’s story. For these reasons and because
my research might not be sequential per se (Curry & Wells, 2003), I chose this
particular method to equip me with the tools and compass I needed on this
journey to the Elders of Africa.
In this section, important terms relating to leadership and development are
defined for the purposes of this dissertation. In this inquiry, Africa and the
continent refer to sub-Saharan African countries, as that is the focus of my
research. Human systems refer to the inherent systems or environments through
which we live, operate, and exist as humans. A human system can refer to a
family unit, a community, a nation, the world as a whole, an organization, or the
student body of a classroom. A human system can also refer to a continent, its
culture, its inherent way of being, and that which distinguishes it from the rest of
the world.
This research offers me the opportunity to document how African
leadership is not only the prevalent negative representation that we are
accustomed to seeing depicted by most media and literature, but also an ancient
tradition where spirituality is intertwined with ordinary material life. In Africa,
leadership is a philosophy and a way of being. It is about service to the
community and about responsibility bestowed upon us by our ancestors to serve
our contemporaries and invest in the future. It is about courage, compassion, and
intuitive know-how. It is about nonduality, about working on the ground whilst
remaining mindful of Spirit. It is about accountability for our actions or nonactions, to our mothers and those who raised us. It is about living up to the
expectations of our families and communities all across the line of time. A
Yoruba proverb, “I stand on the back of those who came before me,” (Wane, as
cited in O’Sullivan, Morrell, & O’Connor, 2002, p. 135) illustrates the African
concept of continuity and connection through generations and time.
All too often, African leadership has been portrayed as corrupt and poor,
which has unfortunately been true in many instances; however, it is also true that
the leadership traditions within African communities are among the most
effective, extremely humane and centered around community wellness as opposed
to being centered around individual wellness. Such human- and communitycentered approaches to leadership are often referred to as Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is a word that refers to the humane and community-centered way
of being often seen in Africa. Leadership that is based on Ubuntu is leadership
that flows and cares; a way of being that is modest and bold—kind, gentle, yet
strong. Ubuntu can often be misunderstood by those who did not grow up with it,
mistaken for being passive or nonreactive. But it is far from that—Ubuntu refers
to being so grounded in both self and Spirit that the person is unshakable. When
applied to leadership at the highest level, it is this same quality of Ubuntu that
often resolves conflicts, manages crisis, and allows for transformation.
Leadership is a social capacity, a line of intelligence that is essential to
human systems (Goleman, 1997). Webster’s dictionary defines leadership as “the
act or an instance of leading” or “the office or position of a leader” (MerriamWebster, 1995, p. 661). Pfeffer (1977) defines leadership as the process of
attributing causation to the individual social actor. Further, leadership is an
ambiguous capacity that is difficult to measure; although it is inferred that the
quality of leadership is positively correlated with organizational performance, it is
also challenging to select appropriate leaders as the measurement of this capacity
is too ambiguous.
Among the many definitions that may be found about leadership in the
West, one truth emerges: there are as many definitions of leadership as there are
leaders and as many leadership frameworks as there are leadership writers (Fuhs,
2008, p. 139).
[According to Fred Kofman] leadership is a process by which a person
sets a purpose for others to follow and motivates them to pursue it with
effectiveness and full commitment […] for John Maxwell leadership is
defined as influence. Peter Senge maintains that if an organization is a
ship, the leader is neither the captain nor the navigator but rather the
designer for that ship. Jim Collins […] defines leadership as what a leader
does: maintains persistence, overcomes obstacles, attracts dedicated
people […]. With four different leaders providing four different leadership
definitions—leadership as influence, leadership as an activity, leadership
as a design and leadership as a process—it should come as little surprise
that aspiring leaders are often left questioning which definition is right….
(p. 123)
Purpose is one of the cornerstones of leadership, and the context that frames our
experiences into a meaningful whole (Cashman, 1998, p. 67).
To the defnition of the leader as the person who sets the purpose for others
to follow (Fuhs, 2008), I add that a leader’s level of competence might be related
to her ability to first define her own purpose in life and then transfer this sense of
purpose to others. It is one thing to feel the sense of purpose in one’s life, and yet
another to bring others on board to sense and share that purpose. Yukl (2003, as
cited by Santana, 2008, p. 2) refers to leadership as (a) the process of influencing
others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how it can be
done effectively, and (b) the process of facilitating individual and collective
efforts to accomplish the shared objectives.
To clarify the concept of leadership, Volckmann (2009) proposes some
distinctions addressing the concept of leader, leading and leadership and their
associated meanings. Volckmann defines a leader as “a role in a system that is a
set of expectations held by members of a society, community or organizations
about desired and appropriate behaviors and qualities of individuals who
temporarily occupy the role” (para. 9). Leading is then
the activities of individuals temporarily occupying the role of leader. Here
is where much of the popular leadership literature tends to focus. When
researchers and theorist talk about what a leader does it is a description of
an individual in the role of leader. For example, the suggestion that leaders
articulate and hold a vision is an indication of a behavior. So is being
authentic or being a servant. Underlying these are the perspectives and
intentions that individuals bring. If it seems that there is a close
relationship between the role and the behaviors that is the case since we
are more likely to identify individuals as having filled the role if they
exhibit the corresponding behaviors. (para. 10)
Volkmann’s definition of leadership takes an integral perspective.
Leadership…involves the role (leader), the behavior and worldviews—
including beliefs, intentions and the like—(leading) and the context. But
it is a context that goes beyond our notions of situation. It is a context that
includes culture, as well as systems, processes, technologies and so on.
(para. 11)
Keeping in mind the broad spectrum of leadership, for this paper I refer to
leadership in the scope of the public sector and leadership in the context of
governance and economic development in Africa. In much of the following
discussion, I refer to Heads of States and political leaders. However, the term
political leader might be ambiguous, as it can relate to either Heads of States and
elected officials or to influential individuals at all levels of the society and the
political system (Wiseman, 1993). Leader refers to the individual recognized as
in the role of leadership, be it in the community or at the national or regional
level, usually a senior member of the society.
The thinking of a leader is what separates him or her from the followers. I
have found that true leaders are distinguished by a unique mental attitude
that emanates from an internalized discovery of self, which creates strong,
positive and confident self-concept and self worth. I call this unique
mental attitude the spirit of leadership. (Munroe, n.d., para. 1).
In Africa, the elder members (Elders) of the society, of the family, and of
the nation are the wisdom holders. We often refer to them to find answers and
guidance to the challenges we face. They are a specific group of people that are
respected, loved, and cherished by the community. For the purposes of this
dissertation, Elder-Leader refers to men and women in leadership positions who
have also earned the societal recognition of being Elders; these terms are
capitalized throughout out of respect for the positions and persons.
Good governance is used to refer to our ability as a community, as a
nation, or as a region to instill the core pillars of governance such as rule of law,
justice, equality, freedom of speech, and so on. Development is defined as a
“multidimensional process involving major changes in social structures, popular
attitudes and national institutions as well as the acceleration of economic growth,
the reduction of inequality and the eradication of poverty” (Ayee, 1999, p. 3).
Nation-building refers to the mindset and the actions taken in the present with the
intention of building nations in the future and through the process. African
development refers to the overall development initiatives and efforts being
undertaken to boost economic growth and progress as well as human and social
conditions improvements both at a national and regional level. Economic
development refers to concrete indicators reflecting an improvement in the
purchasing power of populations. A non-governmental organization (NGO) is an
entity that is registered as a not-for-profit company working on various agendas
for human welfare, development, and charity. NGOs operate through donations
and fundraising.
Additional terminology is defined as needed in the discussion.
Significance and Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to re-view what African leadership is and
offer the findings to development practitioners in Africa, to the men and women
in leadership positions on the continent, to the decision makers, to the young, to
the not-so-young—so that they may have access to the voices of our elders, our
African visionaries and leaders as they share their thoughts, perspectives, and
experiences on the issue of African leadership and its role in economic
development and social welfare. The purpose of this study is to add to the
ongoing discourse on African leadership and to initiate conversations of change
and transformation.
These conversations will be grounded in sacred space, because in the
African context, every moment of life is experienced in sacred space—each
person is always operating as a human body and also as spirit, with Spirit, in
witness of all the ancestors and all the future generations. Traditional African
ways of being do include duality, or the “separation of Church and state,” of
spiritual/religious and material/practical; awareness and experience of the sacred,
the spiritual, is a texture of being, inseparable from every moment lived. From
that sacred space we will talk about Africa, about the future of the continent, and
about our collective ability to make a commitment to share, transfer, and pass on
the wisdom, the knowledge, the lessons, and the “lived know-how” across
generations in order to align efforts horizontally (across sectors) and vertically
(across generations), especially through bypassing duality.
I have faith that the insight gathered through this research will be useful
and support a wide range of efforts to build the leadership capacity of current
African leaders and the emerging next generation of leaders. I trust that this
research, the stories it generates, and the parameters of African leadership it might
suggest will widen and deepen our individual and collective perceptions of
leadership. This study will help us keep open our minds and hearts on the issue of
African leadership and enable us to design, create, learn about, and establish
ground to aim for a transformed future. We need to understand the deep-seated
meaning of African leadership, have some clarity in making distinctions between
leadership as we know it in the Western world and as it might exist in Africa.
The tradition of storytelling contains a sacred mosaic, a starting ground for
reflection and action geared to advance African leadership capacities for nationbuilding, and eventually continent-building. The best way I see to begin this
sacred mosaic is to review the foundation, and engage in a background setting that
represents and opens a path for the integration of the wisdom, experience, and
insight our elders offer. Perhaps others who are also working in the field of
African leadership can be inspired by this research and possibly join in making
this sacred mosaic, its colors, its patterns and texture to gain clarity, direction, and
guidance for the way forward. I also hope that others follow and continue to add
stories, pebbles, tiles, sand, tears and cement, compassion, humor, and courage so
that the mosaic will remain long after I am gone and be available for many more
years and many more generations as a sacred space for Africa, for the world, and
for humanity to resource the wisdom within. In this virtual mosaic, the images in
stories of the past, refined over the years into motifs with the potential for
metaphor, engage those of the present, which have not yet received the figurative
significance through the blending process (Scheub, 1985).
I have collected elders’ stories and woven in these stories as subtle strands
of gold in the greater mosaic of the stories of Africa. Telling the stories in writing
and in conversation is a way to perpetuate and spread that which modern times
have pushed to the margins, a way of ensuring the continuity of knowledge, of
wisdom and tradition—as the world moves into further global complexity, these
stories will hold us anchored on a ground of tradition. It is a way to go back to a
certain way of life, to refuel and re-source with that which allows us to multiply
our perspectives, deepen our senses, and stock up on lessons to continue to work
with shared vision for Africa. Ten, twenty, thirty, fifty years, maybe even a
hundred years from now, I trust these stories will remain the sacred gifts they are.
I hope we will continue to draw on them in harmonizing our work and in
synergizing our efforts to benefit growth, development, and social welfare for
men and women and children on this old continent.
My aim is to delineate and understand African leadership from the
perspectives of the stories of our elders—understand what it means, what it has
meant, and how it can be harnessed to contribute to all development efforts so far
undertaken. I looked forward to the conversations with our elders to ask them
about their experiences in leadership, about their successes, their challenges, and
their failures—the lessons they learned that they wish future leaders to learn.
What do these elders and Elder-Leaders have to say to Africa? What were the
hardest times in their leadership? Where did they get the courage, wisdom, and
strength to continue through such times? Often, when one goes on a journey in
Africa, one gets the blessings of the elders, a relic or a talisman for courage, for
wisdom, for insight—what talisman can we get now from our elders on this
collective journey toward building a better Africa?
I recognize what a blessing it is to go back to the elders of Africa, my
elders—our elders—to present my questions, to present that which I do not
understand and ask for their wisdom, their guidance, and their stories. What a
blessing it was to sit in anticipation of the stories about to emerge! What a
blessing to sit and listen to their stories! Even though it was more likely that we
would sit around a table or a desk, I was sitting on the ground, in deference to
them, in a space of letting go of what I know, so that I made enough room for
what is so in their stories.
Researcher’s Relationship to the Topic: A Life-Long Inquiry
In the mid-1970s, I was abruptly awakened to the realities of war, of
revolution and struggle. I remember my world falling apart, and landing
somewhere in Europe along with my family, seeking a place to live because our
country was not an option anymore. It is at this precise time that my inquiry
began. Since the age of eight, I have remained in a space of inquiry to understand
Ethiopia, my own country of birth, and later my inquiry expanded to questions
about the continent and how it will overcome the challenges of development.
Although at the age of eight, nine, ten, and so on, I did not know anything about
economic development or the principals of good governance, let alone understand
the issues of leadership, I knew intuitively that something was not right in my
country. I knew that something was not right in many other African countries
because I could see how many African children I found in my classrooms—most
displaced due to war and conflict in their respective countries.
It is as if I skipped a stage in growth. I was a child one day as I boarded
the plane that flew my family out of our country, and the next as we landed in
Brussels, an adult in the body of a child had emerged. I am the oldest of four girls.
I am the oldest grandchild. I am the closest to the generation of our parents and in
this reality, I found myself plunged into the need for an understanding of what
was going on, so that I could explain it to my sisters, my cousins, and my friends.
My sisters thought I always had an answer for all their questions. They believed
everything I said. Although I, too, was a child in those days, I clearly remember
that I tried my best to live up to their expectations by listening and talking to
elders, by reading and eagerly wanting to know so that I could understand enough
to relay information back to my sisters.
At the outbreak of the Ethiopian revolution, when the communists
overthrew His Majesty the Emperor Haile-Selassie, I remember sitting under the
tree at my grandparents’ house, engaged in a deep conversation and debate with
about twenty other children (mostly family and neighborhood friends). We did
what our little minds allowed us to work out strategies of defense should the
soldiers come to our house (all of this was anchored in childish fantasy but was
nevertheless as real as it could be to us). I remember wondering if, we, too, were
part of “the people” or were we among the target, labeled as “bourgeois,
imperialists”? We could not find answers; the adults were too busy with the crisis
engulfing the country. Within a few months, my immediate family left Ethiopia
and fled to Europe. I left behind the world that I knew; I left behind my
grandmother, who to me was not just only a grandmother but more of a soul mate.
My whole world revolved around her. She was the one I ran to with news, good
or bad—I just ran to her. On the day we left, I was not sure we would come back.
It was not just goodbye, but rather “Farewell and May God keep you!”
It was a dramatic separation. We left at dawn when the air was still moist
and cold from the night. We left before the sparrows lined up, as they always did,
on the electric lines that criss-crossed the compound of my grandparents’ home.
Even though there must have been at least a hundred family, friends, and people
from the neighborhood who came to bid us farewell, it was as though we were
leaving without our departure being recorded. We cried in silence. We rushed
and hushed for fear of alarming the newly appointed communist revolution
masters. I felt as though my heart was flattened and my throat was knotted in a
proper sailor knot; I could not breathe. I was in a daze something like a drunken
state where everything is spinning. But I remember clearly walking from our
house to my grandmother’s house, conscious that my feet might never again leave
their footprints on this very path that I had walked on a thousand times before.
In Ethiopia we say that children are like sheep; if the first one gives the
right example, the rest will follow. So, despite the tears that rolled in an orderly
and disciplined way straight down my cheeks, I tried to keep my composure not
only for the sake of my parents and the family we were living behind, but also for
my sisters that they might not cry too much. Such behavior is expected of the
eldest child, and I wanted to make my grandmother proud that she had raised a
brave little soldier.
We boarded the cars; my sisters and I were assigned to the Fiat, as we
used to call it, all piled up in the back seat. The smell of the engines revving
mixed strangely with the cold, moist morning air. Then, once all were boarded
and all suitcases packed, we drove off in a convoy heading for Bole, the
international airport of Addis Ababa. And we remained quiet. The silence was
only randomly cracked by deep sighs that emerged from our souls as the tears
dried up but the sorrow continued to soar.
Since then, I have remained quiet for most of life, tortured and conflicted
by a thousand questions that sprouted and bubbled inside my very heart, about
why families get separated, why some have to flee their homes, why some may
lose their lives because of their belief or ancestries. It is a thousand questions that
haunted me until very recently when, through this inquiry and some of my work, I
found the opportunity to go back to try and find a better understanding.
When we landed in Brussels, Belgium, it was not just a visit, but rather
“Welcome to the rest of your life…And good luck; because you’ll need it!” At
this time my mind ran continuously, trying to understand and comprehend what in
the world was happening to me, to my family, to my country. I did not understand
what was going on. I knew there was a security issue in my country, but somehow
I did not manage to make sense of our move to Europe. I learned to be present
physically, even though my heart and soul could travel miles and miles away to
the places I love to be. I learned to live as I was expected. I learned to perform as
I was expected to and I learned to be quiet and simmer the questions until at times
small clues and insight emerge as if bestowed and gifted to me by some spirit
Very soon, I learned that my country was not just my grandparents’ home,
which we call Laïbet. I became conscious about being from Ethiopia. I made my
first distinctions about being an African. I learned how Africa and Africans were
perceived by the mainstream outside Africa. Very soon, I learned that the Africa
“they” know is different from the one I know. I remember thinking that even
though my knowledge of Africa might have been limited to Laïbet as I was still
under ten years of age and had not traveled around, the Africa I know is
generous—even in poverty, we share meals together. Even in fear, we find humor
to survive and, no matter what, we always gather around to tell the stories of our
lives. I was surprised to realize that on this side of the world, many thought we
were poor; many thought we lived in huts, and did not have houses or cars, let
alone stores and schools. Many thought that the wilderness was part of our daily
lives. I was surprised by what “they” thought. It did not make sense to me. I
remained puzzled, at times even revolted by how little people knew about our
lives in Africa and how poorly they thought of us.
Yet, through the years, it became apparent that their perceptions were not
false per se, and at the same time, my thoughts were also not false per se. There
was truth on both sides. It is in this precise point of truth on both sides that I find
myself inspired or moved to present my perceptions of Africa and do all I can to
make sure that the perception of Africa might not remain confined to one that
projects the image of a poor and miserable Africa. Africa might be more
challenged than most other regions of the world, but its people and its traditions
have substantial contributions to make and share with the world, especially in
terms of the wisdom of leadership.
While I became more and more conscious of the difficulties most African
communities faced each day in terms of their livelihood, I also became aware that
much might be related to how leadership is exercised and the quality of leadership
in place.
Something fundamentally shifted in me as my eyes opened to various
perspectives about the situation of Africa. My mindset shifted from thinking in a
way that highlighted the separation of Africa from the rest of the world, to
something that could see the value of leveraging the commonalities. Now, it was
about finding means to bridge the gap between the development of Africa and the
world, but also finding ways to bridge the living conditions gap within Africa, as
Since the early 1990s, I have been doing development work in a number
of different capacities, including working at very grassroots levels in the urban
slums with women surviving from prostitution, working on organizational
development issues within multilateral organizations, and working on policy
advising for government bodies in a number of African states. During my work
focusing on the prevention of HIV/AIDS in the red light districts and urban slums
of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with Médecins Sans Frontières, my experience on the
ground led me to consider how much the leadership competences of the person in
charge of a program define the outcome of that program.
I had the opportunity to experience how much the leadership capacity
within our organization, both within the ground team in Addis Ababa and also the
support team in Brussels, defined the progress we made on the ground to
transform the lives of hundreds of women. It was our self-initiative, our empathy
with the women, our commitment to benefit the communities we worked for, and
our capacity to communicate all of this that led our project to be internally voted
Project of the Year in 1999, the year Médecins Sans Frontières was awarded the
Nobel Prize as an organization. The only difference between our program and
many similar programs that were implemented elsewhere might have been the
kind of team we had, the individual leadership capacities, and our ability to
collectively operate with empathy, compassion, and technical competence. I
realized how much the leader of the program is the key person defining the work
of the team, the quality of the program offered, the outcomes, and the extent to
which communities benefited from the program. In parallel, the kind of
community leaders that the programs partnered with also very much defined the
nature and quality of the results.
Based on this experience, I came to explore how the same kind of
leadership dynamics may define what happens at a national and regional level.
The role of leadership might be equally key in the greater African development
issue. Many factors such as the insights African leaders have access to, the
wisdom they hold within, their ability to share vision and connect to the
communities they are expected to serve—all play a key role in mobilizing
communities, effectively engaging in development programs/activities, and
inspiring change.
It is now almost thirty years after that morning in 1976 when I had to
swallow up my spirit and fight off my tears as family members, friends, and
neighbors pecked my cheeks with desperate and abrupt kisses that seemed stolen
in the intended script and unfolding of event. Yes, thirty years later, I find myself
putting all my efforts into leadership development because I believe it holds the
key to bridging the gaps between Africa and the rest of the world, to reconciling
the differences in perceptions of the situation in Africa, and to giving the potential
of the continent a chance to manifest through sacred stories passed on from senior
leaders and Elders. The quality of leadership operating in the community and the
societies, the kind of leaders who exercise the role of leading, and the context in
which it all happens—this defines the realities at hand. Thirty years later, I stand
by my truth that Africa is generous, compassionate, and resilient. And through
this research and dissertation process, I want to contribute to bringing out the
generosity and compassion that is Africa. I want to explore how we can draw on
the inherent wisdom of the land to push African development forward.
My work, my life, and my personal experiences in various countries and
communities across Africa as well as my consciousness of being an African
contributes to my awareness of the hardship the majority of Africans live in. It is
general knowledge that Africa holds the largest number of people living in
poverty, without access to basics such as health, education, and security as
compared to other regions (Edigheji, 2005). African governments, regional
institutions, and civil society with the support of the international community
continue to work toward changing this reality so that basic rights are made
available to all. As much as this is a vision that leads all programs, the
complexities at hand require something almost extraordinary to take place.
A recurrent question lingers in my mind: What would it take to bring the
living conditions of all men, women, and children up to a basic living standard?
After many years of working in development, I have come to the realization that
the most important factor to open the path for development might be bringing the
decision-makers’ level of leadership capacity beyond (if not at least proportional
to) the level of complexity the continent faces today. How would former and
future African leaders synergize their efforts to take up the African challenge and
make human and economic development a reality on the continent?
My entire being, heart and soul, is anchored in Africa. Even though I have
lived, traveled, and worked in many other regions of the world, my spirit remains
right here on this continent. After almost twenty years of working professionally
in various capacities in many African countries, my sense is that leadership is the
overarching issue to leverage change and open the field of advancement in all
sectors and on all topics of development.
I spent most of my formative years living in Europe and the United States,
which in a peculiar way increased my sense of African-ness. Through my
schoolmates and friends who came from all over the continent to study abroad (in
Europe or the United States), I added pixels to the colors of my life; I added
scents and images to my perceptions of Africa. And with each story they each
shared with me, each story that I heard, I became that story.
Vivid and vibrant, full of texture, the stories were alive—one could touch,
smell, and see all that was portrayed. These stories anchored in my heart and drew
out serious empathy from me, the kind of empathy that makes me jump, cringe, or
This assertion that leadership is an overarching issue to leverage change and
bring transformation is based on my work experience, knowledge gathered at
conferences I have attended or organized on various development-related issues,
and general knowledge of the situation in most African countries.
shriek in pain when I hear the television news of this or that country going
through this or that war. This empathy made me jump in joy and tears when I
witnessed the successful unfolding of the 2007 presidential elections in Sierra
Leone. This empathy has bonded me with the meta-issues of this continent. The
genuineness of my relationship with my schoolmates developed in me a deep
concern for their home countries and prompted me to read, learn, and explore
even more about their countries so that I could have a comprehensive
understanding. I wanted to know more then, and I still want to know more today. I
had an urge to understand better then, and I am still on the path seeking more
understanding. I wanted to know so that we can find the problems, identify the
strategies to address them, and make sure we never repeat the same problem. I
realize that my attitude is idealistic and possibly naïve, but nonetheless I am
convinced that when enough people get the same kind of empathy and concern,
something will be triggered to harness the empathy and concern in favor of action.
Time and time again, my experience working and living in various places
in Africa leads me to believe that I might have an innate capacity (for lack of a
better word) to have an organic sense and an intuitive knowing to relate and
connect to the various African communities, nations, and peoples. No matter what
country I go to in Africa, I feel at home; I am welcomed by the stories I find and
hear, and by the books I read and the images that form in my mind.
I do realize that the difficulties and challenges faced by most African
communities are intricate and intertwined. The problems are complex. I also
know that in order to address these challenges we have, we must rise above the
level of complexity that created them. Albert Einstein is widely quoted as saying:
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
In terms of leadership, the complexities we face today in most African countries
might only be resolved or addressed within a field whereby a critical mass of men
and women’s consciousness rises above the level of the problems on the ground.
We, Africans, have the resources in knowledge, wisdom, technical
capacity, and finances to push progress through. The key will be to change and
transformation lies in enabling us—African men and women, committed change
agents—to learn from the past, reflect on the present, and aim for an audacious
future. The strategy I suggest is to identify specific and accessible leverage points
for change and use these leverage points to leap the continent forward. I am
consciously using leap because the level of complexity and intricacies of the
development challenge require literally a leap as opposed to a step-by-step
approach, the same kind of leap that mobile communication brought to Africa,
from no telephone lines to satellite-based communication. For this leap, one of the
main leverage points or entry points to change seems to be leadership capacitybuilding at all levels.
I deem my strength to be finding the path that will lead us to access some
of these leverage points and more specifically, to access the leadership subtleties
that define leadership. My gift comes in “being” one of the many bridges linking
Africa and the rest of the world, and linking Africa within Africa. My life by
definition has been a bridge, a web of communication, an intricate circuit of
multicultural, global, cross-societal sacred connections. I continuously roam from
Africa to Europe, from Europe to the United States, from the United States to
Asia, back to Africa, off to Latin America and Australia, and back again to Africa.
I always come back home to Africa, the land of wise elders and sages, the
land of the giant trees, and the land of stories, where my feet willingly and gently
sweep over the red dusty path, the sandy side streets, and even the marble-floored
mansions. In my travels I carry with me my African heart. I am one with my
African perspectives. As if from a parallel world of another dimension where
time is eternal, I see with eyes that can introspect within the soul and at the same
time slowly scan the horizon, perched up on an ancient minaret tower where the
sound of evening prayer reverberates through the walls.
Whatever I see, experience, or sense during my time outside Africa, it is
often reverted back to how things are in Africa. Once I was in Bali, Indonesia and
something struck me: When I noticed the precision and perfection with which the
hotel staff worked at the resort where I stayed, I wondered what makes “them” do
that. What motivates them to continue aiming for such precision? Can we do that
back home, and if we are not able to do that, what will it take to instill this kind of
spirit or maybe to just revive such a spirit because I am sure it is there? Such
reflections and questions lie deep within me and keep me on the quest for
answers, for a harbor for my free-floating thoughts, a way to make sense of what I
see. What is so in other regions that are “developed,” that we might need to also
have in Africa to also be able to reach prosperous levels of development?
I embrace my particular vantage point, with humility and honor. I see it as
an endowment to contribute in transferring what I learn, see, and hear to the
benefit of development efforts and the improvement of the lives of African
communities. I see this gift as a resource I can use to create a little bit more
clarity, to deepen the understanding of leadership in the context of Africa, both
traditionally and as it is exercised in modern days.
In addition to this vantage point of one who lives on and also as a bridge, I
am also aware of how my network of family, friends, and colleagues gives me a
chance to see, meet, and be together with African Elder-Leaders to ask my
questions, to listen to their stories and soak in the aura of their spirits. Being with
such icons whether the person is well known to the general public or not, is
comparable to sitting under the shade of an old tree where through the silence one
can listen to the murmur of wisdom spoken by the wind as it moves through the
leaves. Meaning is not drawn solely from words or verbal exchange, but rather
from a holistic connectivity at the level of spirit and soul. There is something
particularly moving to sit in the presence of a community leader, whether the
community is a family, a village, or a nation. It is like holding the latest link of a
chain that goes back through generations and centuries of history, tradition, and
I feel a sense of obligation to draw on my particular position to maximize
the valuable and positive learning opportunities that can be created. My hope is to
use this gift to offer my contribution toward building a better future, not only for
the communities of Africa but the communities across the world.
With this in mind, I have selected 20 Elders, senior African leaders to
work with in this research. These men and women are opinion leaders within the
community. They are former Heads of States. They are renowned artists and
spiritual leaders. To me, as to many others, such men and women represent a well
of knowledge, a source of wisdom, and a spring of insights and inspiration. They
hold the beacon of light that can guide African communities forward.
Africa is the only continent that has regressed in its development in the
last fifty years. Around the time of independence from colonization in the 1960s,
most of Africa and most of Asia had a comparable level of economic
development (Kumo, 2009). For example, forty years ago, South Korea and
Sudan had comparable per capita income, yet today, South Korea ranks among
the world’s top 30 wealthiest countries while Sudan ranks among the world 30
poorest nations (Kumo, 2009). This comparison, unfortunately, reflects the reality
of most African nations as compared to Asian states. Between the years of 1965
and 1989, the economies of sub-Saharan African states stagnated, with an average
real per capita annual growth of less than 0.5% as compared to 5.0% for leading
Asian economies (Kumo, 2009). While the reason for African nations’ poor
economic performance is complex and intricate, the fact remains that at present,
most African countries experience marked hardship, with poverty, pandemics,
persistent conflicts, and poor economic development (Edigheji, 2005; Johnson
Sirleaf, 2006; Kumo, 2009). Each year, the continent seems to move deeper into
this adversity.
The continent faces the most complex challenge of development in the
world, at the depth of economic and political despair and frustration (Adejumobi,
2002; Edigheji, 2005). This situation tends to undermine the self-confidence and
ability of the African people, and more specifically their leadership, to think
boldly and innovatively about the way forward for the continent.
Many development practitioners, Africans and non-Africans, have said
that the responsibility for Africa’s development lies mainly with Africans
themselves. If the onus is on Africans themselves, the question is what is “that”
which Africans have, inherently, in terms of knowledge, wisdom, and insight to
unchain the continent from its current straits? What is “that” which can allow the
emergence of the most appropriate leadership to pave the way to development and
economic prosperity?
While all of the statistics and socioeconomic indicators tend to reflect the
tragic development reality in Africa, Africa is not systematically predestined for
poor economic performance and poverty, and it is important to look further into
regional dynamics, global constraints, and opportunities as well as into the
leadership factor affecting the governance of African nations (Sachs, 2005).
Effective leadership contextualized to African nations’ needs is the most
fundamental issue to achieve for Africa (Khoza, 2009; Swaniker, 2008) and has
been identified as a key factor in instituting good governance, launching positive
economic development, and creating stability and peace as well as insuring social
welfare (Awuah, 2007; Kirk & Shutte, 2004; Khoza, 2009; Moses, 2010; Sharma
et al., 2005; Zevenbergen, 2006). Given where Africa is at this historical point
time, with globalization and the demand for land and other resources putting
pressure on Africa, the continent needs to have wise, able, visionary, ethical, and
Throughout my work experience and the discussions I have had with colleagues,
superiors, academics, and peers in my network, one fundamental issue we all
realize and agree on is that leadership holds the key to change and transformation
in Africa.
compassionate leadership in order for Africa to survive, prosper, and become a
respectable and worthy player in the global arena (Khoza, 2009).
The lack of effective and sustained leadership emerges as a recurrent
theme associated with Africa’s continued difficulties (Swaniker, 2008). In order
to understand and establish a tradition of effective leadership—for the sake of
building nations, developing good governance, promoting economic development,
and supporting all other themes related to development—it is necessary to look
within, to understand what leadership means in the context of African
The topic of African leadership leans against a number of discourses,
including development, economics, politics, history, African studies, postcolonial
anthropology, and organizational development. The following discussion aims to
explore the meaning of leadership “in” Africa and “for” Africa using organic
inquiry methods as a basis for reflection and analysis, and using the aspects of the
integral approach to follow through with the analysis. The integral approach is
discussed below.
Background and Context
The African continent has been afflicted by many apocalyptic blights
ranging from pandemics such as HIV/AIDS (Farmer, 1999; H. Jackson, 2002) to
internal conflicts and brutality/violence, extreme situations of poverty, famine,
droughts, and so on. It is estimated that “Africa loses around USD 18bn [billion]
per year due to wars, civil wars, and insurgencies” (IANSA, Oxfam, &
Saferworld, 2007, p. 3). The direct cost of such situations may be the medical
cost, destruction of infrastructure, and care for displaced populations. However,
the indirect cost may be even higher in terms of opportunities lost (IANSA et al.,
2007). Such situations harm the environment and the economy, and lead to
inflation, debt, economic stagnation, and reduced investment in the country; at the
same time, the population suffers from trauma, unemployment, and the disruption
of regular community and society structures. The loss of millions of lives comes
along with conflict. Lives are lost through death or just through disorientation of
the individual. Apart from all other challenges the continent faces, armed conflicts
both internal and cross-border cost Africa her chance to develop (Johnson Sirleaf,
2006; Swaniker, 2008).
Good governance and leadership has equally been an issue for most
African countries. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)
argues that good governance, which is based on good leadership, is a precondition
for development (Chabal, 2002). In fact the lack of good governance and
leadership may have been a main cause of economic crisis and disaster among
many communities (Moses, 2010; Swaniker, 2008). As the President of Liberia,
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, explained in a speech in 2006,
This statement is based on my own life experience working and traveling
through Africa, an understanding that is echoed among the general public
wherever I have traveled in Africa. I recognize that academic writing prefers
formal citations, and yet in this discussion of the future of Africa, there must be a
place for what Africans know as true that has not yet been formally published.
Academic studies on the evolution of leadership in Africa take note of the
fact that the liberation leaders of the continent were nationalistic, selfless
and visionary—leaders who put the interest of the state over and above
parochial considerations. The immediate post-colonial , and indeed postapartheid, period bear testimony to this.
Notwithstanding capacity limitations, several of these leaders,
notably Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba and Gamal
Abdul Nasser, inspired their people and exuded a high sense of
nationalism and patriotism in most of their activities. They were less
concerned, for example, about material accumulation unlike the
succeeding generation of continental leadership. To the list can be added
Nelson Mandela who fortunately is still with us and represents the moral
conscience of the continent.
The exit from the political stage of the post-colonial leaders
ushered in a decline in the quality of African leadership and start of a
generation of military rulers with little or no vision. A good many of these
rulers dehumanized, terrorized and impoverished their population by
looting their treasury.
To assure their unassailable grip on power, they invested not in
human capacity or food production, or shelter for the teeming millions of
homeless, but instead in military hardware and adventurism, lavish
lifestyles, and grandiose projects of little relevance to economic
These so-called new generation leaders spared no effort in keeping
the people disunited by pandering to ethnic and religious sentiments
among the largely illiterate population. They indulged in systematic
plunder of the people’s resources, and deliberately worked toward
minimizing the significance of qualitative education—an element so
indispensable to the growth and development of Africa. Ultimately, in
perpetuating themselves in power, they ushered in a cycle of military
overthrow and violence. Only recently has Africa ushered in a new path of
governance, a new leadership committed to peace, democracy and
development. (pp. 2–4)
While the issue of Africa’s economic downturn over the last fifty years is
well recognized, what often goes unnoticed is that during those same years, Africa
had a considerable number of leaders who sought better lives for their people
rather than for themselves (Rotberg, 2004a, 2004b). There was a quality of
leadership aimed at service and focused on securing welfare for the community.
Men like Lumumba, Nyerere, Senghor, Kaunda, Emperor Haile Selassie, and later
on, men such as Sankara led their governments with clear intent to serve their
respective nations. These were visionary leaders able to maintain a long-term
perspective of growth and sustain ongoing strategies to achieve that long-term
growth (Burton, 2009; McIntyre, n.d). Today, unfortunately, such leaders with the
capacity to establish principles of good governance and effective leadership are
few and far between. Why did such leaders cease to emerge, or did they really
stop emerging? Are such leaders still around, and if so, what would it take to
allow them to exercise their leadership skills in favor of their communities? This
dissertation hopes to find some answers to the apparent lack of visionary,
determined, effective leaders in today’s Africa.
The history of the post-independent African state is that of monunmental
democratic and developmental failure .… The state of underdevelopment
has been reinforced by authoritarianism, political instability, ethnic and
religious conflicts and civil wars. Since attaining their independence,
most African countries have been plagued by some form of political
conflict. (Edigheji, 2005, para. 1, 4)
Since the 1960s, the political scene in Africa has been unstable. Countries
often experienced a cycle of recurrent regime changes (frequently accomplished
by military coups) followed by a very durable regime and back again. It is not
uncommon to have countries that may show great instability in government and
then have a leader that stays in power for a long time, with single-party rule. In
both cases, the political scene represented unhealthy governance and paved the
way for further instability and economic deterioration (Chabal, 2002; Mazrui,
1995; R. H. Jackson & Rosberg, 1982). This situation has been associated with
the vacuum left by the collapse of the colonial empires, as well as with the lack of
preparedness on the part of these young nations for the efforts of nation-building.
The resulting lack of stability, rampant level of poverty, and inadequate economic
development—to name a few of the major challenges—have contributed to
making Africa the only continent that has regressed in the past forty years
(Cannon & Y. Assegid, 2005; Weisenfeld, 2003). Pandemics such as HIV/AIDS,
malaria, tuberculosis, and so on can only worsen the situation (Rosen & Simon,
2003; Sachs & Malaney, 2002; World Health Organization, 2010).
Corruption continues to be one of the major impediments to development
in Africa and is endemic to Africa for the same reasons as elsewhere (Calderisi,
2006; Moyo, 2009, Sachs, 2005). Yet, it seems that corruption is more readily
accepted in Africa, as the some elites at the top become increasingly greedy and
the poor remain powerless to demand change (Calderisi, 2006). Moyo (2009)
argues that corruption might not be as detrimental to African nations if corrupt
officials reinvested some money back into the African economies, as do some of
their Asian counterparts; instead, corrupt African officials often remove the
money to foreign bank accounts. While Moyo speaks of possibly negative and
positive corruption and makes a case for a less damaging corruption scenario,
corruption cannot be positive—it plagues the African continent, robs institutions
and communities of opportunities, and maintains a vicious cycle disabling
creative and constructive initiative. The root of corruption in Africa might not be
individual greed per se, but rather the strong family ties: “at the top of the
pyramid of patronage are ministers and senior government with a queue of
cousins, acquaintances, relatives and constituencies outside their door to air their
complaints and seek material support” (Calderisi, 2006, p. 86).
There is a growing belief that Africa today holds the possibility of a
dynamic future—if change occurs at the leadership level (Awuah, 2007; Johnson
Sirleaf, 2006; Sachs, 2005; Swaniker, 2008). No one can contest the impact of
colonial times, the Cold War, and resource exploitation by both large
multinationals as well as state-owned institutions, but he West seems to forget the
past when it points fingers at African nations’ bad governance. Nothing can
compare to the cruelty, havoc, destruction, and exploitation Western nations have
imposed on Africa. Sachs (2005) points to the three centuries of slave trade from
around 1500 to the early 1800s, followed by a century of brutal colonial rule (p.
189). As soon as colonial rule ended, Africa became a pawn in the Cold War.
Western cold warriors, and the operatives in the CIA and counterpart
agencies in Europe, opposed African leaders who preached for
nationalism, sought aid from the Soviet Union, or demanded better terms
on Western investment in African minerals and energy deposits. (p. 189)
Rather than Africa lacking the leaders it needed, it may well be Western powers
were unwilling (for a number of reasons) to support those African leaders who
stood for their communities, peoples, and nations.
Poor leadership (Ake, 1993; Bewaji, 2003; Goldsmith, 2001; Johnson
Sirleaf, 2006; Mohiddin, 1998; Moses, 2010; Swaniker, 2008) is one of three
major factors associated with the situation in Africa. The first two factors,
inappropriate policies and bad governance, can be addressed through the
transformation of this third factor from corrupt and ineffective leaders to effective
and visionary leaders. Otherwise, the continent may very well regress to a
catastrophic level in the next fifty years. The issue of inappropriate policies and
bad governance requires transforming corrupt or ineffective African leaders to
visionary leaders; it also may require a commitment from Western powers to
recognize the detrimental role they have played so far and the creation of space
for effective and visionary leaders to emerge. To date, world geopolitics has been
more focused on ensuring and securing resources to sustain the industries of
wealthy nations than on ensuring economic development for African
For this reason and many others outside the scope of this dissertation, the
onus falls on Africans, themselves, to find ways to bring out the leaders African
nations need. It is imperative that the continent finds a means of facilitating the
emergence of African leaders, conscious and knowledgeable of the ever-changing
dynamics of the world, competent, with integrity, vision, and commitment for the
Bold, innovative, and effective leadership is called for as a key element to
support change on the continent (Africa, The Good News, n.d.; Machel, 2009),
and justifiably so, as effective leadership holds the key to the way forward.
Today’s leaders across the continent are confronted with the need to sustainably
respond to the persistent plague of poverty, pandemics, conflict, and widespread
economic challenges. In this context, the need for an appropriate leadership and
the need for transformation and change are themes that come up continuously in
line with development discussion in Africa.
Poor leadership has been more the rule than the exception in African
contemporary history (Africa, The Good News, n.d.; Johnson Sirleaf, 2006), even
if sparks of hope are illustrated in the effective leadership of countries such as
Botswana and Mauritius. Leaders such as the late President Idi Amin of Uganda,
Charles Taylor of Liberia, the late President Jean-Bedel Bokassa of Central
Africa, and now Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, are examples of what not to have
for a leader and how not to lead (Khoza, 2009). In fact, some argue that even the
founding fathers—leaders such as Nkrumah, Nasser, Senghor, Boigny, Kenyatta,
Nyerere, Kaunda, and so on—all enjoyed great prestige and high honor and were
seen after independence as the personification of their respective states. Many of
these founding fathers might have changed once in power and turned to selfserving ends, through the formation of a one-party government or control of
industry and economic initiatives (Meredith, 2006).
Given the current situation on the continent, the issue of leadership and
more specifically, the issue of competent leaders is essential to development
issues (Awuah, 2007; Edigheji, 2005; Swaniker, 2008). There is no need to feel
overwhelmed and hopeless with the issue of poor leadership; the way forward
might be for African leaders and the international community to explore ways to
effectively harness and leverage their substantial, often underutilized, resources to
create means for leadership and governance-capacity building initiatives across
the continent (Isimbabi, 2004).
In an effort to understand leadership in Africa and its role in development,
the following discussion examines the concept of leadership in the context of
African development from a number of questioning perspectives. What can Elder
leaders of Africa teach us? What are the tenets of African leadership, and how do
they differ from Western notions of leadership? How do African cosmology and
Ubuntu define the kind of leadership known to Africa and exercised on the
continent? What is Integral Leadership and how might the Integral Approach
provide a framework to understand the issue of leadership in Africa? What
defines visionary leadership in Africa? How is effective leadership illustrated in
Africa and how are such leadership capacities transferred from generation to
generation? Why is leadership important in the context of African development,
and what might the senior African leaders have to share that is important? What
can Elder leaders of Africa teach us? These questions frame the following
The Importance of Learning From Africa’s Elder Leaders
Africa’s cultural heritage, passed on from generation to generation, has
been a source of guidance for communities in times of peace, uncertainty,
birth, life and death. At its best it has been the basis for identity, respect
and self-confidence. It has enabled us to live in harmony with our
physical, social and spiritual environment. It provides our foundation for
leadership, problem solving, decision making and hope for the future.
(Malunga, 2009, p. 2).
While it is often debated whether leaders are born or made, for the sake of
this study I assume that leadership can be learned, developed, and nurtured. In
my experience, and that of many of my African peers with whom I have discussed
these issues, it is this transfer of knowledge from elders to the next generation
through interaction and through living together that channels learning and insures
the continuity of cultures and tradition. For this reason and in line with my own
experience, I stand on the side of the debate that believes leaders can be “made.”
Throughout this research, I intend to explore what we might need to do to
allow effective learning of leadership, and more specifically, how we can learn
from Africa’s senior leaders and elders. My aim was to gain insights on this issue
from the participants of this research, the Elder Leaders of Africa, because there is
a certain aspect of maturity and wisdom often apparent in the leadership of senior
or Elder Leaders. It may be their capacity to see beyond the immediate reality
and take into consideration how situations may unfold depending on the actions
taken. It may be their capacity to focus more on the welfare of the collective as
opposed to their own immediate needs. It may be their capacity to be patient and
engage into a situation with a wider scope in mind. Such competences, and many
more discussed below, are the competences of leadership that the younger
generation leaders might need to integrate in their leadership.
Many African leaders who failed to integrated these aspects of patience, of
holding long-term perspectives while aiming for the overall welfare of the
collective, have paid dearly for it, in the rush for swift and decisive action.
Leaders such as Sankara, the former and late President of Burkina Faso, and
Lumumba, the former and late Prime Minister of the Congo, may have both paid
with their lives for their leadership styles and ideologies. It might be inappropriate
to assign simple reason for the loss of the lives of these leaders; however, while
keeping that in mind along with the fact that the environment in which these men
operated was complex at many levels, one might argue that the
straightforwardness of their leadership, their potential impatience, and their
relative unwillingness to wait for change might have brought on their tragic and
fatal end. While engaging in politics in any part of the world might be a
potentially dangerous occupation, being a political leader in sub-Saharan Africa
poses a much higher level of possible personal danger (Wiseman, 1993). Sankara
and Lumumba, as many other political leaders in various parts of Africa,
succumbed to such dangers.
At the dawn of independence for the Belgian Congo, during the
independence ceremony while his African movement friends were thanking the
Belgians for granting them independence, it is said that Lumumba became
enraged (Worrill, 2010). Despite the fact that he was not meant to speak on the
occasion, he took the microphone and told his people that the colonization of the
Congo was nothing more the domination of the European world over the African
World (Worrill, 2010).
Leopoldville, Republic of Congo, June 30—An attack on colonialism by
the Premier of the new Republic of Congo marred the ceremonies today in
which King Baudouin of the Belgians proclaimed the territory's
independence. [Early Friday the republic of Somalia was proclaimed.] The
Congo independence ceremony before the two chambers of Parliament
was attended by leading Belgian officials and diplomats from all over the
world. It began in an atmosphere of friendship but was abruptly
transformed by the militant speech of Premier Patrice Lumumba, who
cited the sufferings of the African people at the hands of the whites ….
(Gilroy, 1960, para. 1)
The nature of Lumumba’s speech and message disrupted the ceremony and may
have been the last straw that led to his brutal end (De Witte, 2001; Worrill, 2010).
The essence of Lumumba’s message be the coined statement: “the Congo,
for the Congolese.” Further in his speech he spoke of the struggle for
independence and stated that independence was not a gift of Belgium to the nation
of Congo, but rather the result of an international movement toward independence
for African colonies and a result of the struggle of the people of Congo who paid
for their independence with their blood. Belgium, at that time, had substantive
investments and capital at stake in the Congo, and Lumumba’s statement
threatened this investment Belgium had built on for decades (De Witte, 2001).
Hence, it is during this speech that Lumumba was labeled as a disturbing agent
and his death sentence was formulated precisely at this time (Clarke, 1961; De
Witte, 2001; Worrill, 2010). “On January 17, 1961, Patrice Lumumba was
assassinated at the hands of African mercenaries working in the interest of the
Europeans through the United States and the CIA. This fact was revealed in the
Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s International Hearings” (Worrill, 2010, p.
2). The life of Patrice Lumumba ended brutally and abruptly at the age of 36.
About two decades after the time of Lumumba, Sankara’s persistence to
lead his nation of Burkina Faso to economic independence cost him his life as
well. Sankara insisted that his is a nation tied by poverty, and for the sake of
development, he asked that all government expenses be reduced to correlate with
the country’s purchasing power. Sankara took away all the expensive cars and
other luxuries most politicians were used to, and asked his people to start from
scratch in rebuilding the nation. He called out other African leaders on their
excesses and asked for accountability and transparency. “Rocking the boat” or
asking for change, in this way, ultimately cost him his life. Thomas Sankara was
assassinated on October 15, 1987, allegedly in accordance with the wishes of his
three men closest to him (Skinner, 1988; Wilkins, 1989).
Would it be fair to assume that had these two leaders had council from
Elder leaders they would have been alive today? It is hard to say. However, it is
very clear that there are many more men and women in Africa with the
commitment, conviction, and capacity to serve in a way comparable to Sankara
and Lumumba. It is important to learn from the experiences of such leaders in
order to keep our current Sankaras and Lumumbas alive—alive not only from
assassinations but also from burning out, from giving up, and from disengaging in
their work. In addition to the burning out, giving up, or being eliminated, another
hindrance to the emergence of transformational leadership in African as well as
other developing countries is that young people with the capacity, talent, and
commitment to become visionary, dedicated, and competent leaders often do not
have the opportunity or a fair chance to compete for and secure top leadership
positions (Isimbabi, 2004). As politics is seen as a hazardous occupation
(Wiseman, 1993), many capable and talented African men and women shy away
from a life of public service, as it might be detrimental to their own lives.
Though events in the lives of Lumumba and Sankara may seem unrelated,
I find a lesson to be drawn about leadership in Africa. As much as both leaders
were determined, committed, and ready to bring positive change for their
communities, they were also both between 36 and 37 years of age when they were
assassinated. My analysis of these stories suggests that the key in African
leadership, and leadership anywhere for that matter, might not be only in standing
Throughout the process of the dissertation my discussion and conversations with
many of the elders indicate that it is an individual’s capacity to know what to say
when and to whom that could possibly make the difference of the individual
leader succeeding in implementing his/her vision or fail to do so.
for Africa but might also be in knowing what to say when, to whom, and how.
Passionate leaders such as these two, it seems, could not harness the rage they felt
inside about the injustice, poverty, lack of security and peace, and the oppression
their nations and their people were (or are) still subjected to.
My assumption is that the Elder Leaders of Africa have answers on how to
harness such rage or anger in a way that is strategic, constructive, and an effective
means to results. These Elder Leaders might have insights that can be used so
that history does not repeat itself. The participants selected for this research are
such Elder Leaders, men and women who have, through the years of their lives
and careers, accumulated experience, wisdom, and perspectives. This wisdom of
the Elder Leaders may be a great opportunity to access insights, knowledge, and
learning regarding a new approach to leadership.
Basic Tenets of African Leadership
Access to literature in general, through libraries or online research, has
been seriously challenging for me as I tried to complete my research from Sierra
Leone where connectivity and other research resources are severely limited.
Nonetheless, my review of the available literature on African leadership
established that resources and publications on the topic specific to Africa and
leadership issues are scarce as compared to what is made available for the topic of
leadership in general (i.e., Western leadership). My literature search was both
online and through books I ordered or already had. The books included various
topics such as biographies of African leaders, pre- and post-independence African
history, African sociopolitical and economic discourse, and culture and traditions
of various African communities and nations. To locate publications, I mostly
used online search engines such as ProQuest, ERIC, and GoogleScholar. Search
terms used included “African leadership” “poor leadership”+“Africa” “great
leadership”+“Africa,” “role”+“leadership”+“African development,” “political
leadership”+“Africa,” “culture”+“leadership”+“Africa,” “Ubuntu,” and other
variations as needed.
Because appropriate distinctions between leaders, leading, and leadership
(Volckmann, 2009) might not be systematically applied, the idea of leadership in
Africa appears to be more often associated to with the role of public sector or
government-body leaders as opposed to being associated to process of leadership
in all sectors and at all levels. With this in mind and knowing that leadership
might be substantially pointing to the roles and ways of being of elected (or not)
government officials, leadership in Africa may often be widely perceived as
inadequate and associated with corrupt and violent practices. This perception is
unfortunately often reinforced by ongoing conflict and poverty in the continent.
While such perception might be based on the acts and the leadership of some
public sector officials, unfortunately such perception is often susceptible to
establishing a negative image and generalization about leaders in Africa as a
My contention is that it is important to note that leadership in Africa is not
necessarily equivalent to African leadership. Thus, I suggest that Leadership in
Africa might be time- and context-specific, relating to how a leader operates and
works in the context of the environment, times, culture, and traditions at hand.
This leadership might change or be different subject to a change in the
environment. African leadership on the other hand, might refer to the leadership
tradition inherent to African peoples and African cosmology. Thus, in my view,
African leadership is not time-specific but rather cosmology-specific, traditionspecific, and culture-specific. While much of the basics of leadership might be
universal, there might be a unique-ness about the African way to leadership. In
considering the interrelation of individuals with the systems of existence, Laszlo
(1996) offers a classification that is useful in supporting the point I am making
above: “We are natural systems first, living things second, human beings third,
members of a society and culture fourth and particular individuals fifth—we can
make our own classification along those lines” (p. 21).
Leadership in Africa might focus more on the concept and process of
leadership in a particular context (time, place, environment, culture, etc) where as
African leadership might be automatically more attached to the mainstreams
African cosmology and traditions. The difference is whether the individual is
leading from what Laszlo (1996, p. 21) refers to as the fourth classification of
“member of a society and culture” or from the fifth space of the leader being a
“particular individual.”
The aim of this research was to rediscover this way of leadership and find
a means to not only bring it to light but also leverage the findings to further enrich
leadership competences throughout the continent and also in the world.
African leadership seeks to understand others before it imposes its
understanding on them: the complete opposite of much of the western
culture. It values humanity, finding a common purpose, and is not
predictated on the idea that if you are not for us then you are against us. It
searches for ways to integrate, not dislocate. (Khoza, 2007, para. 22)
African leadership is based on tradition and inherent wisdom passed on
from generation to generation (Malunga & James, 2004). This African cultural
heritage has been a source of guidance for African communities, in times of
peace, uncertainty, birth, life, death, conflict, and so on (Malunga & James, 2004).
This intergenerational resource was available when people still lived, worked, and
remained within their communities; nowadays, with mass movement created by
globalization, modernity, and internal displacement, there might be a substantial
challenge in passing on this heritage because people are not physically in the
same place to share stories and have conversations. Because a lot of African
traditions are oral (hence not written), the transfer of that heritage from generation
to generation has been dwindling. There might be a need not only to be aware of
this situation but to actually create means or institutions that would ensure the
intergenerational transfer of knowledge and succession of leadership (Africa
Leadership Forum, 1988).
During colonial times and the advent of “modern” knowledge, traditional
African leadership may have been set aside to make room for different ways of
leadership imported from the West. Colonial powers initially wiped out local
institutions and management practices and then substituted their own colonial
This understanding is based on what I have seen in my own life and in the
communities where I have worked. In my experience of conversations across the
continent with people from all walks of life, it is also general knowledge.
administrative systems with the conviction that Western cultural, biological, and
technological knowledge was superior to Africa’s (Kiwanuka, 1970).
The European “scramble” for territory at the end of the 19th century marks
a profound turn in the history of Africa (Parker & Rathbone, 2007); the
subsequent carving out of the continent and the impact of the colonial times have
without a doubt set the stage for much of the economic and social challenges
Africa has been confronted with in the past fifty years. The exploitation of
resources and the cruelty inflicted on local communities by European powers
have certainly left their scars on the collective memory (Hochschild, 2006). It is
important to remain mindful of this history as we look at leadership in Africa, as
the process and era of colonization have certainly affected the mindsets, attitudes,
and worldviews of the people, the society, and certainly those in leadership
African leadership encompasses a variety of leadership styles. In the
African context, a leader in a community is a possible agent of social
transformation (Aseka, 2005, p. 83); thus, the social transformation needed at
specific times in history may have encouraged various kinds of leadership to
emerge. Distinctions must be made between the old-fashioned African
leadership such as was exercised during independence, and the new emerging
leadership within the African traditions (Makinda, 2004). Four traditions in oldfashioned African leadership have been identified. There is the elder tradition
(e.g., Jomo Kenyatta, who led from 1963–1978), the warrior tradition (e.g., Idi
Amin, 1971–1979), the sage tradition (e.g., Juilius Nyerere, 1961–1985), and the
monarchial tendency, which may have been especially attractive during the
struggle for liberation from colonial rule. Further, seven styles of leadership are
associated with old-fashioned African leadership, major among them
intimidatory, patriarchal, reconciliatory, bureaucratic, and mobilizational styles
(Masrui, as discussed by Makinda, 2004). However, many leaders exercise(d) a
combination of the above-mentioned styles of leadership in conjunction with what
was called for by the situation (Makinda, 2004).
There have been various styles of leadership exercised throughout Africa,
and to this day various styles continue to exist. The variety might not be solely
due to the person in the position of leadership; it may also be related to the
prevalent culture and traditions, to the kind of government in place, to the
economic stability and level of development of the country, and many other such
While the kinds of leadership exercised vary broadly throughout the
continent, there are also a number of common aspects of the leadership styles.
These might also be related to the core of African culture and ways of life, which
include a sense of community, a respect of elders, a sense of solidarity, and so
forth (Emeakaroha, n.d.; Lassiter, 1999). These aspects of leadership might be
some of the core differences between African and Western leadership. In the
following section, I further explore the variation and the similarities of Western
and African leadership.
Western and African Leadership: A Comparison
Through the effects of globalization, the rise of multinational
organizations, and increasing connectivity, the world has become a smaller place
(April, n.d.; Mbigi, 2002). Many large corporations and multinational
organizations have become household names around the world. Yet, as these
organizations expand their market and increase their territories, they continue to
apply the philosophical constructs of their native lands to the places where they
conduct business. Often it is the convergence of such core philosophical
constructs that brings to light the distinction between the concept of leadership in
various parts of the world. Western, European, Eastern, and African paradigms
are rooted in different and often contrasting cultures (April, n.d.; Mbigi, 2002).
While the Northern (European) construct values rationality and scientific
thinking, as famously expressed by Descartes with “Cogito, ergo sum”—I
think, therefore I exist or rather “I am because I think I am,” Western
philosophy can be described as more individualistic and self-serving and
expressed by the phrase “I am because I, the individual here, dream and
do.” Eastern “Kaizen” philosophy, on the other hand, is more collectivist
with a focus on continuous improvement to attain perfection—“I am
because I improve”—while key writers claim that the African philosophy
is inherently collectivist in nature and is encapsulated in the concept of
Ubuntu “I am because we are; I can only be a person through others.”
(April, n.d., para. 2)
Understanding these differences allows a sense of clarity in our ability to draw
The following section compares, briefly, Western and African paradigms
and how they might define, respectively, the concept and perspective of
leadership. There are a number of differences to consider between Western/U.S.
leadership philosophy and African leadership philosophy. The cosmology, the
social context, and the cultural framework can define such variations, as well as
how leadership is exercised and applied (African leadership as determined by
African cosmology is discussed in depth in the next section). Differences based
on social context refer mainly to the fact that the Western social unit is the
individual, while the African social unit is communal. Culturally speaking, again,
as Western culture is different from African culture, so are the subsequent
definitions each assigns to leadership. Western leadership, although technically
and procedurally correct, works from the head only; whereas African leadership is
more of a whole body, whole spirit practice.
This section is by no means an extensive presentation of what leadership
might be in the Western perspective; it is merely an attempt to foreground a few
points about Western leadership in order to be able to highlight some of the basic
distinctions between Western and African Leadership.
Leadership theory and practice is mostly representative of Western
contexts, as the majority of available sources have been researched, written,
and/or published in the West. For the purpose of understanding the role of
leadership in Africa, it is important to make the distinction between leadership as
it is generally defined through the Western paradigm, and African leadership.
Western concepts of leadership might not always be appropriate for the
African context. Ninety-eight percent of leadership theories emanate from the
United States and have been developed mainly by studying U.S. leaders (House &
Aditya, 1997); despite this fact, leadership theory is still represented as universal
(Nkomo, 2006). Nkomo (2006) argues that research results are used to illustrate
the general concept of leadership as applicable universally, regardless of the
limitation that the studied group is monocultural. Simply the language of
leadership reflects this bias —the prefix “American” is suppressed in discussions
of leadership theory, yet we find ourselves obliged to add the prefix “African”
when we speak of leadership in Africa. This is not to say that leadership scholars
are not recognizing culture as an important variable in leadership, but rather to
bring attention to the fact that much of the leadership research emerging out of the
United States is referred to plainly as “leadership” rather than “American
leadership”; scholars working on leadership in Africa (or other regions) might
find themselves obliged to speak of “African leadership” or at least specify the
region instead of just describing “leadership.”
Theories of leadership and management have generally “omitted the voice
of the racial ‘other’ whether it is African or non-Western perspectives” (Nkomo,
2006, p. 2). Often in the Western discourse, what might be commonly associated
with leadership concerns performance and the leader’s ability to lead others in
performing. However, Rost (1993) argues that
scholars discuss the basic nature of leadership in terms of the "interaction"
among the people involved in the process: both leaders and followers.
Thus, leadership is not the work of a single person, rather it can be
explained and defined as a "collaborative endeavor" among group
members. Therefore, the essence of leadership is not the leader, but the
relationship. (as discussed by Brungardt, 1998, para. 2)
In African discourse on the other hand (in most cases), and in line with
Rost’s (1993, as cited by Brungardt, 1998) definition of leadership being more
about relationship, I posit that leadership might be more about guidance to
maintain harmony among all members of the community while at the same time
moving forward toward established goals and visions. This is not to say that
Western theories do not have aspects of guidance as mentioned above or that
African leadership practice might not also be about performance and the leader’s
ability to move others in performing; it is rather an indication of the broad
inclinations of both Western and African perspectives and theories of leadership.
Western management and leadership theory may denote a new type of
colonialism, imposing and re-enforcing ways of thinking and acting that are
rooted in North American and European beliefs. This minimizes the local
knowledge, values, and wisdom inherent to Africa and other developing regions
of the world and might also be offensive to a certain extent. Assuming Western
leadership concepts might be superior to traditional and indigenous African
leadership concepts is an obstacle to the emergence of a more constructive theory,
practice, and policy (Bolden & Kirk, 2005).
Modern (i.e., Western) leadership practices, primarily sourced in the
United States, can rarely be efficiently applied outside U.S. borders because of the
cultural and contextual differences at play (Nkomo, 2006). One of the vivid
challenges emerging today is the application of such modern leadership practice
as dictated by donor nations for the implementation of various programs. These
modern leadership practices are ineffective for two main reasons: first, the
practice is not contextualized to the African setting, and second, the practice
assumes that Africa has one culture and does not recognize the cultural diversity
present on the continent. All African nations are lumped together despite their
cultural and traditional differences. This homogenization of Africa overlooks the
diversity of cultures within countries and across the continent, and is a major
setback in understanding African leadership and management. Appiah (1992)
makes a case regarding this issue of diversity and the challenge it may pose in
modern days as a result of how the colonial powers divided and re-mapped the
In a few cases…in black Africa—Somalia, Lesotho, Swaziland—the
national states correspond to pre-colonial societies with a single language;
… In most places, however, the new states brought together people who
spoke different languages, had different religious traditions and notions of
property and were politically …integrated to different—often radically
different- degrees. (p. 161)
In many instances, applying Western leadership might be inadequate in an
African context not only because of the cultural difference but also because
leadership and management challenges in Africa are set in very different political,
economic, and social context—unless effort is made to contextualize and adapt
the leadership style to the context in which it is applied.
African Cosmology: A Defining Factor for African Leadership
The land shapes African spirituality (Mbiti, 1969), as do culture, ways of
living, and traditions. Traditional African cosmology sees the non-duality of time
(as past, present, and future) and space (Mbiti, 1969). African mysticism is based
on where people have been, where they are, and where they are headed. It
recognizes that we are all interrelated and that we are connected to our ancestors
and descendants regardless of time or the concept of life and death, the duality
between spirit and flesh. While this perspective can be found in many cultures, it
is deeply rooted in an African worldview that asserts,
I am because we are; and because we are, therefore, I am. I is the
individual and the infinite whole. We is the individual and collective
manifestation of all that is. Self includes all ancestors, the yet unborn, the
entire community, and all of nature. In my being is my worth, because I
am not separate, finite, limited being, but an extension of—and one with—
all that is. (Myers, 1993, p. 20)
Traditionally, African leadership is built on participation, responsibility,
and spiritual authority (van der Colff, n.d., para. 10). Spirituality is an integral
part of African leadership. As mentioned above, everything is interrelated; in my
experience working in Africa and throughout the field research of this
dissertation, the most influential leaders seem to be attuned the cause and effect
mechanisms between the physical world and the world of spirit, between the
leader and his ancestors and descendants, between humans and all of the nature.
Because of this African cosmology, this connection to the land and the ancestors
and the future descendents as well as the now, spirituality is an integral part of
African leadership.
Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that not everyone believes or has
to believe in this connection between the living and the dead, between the gross
realm of life and the subtle realms—that is a matter of choice (Lewis-Williams &
Pearce, 2004). Some African leaders, individuals raised and educated in a way
that allows them to see the connection between the human world and the world of
Spirit, might make decisions from this cosmological perspective and spiritual
understanding of the world. This understanding might contrast with the typical
Western mindset of leadership where spirituality often has little or no place and
emphasis is put on performance, money, or bottom-line results.
This interconnected-ness, this “I am because we are,” is often challenged
by the recurrent behaviors of violence, fighting, conflict, and war that have been
part of Africa, especially in the post-independence years. Whether there is a
connection between the leaders who have instigated, led, or benefited from such
wars and conflicts, and these same leaders’ belief in the connection between the
human world and the world of Spirit has not been established and might present
an opportunity for a closer examination of the issue.
The way of leaders, the expression of their leadership, and the leaders’
relationship to their communities are manifestations of their individual level of
maturity and stage of life (i.e., youth, middle age, elder) (S. Banhegyi & E.
Banhegyi, 2004) and how these different stages interact. Moreover, it is also a
manifestation and indication of the worldviews in which the reality centers (Beck
& Cowen, 1996). An effective and true leader is one who is aware that the energy
of the leadership, the feelings of the community, and the leader’s own popularity
are dynamic and will change over time (S. Banhegyi & E. Banhegyi, 2003). The
leader’s ability to read and understand the gravity center of the community she
leads and the direction in which the gravity center is moving, will define how
effectively the leader will be able to positively guide, motivate, and lead (Beck &
Cowen, 1996). The leader’s ability to be effective in one occasion, for example,
and his/her ability to learn from the experience might be a decisive indicator of
his/her leadership competence (Bennis & Thomas, 2002).
Leadership, in Africa, is often thought to distinguish itself from leadership
in other regions with its strong conviction in the individual’s relation to nature,
the world of spirits as well as the connections between the individual and her/his
ancestors (Nkomo, 2006). The African leadership paradigm is one with a
purposeful focus on people and their dignity. It takes a deeply embedded,
collectivist perspective reflected in the concept of Ubuntu, which literally
translates to: “I am because we are; I can only be a person through others” (April,
n.d., para. 2).
It is the continuity from the material world to the spiritual that is the basis
for African management and consequently its leadership systems (Nzelibe, 1986,
as discussed by Nkomo, 2006). In line with this, one specific tenet of African
culture is the philosophical system of thought known as Ubuntu, which represents
the cosmology and behavior of a large majority of Africans.
Africans have this thing called UBUNTU. It is about the essence of being
human; it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces
hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake
of others. We believe that a person is a person through another person, that
my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with you. (Desmond
Tutu, quoted by Bolden & Kirk, 2005, p. 1)
Ubuntu refers to traditional African leadership values. Such traditionbased values are inherent to Africa and can be integrated together with modern
leadership concepts in order to most effectively strengthen and fine-tune
leadership capacities in dealing with current African issues. Ubuntu was and is
based on an inclusive heart of leading. It contains a set of leadership skills and
competencies that enable globalization processes for Africa (Boon, 2007; van der
Colff, 2003). African leadership, deeply based on the concept of Ubuntu, is one
that is characterized by the principles of consultation, persuasion, accommodation
and cohabitation. However, as Khoza (2007) argues, power is the currency of
leadership, and in the exercise of power the true leader will not shun difficult or
unpopular decisions. This is a paradox. Ubuntu overcomes the apparent
contradiction by advancing a concept of power relations that resonates with the
sense that all people are creatures of blood and kinship who share the human
condition, and who need to accommodate one another (para. 23).
In speaking of great leadership, Senge (Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, &
Flowers, 2004), speaks of great leaders as those who can enter seven meditative
spaces: awareness, stopping, calmness, stillness, peace, true thinking, and
attainment. These seven steps might look like one step when experienced, but
actually may represent one long process of thinking-through. The ability of the
individual to consciously go through these steps (even if he does not name the
steps in the same way but is aware of the process) might define the quality of
leadership (p. 187). In addition, Senge speaks of non-attachment and leadership:
Leaders without attachments might be those who can make decisions in favor of
the greater whole (Senge et al., 2004). Although I have not found literature that
links Ubuntu and the concepts discussed by Senge, it seems to me that part of
Ubuntu and its impact on the kind of leadership existing in Africa is substantively
due to the leaders’ capacity to be non-attached to self, to outcome, and to
material. The seven steps of thinking as described by Senge might also be part of
the process of thinking through the culture of Ubuntu.
Ubuntu has been defined as “humane-ness—a pervasive spirit of caring
and community, harmony and hospitality, respect and responsiveness—that
individuals and groups display to one another” (Bolden & Kirk, 2005, p. 13;
Boon, 2007, p. 25). It is the foundation for the basic values and attitude that
manifest themselves in the ways African people think and behave with each other
and everyone else they encounter. It is argued that Ubuntu can be integrated into
leadership practices for competitive advantage in Africa and beyond (van der
Colff, n.d.). Incorporating Ubuntu principles in holds the promise of superior
approaches to working with and leading organizations and communities.
Organizations infused with Ubuntu will enjoy more sustainable competitive
advantage. In the same breath, Ubuntu is founded on leadership practices valuing
teamwork, paying attention to relationships, mutual respect and empathy between
leader and followers, and participatory decision-making (Bolden & Kirk, 2005).
Ubuntu is an African-specific and distinctive trait of African leadership
tradition (Vervliet, 2009). Despite the cultural, political, and social differences
existing on the continent, there might be a commonality in the cosmology of most
African cultures and tradition regarding Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a common practice
seen throughout Africa, especially among individuals recognized as Elders and
community leaders.
In my experience, wherever I have traveled to Africa (over half of the
continent), the way of hospitality is the same. The way elders are respected is the
same; the way a guest is received is very comparable. This common sense of
hospitability is also recognized by others who have traveled throughout Africa.
This is one of the main aspects distinguishing African culture from many other
cultures of the world.
When asked to explain what Ubuntu is, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said
the following:
Ubuntu is a concept that we have in our Bantu languages at home. Ubuntu
is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other
people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for
interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you
embrace others. You are generous, compassionate. If the world had more
ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap
between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what
is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just
as a mother or father helps their children. This is God's dream. (para. 7)
And Nelson Mandela defined Ubuntu as follows:
The spirit of Ubuntu—that profound African sense that we are human only
through the humanity of other human beings—is not a parochial
phenomenon, but has added globally to our common search for a better
world. (as cited in Cryws-Wiliams, 1997, p. 82)
Ubuntu might be a difficult concept to translate into a Western language.
It is a way to express how someone is hospitable, generous, caring, and so on—all
at the same time (Nicolson, 2008)
Integral Approach/Theory and Leadership
From all the frameworks and lenses available to further understand and
look into leadership, I chose the integral lens or the integral approach because
while the integral theory is one conceived in the West, it lends itself to the African
context as it offers a very comprehensive, inclusive way to examine, study, and
understand any reality (Reams, 2005). The integral lens examines the whole
picture without separating the individual reality from the collective and the
external reality from the internal subjective reality. It allows us to find the “I” in
relation to the “we” and links both to the “it” and the “its.” Reams (2005) posits
that the aim of the integral theory is to contextualize the “truth” about everything.
While the integral theory might be attempting the integration of competing points
of views, it is a theory that validates the existence of multiple truths (Reams,
2005). Meaning that each view has its truth and its limitations, while all truths
may not be equally right; thus, some truths might be more useful than others.
In this section I first highlight the aspects of the four quadrants, the aspects
of stages of development, and the lines of development in the context of
leadership in order to introduce aspects of the integral theory. Then I move on to
discuss integral leadership.
The Four-Quadrant Model
The integral theory presents at least four primary perspectives through
which we can experience the world: subjective, intersubjective, objective, and
interobjective (deVos, 2008a). The four territories represented graphically are the
Four Quadrant Model (Figure 1).
The four-quadrant model (also called All Quadrants, All Levels or AQAL)
is a map that reflects different territories of the same reality. The upper left
quadrant shows the interior individual aspect of reality (the subjective or nontangible, e.g., values and attitudes). This is the “I” area that is only accessible
through profound dialogue with a person, through his/her writing or other
productions (Küpers & Weibler, 2008). The lower left quadrant covers the
interior collective aspects of reality (the subjective aspects, e.g., cultures and
Values, attitudes,
assumptions, knowledge,
worldview, intentions
Behavior, biology
Cultural values, shared
values, implicit social
Societal systems,
processes, structures,
Figure 1. The Four Quadrants or All Quadrants, All Levels (AQAL) Model.
Author’s image; data from Volckmann (2009).
societal norms). It represents the “We” space where shared stories, myths, and
history bind the collective together. While the upper right quadrant covers the
external, individual aspects of reality (the objective, tangible, and concrete side,
e.g., behavior and action), the upper and lower right quadrants represent the “It”
space where individual action, knowledge, and behavior can be measured. The
lower right quadrant reflects the external collective realm (the objective aspects of
the collective, e.g., systems, structures, etc.). The lower right quadrant represents
the “Its” space where tools, technologies, policies, rules, and so on are represented
(Küpers & Weibler, 2008; Reams, 2005).
African reality is mostly governed by the Lower Left Quadrant—the “We”
space. This “We” resides in the space between us (Merry, 2009, p. 99). As
Merry (2009) puts it, we can nurture or pollute this space depending on how we
relate to each other, how we perceive each other, and whether we are able to see
the other as a reflection of ourselves (p. 99). Ubuntu relates to this “We” and links
directly to Merry’s outlook. As long as we are able to see the other as a reflection
of ourselves—and in the case of Ubuntu, as a part of ourselves—we are in a
position to create a positive “we” space where healthy change and transformation
can happen.
Rosado (2007) speaks of transformation of the self and others in a way
that fosters the evolution of human consciousness and the emergence of a new
society (p. 125): In societies where repressive institutions are persistent,
communities might generate collective resistance. In the case of Africa, if we take
the repressive institutions as the overall malaise within communities due to
poverty, lack of opportunity, and welfare, this collective resistance that Rosado
refers to might emerge as a deep-seated, collective need for change, which might
be reflected through an evolution of the self and collective toward developing a
new identity for the society. In this case, transformation might emerge as a
movement toward a future vision (p. 127). This is where, in Africa, a new level
of leadership might come into play to encourage, initiate, and motivate African
people toward a transformation both at the individual and collective levels.
Levels or Stages of Development
“Developmentalism is a key to integral theory” (Reams, 2005, p. 121).
The concept of development is of recognition of one level, a differentiation from
or transcendence of that level, and the integration of a new level (Reams, 2005).
Through this process, individuals, societies, and communities evolve through the
stages or levels of development.
Spiral Dynamics is a concept that attempts to make distinctions in human
development; based on the initial work of Professor Clare Graves, Don Beck and
Chris Cohen present the concept in their book Spiral Dynamics (1996). In Spiral
Dynamics language, the levels of development or stages are presented as centers
of gravity that represent the level or stage of consciousness of a community or
society (Wigglesworth, 2009). The stage can vary from a basic primal stage
through egocentric stages, ethnocentric, bureaucratic, and market-led, all the way
through stages reflecting a center of gravity that encompasses universal and
spiritual bonds (Beck & Cowan, 1996). Each of these stages presents a particular
kind of behavior, culture, and attitude, which undoubtedly affects the quality of
ensuing leadership.
In the same breath, Ken Wilber’s Altitude Map (as cited by McIntyre,
n.d.) also refers to the levels of human development. Both Spiral Dynamics and
Wilber’s Altitude maps use color codes to refer to the various levels of
development. For Spiral Dynamics, the color codes were initially a design format
for the training materials, but the colors became a common language when
included in the publication of Spiral Dynamics in 1996 (NVC Consulting, n.d.) .
On the other hand, the colors in Wilber’s Altitude Map follow the natural colors
of the rainbow (deVos, 2008b).
Altitude indicates the degree of developmental unfolding of items such as
complexity, consciousness, and the number of perspectives one can take.
For example, in consciousness development…one goes from the capacity
to take only a 1st-person perspective, to also being able to take a 2ndperson perspective, to also being able to take a 3rd-person perspective, and
so on. Thus, in this example, you can see that the capacity for love
increases (from being able to love only me, to being able to love us, to
being able to love all of us, to being able to love all sentient beings....). For
convenience, Altitude follows the natural colors of the rainbow, so you'll
often hear us refer to degree of development or degree of consciousness or
degree of capacity to love, etc. by a particular color of the rainbow (as you
will see below).…
In order to communicate effectively, you have to be able to hit the
same degree of complexity as the person or persons you’re speaking to. To
not make an attempt to adjust your speech to another sentient being is
mean, a form of subtle aggression. By learning to spot degree of
complexity, you can more effectively communicate and enhance mutual
understanding. (para. 1–2)
The Lines of Development
As an individual evolves through the stages as described above, there are
also lines of development relating to the various aspects of human nature (Reams,
2005): “The idea of multiple developmental lines has become popular with the
notion of multiple intelligences” (Wilber, 2006, p. 59). Some examples of lines of
development are emotional, moral, ethical, relational, cognitive, physical, and so
on (Reams, 2005; Wilber 2006). As our development evolves (or not), we do not
evolve or develop in the same way in all the lines. For example, an individual
might be highly developed in the intellectual line but have low athletic
development. One of the examples often used to illustrate lines of development is
that of Hitler: While no one will contest that Hitler had a highly developed
cognitive line, his moral or emotional line was clearly very low.
Part of the implication of lines of development is that they allow us to
understand how we can be at different levels of development in different aspects
of our lives (Reams, 2005). In terms of leadership, lines of development offer us
the opportunity to understand, assess, and work on particular lines or streams in
order to develop and nurture leadership competences.
Leadership Through the Integral Lens
Although leadership is often presented as an art or a science, scholars such
as Chatterjee (as cited in Reams, 2005, p. 123) describe leadership as a state of
consciousness. He continues to say that this allows us to now begin to understand
the concept of leadership as a field of awareness rather than a personality traits or
mental attribute (Reams, 2005, p. 123). Starting from this statement that refers to
leadership as a state of consciousness, the integral approach is a lens allowing us
to “disaggregate” leadership in the four quadrants, and through the various levels
or stages and across the lines of development. “In a way, the integral perspectives
on leadership offer ways to organize our knowledge about leadership so that we
see it as a whole and as part of something larger” (Volckmann, 2009, para. 7).
Leadership scholars from many contemporary schools of thought suggest
the need to take a multiperspective approach and to have the ability to make a
distinction between the “map” and the “territory” (Murray, 2006)—this is what
the integral approach allows. Taking all the quadrants into consideration, from a
bird’s eye view, it is obvious how each quadrant affects the other and how a
change in one quadrant would lead to a change in the status quo of all four. The
lower quadrants reflect the collective aspects of the leaders and their situations.
As mentioned earlier, the lower left quadrants reflect culture and the collective
internal/subjective territory of a community; as leadership is by default related to
group dynamics, community, and collective, looking at the lower left quadrant
can shed light on the context in which a leader would operate and reflect both the
constraints and the opportunities to which a leader would be subjected.
Our separate lives are grounded in a social reality. Social systems impinge
on our lives and relate us to our fellow beings, as a continent connects its
promontory, a landscape its trees. Even if we set ourselves apart, they
condition our private pursuits and reflect them in turn. (Macy, 1991,
p. 183)
Social systems might be the link between the collective values and traditions
discussed above and the tangible collective structure and systems of the lower
right quadrant, discussed below.
The lower right quadrant would reflect the systems in which the leader has
to operate—reflecting that which is tangible and that which the leader can
concretely rely on to exercise his or her responsibility. The upper quadrants
reflect the individual aspects of the leaders. On the left, we can find the leader’s
internal values and attitudes, while on the right we would have the leader’s
external behavior.
Examining the levels of development, the quadrant map takes on
altitude—it is possible to now see various realities by looking at the quadrants and
by recognizing the existence of various levels related to each quadrant. For
example, it is possible to see how the lower left quadrant (culture) would produce
a different kind of leader and a different style of leadership in a egocentric center
of gravity versus a bureaucratic center of gravity. People are more likely to be led
by a person at the same stage of development or half a stage higher, or by a
person who can speak effectively to their stage (Wigglesworth, 2009). Therefore,
the various levels of development in conjunction with the quadrants can shed light
on the type of leadership that might be more effective for a given context.
In addition, looking at the lines of development opens yet another
perspective to understand the concept of leadership as well as why and how some
styles of leadership work in some environments better than others. For example,
in the context of a post-conflict environment or country, an effective leader would
not only need a highly developed cognitive line in order to formulate and design
strategies of reconstruction, but also a highly developed moral and emotional line
in order to lead the community toward reconciliation and rehabilitation. One
example of such a leader is President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who took over a
country torn by genocide but was able to lead the country to reconciliation,
rehabilitation, and reconstruction. President Kagame might have not only a highly
developed cognitive line but also highly developed moral and emotional lines. In
contrast, the world has witnessed the work of President Charles Taylor of Liberia,
who while very intelligent and articulate (and hence a highly developed cognitive
or intellectual line) has also perpetrated crimes against humanity indicate how
low his moral and emotional lines might be.
These concepts—the four quadrants and the levels and lines of
development—are used in the data analysis, the results of which are presented in
Chapter 5. The challenge is to use the integral map and enter into an integral
practice (Wilber, 2000). In terms of this research, the particular challenge is to
truly understand the territory, the concepts, and the issues of leadership and
Africa, and be able to translate this understanding into a practice that can take the
current state of leadership to what many have been calling for: bold and
innovative leadership.
He is currently being tried for his crimes, including the civil wars he instigated
in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Reflecting on Visionary Leadership in Africa
“Africa needs leaders who are prepared to intervene in complex situation
without holding back for fear of criticism. They must be able to find
commonalities among differences, put people first, and learn from their
–Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi
South African Minister of Public Service and Administration
(Zevenbergen, 2006, p. 1)
[V]ision exists when people in an organization share an explicit agreement
on the values, beliefs, purposes, and goals that should guide their
behavior…an “inspiring declaration of compelling dreams, accompanied
by a clear scenario of how it will be accomplished.” A good vision not
only has a worth goals, but also challenges and stretches everyone.
(Lashway, 1997, p. 1)
Vision might not necessarily be positive or negative—it can be either,
based on the group, organization, or society in which it is anchored. The world
has witnessed the work of evil visionary leaders such as Hitler, Charles Taylor of
Liberia, and many of those who have orchestrated genocides. So, when one
speaks of visionary leaders, one is referring to the positive or negative
manifestation of visionary abilities. For this dissertation, I consider vision that is
aimed at creating greater good in service of human welfare, economic growth,
social stability, and so on.
Vision, a cornerstone of leadership, is less a derivative of spreadsheetmastery and more a product of imagination (Zaleznik, 1992). It has now become
common to make a vision statement in every organization or at the start of any
initiative, yet vision formulation is not a straightforward task or one-time event
(Lashway, 1997) but more of an evolutionary process. It is a process that requires
ongoing reflection, action, and re-evaluation (Lashway, 1997). The formulation
of vision might be a process that also allows the emergence of leadership. It
might be the capacity of the individual to formulate his or her vision that in turn
allows him or her to assume leadership in pursuit of that vision.
Visionary leadership is to be distinguished from ordinary leadership
capacity; visionary leaders are executives, individuals with the strong
commitment who are willing to take risks (Sashkin, 1987). Such leaders have the
capacity to use their vision to guide the direction in which they would like their
countries to go (even if this is not always combined with any clear sense of how
to get there).
Many states and institutions strongly call for visionary leadership in Africa
(Awuah, 2007; GhanaWeb, 2005; Johnson Sirleaf, 2006; Weisenfeld, 2003).
Visionary leadership takes into consideration a more comprehensive landscape of
interrelated factors impacting the overall wellbeing and growth of a nation.
Visionary leaders also work with the long-term in mind while at the same time
being cognizant of the short- and medium-term matters.
In this dissertation, I make a distinction regarding the term visionary: A
visionary leader is one with the ability to see, live, and understand that which does
not yet exist in everyday reality, that is, the ordinary reality on which all can agree
and define as the norm.)
Some distinguishing factors associated with the characteristics of
visionary leaders: ability to think in the long-term, ability to relate to others
(Ciulla, 2004), ability to form a deep understanding of their constituency, and
ability to motivate and mobilize (F. Assegid, 2006). It’s about the leader’s
foresight. It is the genius of Shaka in laying out strategies, in fighting along with
his people (literally), and in bypassing existing beliefs that raised the Zulu nations
to be among the most powerful of their time. Visionary African leaders in Africa
operate from a paradigm founded on African cosmology, based on the principles
of Ubuntu as well as the aspects of visionary leadership as described above.
The goals, aspiration, and vision of a leader are not developed in a
vacuum; leadership, and especially visionary leadership, is based on the capacity
of the leader to relate to others and establish relationship with the community and
constituencies in a way that enables them to trust, understand, and see how the
leader can address the needs and opportunities at hand (Ciulla, 2004). Visionary
leaders are not only those individuals with the vision, confidence, charisma, and
mindset to move people—they are also individuals highly competent in building
the alliances and relationships needed to attain the vision they hold.
The most effective visionary leaders able to achieve the greatest
transformation might be those who not only build relationships but also identify
first who they want on board and only then set the trajectory of the work to be
done (Collins, 2001). The visionary leader is the individual who is in a state of
authenticity, which is often what draws people to follow, because people are
attracted to an authentic presence and to the unfolding of a future full of
possibilities (Jaworski, 1998). Such leaders, able to speak and relate from a space
of authenticity, might be those who are able to enroll others as opposed to just
trying to get others to buy in to their vision (Senge, 1990). Enrolling is
significantly different than selling an idea or a vision—it is about speaking and
sharing what is possible in such a way that others can not only see that same
possibility but also make it their own prerogative to achieve it. Visionary leaders
enable others to see challenges as opportunities; they are able to turn complaints
into opportunities of expressing or re-expressing commitment toward the common
goal (Kegan & Lahey, 2001).
True leadership [visionary leadership] is about creating a domain in which
we continually learn and become come capable of participating in our
unfolding future. A true leader [visionary leader] sets the stage on which
predictable miracles, synchronistic in nature, can—and do—occur.
(Jaworski, 1998, p. 182)
Effective Versus Poor Leadership in Africa
Although leadership has been extensively studied in social behavior and
management sciences, there is still is little consensus regarding the key features of
effective leadership (J. Hogan & R. Hogan, 2002, p. 75). In my experience, in the
context of Africa effective leaders (or those leaders considered good, great, or
visionary) provide guidance to nation-state governments in how to perform for the
benefit of their citizens (Johnson Sirleaf, 2006; Zevenbergen, 2006). Such leaders
produce all fundamental structures for development and stability such as security,
rule of law, education, health, and appropriate frameworks for economic
advancement. Botswana is the epitome of democracy, development (Rotberg,
2006), and good governance. Mauritius is the other country in Africa that today
counts as the continent’s strongest secure democratic political culture. Both of
these countries put in evidence the benefit of open economies, strong rule of law,
and free expression, of association as well as opposition. Both countries have a
standard of free and fair elections, and both governments have reliably delivered
high quality governance to their citizens (Rotberg, 2006).
On the other hand, leaders with poor leadership capacities deliver far less
and in fact, rather add to the collapse of the political structures and infrastructures
of their nations. Such leaders (e.g., Mobutu Sese-Seko) destroy the social and
economic framework of their countries. They subjugate and divest their people of
their liberties (Rotberg, 2004a, 2004b) and basic human rights. A tragic reality in
post-colonial Africa is that the people have trusted their leaders, yet the leaders
have not always respected and honored that trust (Maathai, 2009). Poor
leadership is not unique to Africa or created by Africans. Poor leadership in
Africa might be related to and a result of the history and reality of Africa
including the abuses of colonizers, oppressors, self-absorbed dictators, and human
rights violators (Maathai, 2009). As much as great leadership does not happen
overnight, poor leadership became anchored in the African reality through many
At the same time, ineffective leadership might not always be poor
leadership. For example, leaders such as Patrice Lumumba and Thomas Sankara
were great leaders but their leadership might not have been effective, mainly
because it may have lacked strategy, which would have provided them support to
achieve their respective goals and visions. Such leaders attempted to gain welfare
for their countries but in doing so did not take into consideration the other
dynamics operating in the political and social context in which they lived.
Ineffective leaders might not always be poor leaders as mentioned earlier, but
might have noble intentions that they are not able to articulate and translate into
action. There may be a number of variables including lack of insight, poor
judgment, lack of patience and strategy that might bring a good leader to fail;
exploring these variables would make a valuable future study.
The first generation of African leaders, at independence, may have failed
to respond effectively and positively to the challenges of change (Mahindi, 1998).
We must keep in mind that the leaders of pre-independence times might not have
continued in the position of leadership post-independence. Wambu (2007) argues
that the pre-independence leaders—those who are world-renowned, such as
Nkrumah, Senghor, Sekou Toure, and even Mugabe—may have been leaders
trained to fight for independence and freedom, but not for development. For these
reasons and many others, pre-independence leaders seem to have lacked the
capacity or insight to understand the long-term implications of the domestic and
global changes, and the challenges faced by their peoples. In addition, they often
lacked the competence to devise sustainable solutions. These first-generation
leaders failed to create conditions conducive to the evolution of a young
generation of leaders with the capacity, integrity, vision, and commitment to take
Africa into the 21st century (Mahindi, 1998).
Awareness of the factors that contributed to the shortcomings of these
first-generation leaders is a must to avoid repeating the same oversights. One
must also take due consideration of the reality that there is a high amount of risk
in holding office in Africa (Goldsmith, 2001), compared to holding office in
Western nations, which makes it difficult for African leaders to have enough time
and security to implement policies and strategies to build their countries.
Notwithstanding all the complexity in development efforts, leadership still
remains a key leverage point to advance development in Africa. However,
Africa’s effort to push forth authentic development might not bear fruit until
genuine indigenous leadership and management systems are put in place and
institutionalized. The need for an indigenous approach to leadership comes from
the call for an African renaissance looking to regain the identity of Africa
(Nkomo, 2006). Postcolonial theory also indicates the need for the colonized to
reclaim a culture of their own, a history of their own, and a world of their own—
independent of the images of the “other” (Nkomo, 2006).
The continent has been captive in the hands of malevolent leaders,
predatory and corrupt leaders, military-installed despots, economic illiterates, and
puffed up “posturers.” Countries such as Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo,
and Zimbabwe are examples of how such leaders have run their nations to the
ground despite their abundant natural resources. It is not about leadership per se,
but more about rulership (Bewaji, 2003, p. 1). Unfortunately, such countries are
representative of 90% of sub-Saharan African countries that have experienced
such autocratic rule in the past three decades. Such leaders use power as an end in
itself, rather than for public good (Bewaji, 2003; Johnson Sirleaf, 2006; Rotberg,
2004a, 2004b).
At the same time, this tragic picture of African leadership is brought into
sharper relief by the few but striking examples of effective leadership in Africa.
Mozambique (1996–2003) experienced economic growth of more than 10% a
year following the economic catastrophe created by the civil war that ended in
1992. Similarly, President Kibaki of Kenya built up civil society, invested in
education, and removed barriers to private enterprise brought in by former
President Moi. Effective leadership had always been in place in Botswana with its
knack for participatory democracy, integrity, tolerance, private enterprise, and
rule of law. Long before the diamonds were discovered, Botswana stood as a
country that values civil liberties and promotes social and economic development
(Rotberg, 2004a, 2004b).
While the international community can provide support to rid Africa of
poor governance and inadequate leadership, change toward good governance and
effective leadership will only happen when Africans take on the responsibility for
it. Indeed, the onus falls on Africa and its people to proactively pave the path for
good governance and leadership.
There is a compelling reason why Africans themselves have to be more
proactive in developing initiatives that effectively address good
governance and private sector development issues: the development of
indigenous capacity and homegrown policies informed by local
knowledge and perspectives provides the best hope for poverty alleviation
in poor countries. (Isimbabi, 2004, p. 3)
Two World Bank vice-presidents for sub-Saharan Africa have attributed a
significant improvement in Africa’s growth prospects to the advent of a new
generation of leaders, in place of their “state-ist” and corrupt predecessors (Gray
& McPherson, 2000). This new generation of African leaders represents the
emergence of an African leadership different from what had been known as
corrupt and self-centered to one that is (a) committed, (b) qualified, and
(c) non-ideological.
Committed, qualified, and non-ideological African leaders are needed to
take the continent toward economic development and growth. The main question
is how to facilitate the emergence of such leaders. The fact is such leaders exist in
Africa as they do in countries around the world. The main challenge in Africa is
the lack of structures to allow such individuals to occupy positions of leadership.
As mentioned earlier, holding a public office poses a substantial risk in Africa
(Goldsmith, 2001) and this makes it very difficult for African leaders to rise to
their position and focus on putting their competence in service of their country.
Conclusion and Reflections
Understanding leadership and its enactment on the continent holds the
potential to gain deep appreciation of African development to date, and insight on
how this development will evolve in the future. Rampant conflicts, continued
slow economic development, and a trail of viciously interlinked issues such as
poverty, epidemics (Cannon & Y. Assegid, 2005; Geldof, 2005), and so on stem
largely from poor governance and deficient leadership. Due to the high number of
small landlocked states, their poor economies, and weak institutions, leadership is
of vital significance to Africa . Poor leadership has been challenging African
development for decades, but there is hope that once the bold new initiatives by a
group of past and present African leaders take off, good governance, economic
growth, and human development may finally be the norm on the continent.
It is essential that these new initiatives be nurtured and passed on to
coming generations of leaders in the most systematic way.
Africa needs today a systematic examination of the failures of past and
current African leadership in the development process. Equally, there
should be recognition of the imperative for sustained high-level training of
potential African leaders to ensure a process of orderly, intergenerational
succession. (Africa Leadership Forum, 1988, p. 5)
It is recognized that leadership, especially in Africa, can be difficult; yet, it
is also true that good leadership can flourish on the continent (African Leadership
Council, 2004). As Graca Machel (2009, p. 1) has said, “There is no point in
simply lamenting our fate. We need bold leadership from Africa” (para. 18).
Leadership adapted to the African context in all aspects (political, social,
cultural, etc.) might be the best means of initiating positive change and
transformation toward peace, stability, and economic development, as well as
improving social welfare and living conditions on the continent. African
leadership is distinct from leadership as defined by Western discourse; it is based
very much on the cosmology of Africa, which is very spiritual and acknowledges
the connection with the spiritual world. African communities see the human
connection with spirit, ancestors, and descendants, and the link between human
communities and the fauna/flora around them. It is through such lenses that
African leadership principles emerge.
African leadership also holds subtle distinctions such as nurturing and
holding community based on its distinctive cosmology. The integral approach
might offer a way to grasp these subtle distinctions through the use of the four
quadrant map, the lines and levels of development.
In order to gain depth in understanding African leadership, it is vital to
recognize the cultural and traditional diversity on the continent, while at the same
time recognizing practices such as Ubuntu that appear to be common among
African leadership frameworks. At the same time, Ubuntu is largely prescriptive
and lacks research depth; further research is necessary to articulate a distinctive
conceptualization of contemporary indigenous African culture as it applies to
leadership. The integral leadership frame (discussed in Integral Approach/Theory
and Leadership above) is one promising approach drawn on by the present study,
which offers one small step toward understanding African leadership.
Through conversations with and stories of the Elder Leaders, I examined
examples and stories of leadership in Africa, including stories that depict great
leadership or define poor leadership, stories that speak about the wisdom in
African Leadership, and stories that lead to insights about how to deepen the
current leadership styles and capacities in Africa. The conversations provided
some indication of some of the factors that influence the quality of leadership, as
well as drew out the process of building leadership capacity through
understanding the contextual dynamics prevalent in African communities. I trust
that the findings comprise an important component in the understanding of the
greater scope of leadership per se, and more specifically of leadership in Africa.
Organic Inquiry
Organic inquiry was the most appropriate method for this study for a
number of reasons. This section provides an overview of organic inquiry method
and a discussion of the three steps (preparation, inspiration, integration) as they
were applied in the present study. The section ends with a discussion of those
qualities of organic inquiry method rendering it the best fit for this inquiry, as
well as a discussion of data analysis through organic inquiry.
Curry and Wells (2003) put forward that organic inquiry is a spiritually
based and creative method, situated by the very nature of its conceptualization of
the relationship between humans and the sacred. Organic inquiry is a
qualitative research approach for the study of topics in the field of psychospiritual growth, in which one’s psyche becomes the subjective instrument
of the research, working in partnership with liminal and spiritual sources
as well as with participants who have had related experiences. (Clements,
2002, p. 14)
As an emerging method, organic inquiry requires discipline and
mindfulness from the researcher. It is very flexible and allows ample room for the
researcher to continuously reflect, advance, retract, change direction, and stay on
track, and so on during the process of the research. Organic inquiry, as a method,
is related to research methodologies in the field of transpersonal psychology and
some aspects of feminist theory and spirituality (Curry & Wells, 2003). Clements
(2002) argues that organic inquiry is a revered qualitative research approach that
draws researchers and inquiries related to psycho-spiritual growth. It is an
approach located in a paradigm of inquisitive reverence to the topic researched,
offering both information and ground for transformation for all individuals
involved in the research: researchers, participants, and readers.
Compared to the mainstream knowledge of research with rigid
methodologies and protocols, organic inquiry maintains the rigor as such, but
allows new terrains to conduct the investigations. Classically, research is thought
of as the process of “doing science” (Curry & Wells, 2003), where experiments
are carried out and substantial statistical results are expected to support the
hypothesis of said research. With organic inquiry, the focus is on knowing in88
depth about the lived experiences (Curry & Wells, 2003), in an exploratory and
discovery-oriented manner. It is not about statistics necessarily, but about
attempting to draw out the human meaning of a concept, of experiences, and of
what is lived. It seeks to draw a way of knowing from the experiences of the
sacred (Curry & Wells, 2003).
Organic inquiry is a research method mainly based upon the telling of,
listening to and retelling of stories. It is about the researcher’s ability to soak in
the story in a way that allows him or her to feel the textures, nuances, and
subtleties of the story. As the researcher comes into a position to literally embody
the story, she is enabled to integrate the story so that she can retell the story and
pass on the wisdom the story carries. The particularity of organic inquiry is that it
is a method that is carried out in partnership with Spirit. It allows the researcher to
come into contact with the sacred, in the world of the unconscious, in order to
have access to and collect sacred wisdom that is not perceivable or available in
the conscious world. While working in partnership with Spirit, the researcher is
led to enter the liminal spaces to gather data and analyze the collected stories in a
state of total surrender of conscious control of the process (Clements, 2002).
Every part of organic inquiry is undertaken in partnership with Spirit.
There may be several definitions of Spirit, as many as there are researchers and
topics of inquiry. To me, Spirit is God. It is the Universe. It is the compassion that
envelops us in our everyday lives. I see Spirit as part of my own self, and as a
consciousness I can call on to receive guidance in this research. Spirit, to me, is
also that warmth that exists on the grounds of the African Continent. It is that
which is great notwithstanding the misery that we see on the surface. Spirit to me
is the voices of all of our ancestors and the listening of all the generations to
come. Spirit is that which accepts me with all my strengths and weaknesses, that
which does not judge my limitations and fears but rather allows my humanity to
be an expression of the divine that is within. As I did this research, I was
conscious of my shortcomings, my fears and anxieties, and the massive work
required. I was conscious of the resources I needed to complete my work, and I
knew that even though I did not have all the answers and resources at the
beginning of the project—even so, I chose to trust that things would be okay. I
chose to rely on Spirit, on the inquiry, and on the Universe to see me through this.
I counted on the guidance of Spirit to lead my path and show me the way through
this unknown terrain that I wished to explore. Organic inquiry is a method that
takes the researcher as a whole. It was not about just my mind, or my academic
life—this method made me the researcher, the participants, the stories, the process
of writing, the committee that saw this through, and all involved in my life and in
this research: ONE.
The three phases of an organic inquiry are referred to as preparation,
inspiration, and integration of stories received (Clements, 2002). Each phase leads
into the next and the collective phases relate to the process of allowing the
researcher to prepare to go into the liminal realm; collect answers, data, and
insights; and return to the conscious world to integrate that which has been
offered in the Spiritual world. The following paragraphs describe each of these
Phase One: Preparation
Preparation is the first phase in making the way to the realm of Spirit. It is
designed to allow the researcher to get ready to cross into a different level of
consciousness. Part of my own preparation to undertake this research was gaining
an understanding of what organic inquiry is and how it might allow my inquiry to
unfold. As Clements (2002) discussed, organic inquiry studies are as varied as the
topics of research and as the individuals who undertake these studies. In the same
way, preparation to entering the liminal space can be equally varied.
In my case, the preparation actually started before I began writing and
before I even decided on organic inquiry as a method. My inquiry, even if not
clearly articulated, has been part of my life since childhood. When I decided to
finally enter a doctoral program, I knew clearly where I wanted the process to
lead me. I wanted to find out what is so in Africa and in its leadership and what
would be needed to open the way for transformation and change in the way things
are done so that development can be a reality for the continent. In the process of
writing my dissertation proposal, I lived with my inquiry continuously and
mindfully, until the time the inquiry itself led me to look towards organic inquiry
as a tool. It is my eagerness to understand that which is not yet formulated or
written that has brought me to organic inquiry.
As I planned and envisioned the phase of field research and the interview
phase, my preparation was ongoing. I mindfully continued to seal and deepen my
partnership with Spirit. I remained committed to allowing the inquiry, allowing
Spirit, allowing the stories, and allowing myself to draw the picture that
eventually brought to life the wisdom that I sought. Clements (2002) refers to this
first phase of preparation as either spontaneous or intentional.
The spontaneous preparation relates to some of the unexpected and
immediate encounters with Spirit, encounters that can often be upsetting and
sometimes difficult to process (Clements, 2002). The key to benefiting from
spontaneous encounters is to remain open and know that even seeming obstacles
or failures can be opportunities to deepen our understanding of aspects of the
study. It is my ability to remain open—regardless of the circumstances—that was
essential in benefiting from the spontaneous experience of entering the liminal
space. I feel that the entire process of preparation to enter the liminal space is
contingent on “allowing” a flow, knowing that all things fit together perfectly
(even if I cannot make sense of it right away).
The intentional aspect of the preparation stage relates to planning and
designing the research. I first discuss the intentional preparation I undertook at the
beginning of the data collection phase of the research. In order to intentionally
journey into the world of the liminal, there are four steps to be undertaken in the
world of ego.
The first step entails recognizing a question or an object of concern
(Clements, 2002). Basically, this step concerned clarity in knowing what I wanted
to know or being clear about the direction of the question I wanted addressed.
Because the topic of this study has been a life long inquiry for me, this step of
knowing the question with clarity, took place very organically. I just knew what I
wanted to know. I also knew what I did not know, and it is exactly this space of
not knowing what I don’t know but should understand that led me to both organic
inquiry and to going to the elders seeking their guidance and wisdom in the
In this inquiry, I experienced Clements’s (2002) second and third steps
simultaneously. The second step is negotiating with the ego to let go of control, to
allow the flow, and to feel secure enough to come on the journey with trust in the
outcome—no matter what the outcome will be. Because the ego has a tendency to
either ignore the existence of the liminal or a tendency to build a virtual wall to
hide the unconscious material, it is important to take the time necessary to make
the ego an ally in the process (Clements, 2002). It is interesting to me that the
literature speaks of the ego not wanting to admit the existence of the liminal. In
Africa, communities throughout the continent may have one commonality and
that is the knowing and reverence we have for the world of Spirit and that of the
liminal realm. Although these same exact words are not used, in most African
communities our whole lives are led without duality between these two worlds;
we live in both worlds every day. So, in my personal case of working with the
process of Organic Inquiry, I did not have to negotiate with my ego for
cooperation on this journey—instead, it was just a process of letting go, allowing
reflection and meditation to find the inspiration and the direction to follow. The
third step emerges as the ego shows a willingness to cooperate and adopts an
attitude of respect of reverence, cooperation, and mutuality (Clements, 2002).
The fourth and final step comes as the actual opening of the self to the
liminal realm, after establishing the intent of the journey, enrolling the ego in
partnership with Spirit, and presenting oneself as a respectful instrument of the
study (Clements, 2002). For myself, I worked to be a humble, unassuming, and
modest instrument to the study in reverence to the guidance and the answers that
Spirit, the ancestors, and the soul of Africa had in store for my inquiry.
Throughout the entire fieldwork process, my commitment to myself and to
Spirit was to stay open, remain flexible, and trust that all events and incidents
happening around me were not coincidences but rather serendipity; I followed the
inner energy I felt inside to direct my every step. This entire process—including
contacting the participants, arranging for times to interview them, working on the
logistics to reach the participants (by road, flight or phone)—was a fluid process
without discrete segments or sections. The best way to describe what happened
and how it happened is allowing and trusting the process and moving forward
with Faith. It is a space of surrender and trust, a space where flow rather than
control is the point, which may relate to Clements’s (2002) curious ignorance.
When the ego adopts an attitude of respect for the values of reverence,
cooperation and mutuality. The world and oneself become a sacred setting
where all actions and interactions are regarded as ways of moving towards
transformation of oneself and others. (p. 53)
At times, even failures can emerge as opportunities for transformation and
learning (Clements, 2002); this, to me, is what happened when I just allowed
myself to flow and surrender to both Spirit and the inquiry.
Once these preparation steps are completed, the researcher is in the liminal
space, free to focus attention on various items and free to stay or leave when she
is ready (Clements, 2002). Now the researcher is in a space where the
unconscious mind governs—the phase of inspiration.
Phase Two: Inspiration
In the inspiration phase, the ego is assigned the role of observer of
spiritual and liminal experiences, as the very nature of entering a sacred space
looking for inspiration leaves the researcher in a state without ego. When one
steps over the threshold into the liminal realm in search of revelation, one leaves
ego’s territory. In the phase of inspiration, the researcher is in a state where she
might be able to focus her attention on different matters, but where she cannot
define the outcome of the experience (Clements, 2002). “As one enters a realm of
‘pure possibility,’ one is also brought into connection with deity or superhuman
power, which can result in profound inner change as a seal impress wax” (Victor
Turner, 1987, as quoted by Clements, 2002, p. 69). This is the place where I
surrendered to what was so, in order to experience the texture of the story and
how the story re-emerged through my interpretation.
As I went to each of the elders seeking their story of leadership, seeking
their experiences about leadership and its role for African development, seeking
to understand the source of their wisdom, I hoped to touch and feel the texture of
what makes Africa and Africans unique and what in this uniqueness calls for a
different kind of leadership to tackle the challenges we see everyday. I
consciously and mindfully crossed over to the liminal and spiritual realm,
knowing and trusting that my questions and my inquiry would be addressed. I
trusted because I knew that these questions and the inquiry did not randomly
emerge in me—my life history and experience so far, my family, my ancestors,
my work, and my perception of the world all came into this moment when I
entered the world of Spirit to ask the elders for their stories and insights about
Clements (2002) argues that the “controlling ego must endure being
largely powerless, but the psyche may willfully explore this realm” (p. 70). As I
discussed earlier, in African cosmology we live in the material/ego world and the
spiritual world simultaneously, so my challenge was not about my ego enduring
being powerless and my psyche willfully exploring the liminal space, but rather
about finding a way to express the experiences of the liminal realm in ways that
resonate with both my psyche and the ego self. As of this writing, I feel that I
have not fully left the liminal realm; it seems as though part of me has remained
in that liminal space or that the experiences felt have branded themselves on me in
a way that has changed me forever. Traveling into the liminal space through the
stories and through sharing a certain field of existence with each of the
participants more times than not brought up even more questions for me. It was
and remains challenging to know how to express that which I have learned, felt,
and experienced in the liminal space. At times I feel that I have gone a lot further
within the liminal space with my psyche than my ego self can possibly express,
yet I still trust that in due course, the time will be ripe for me to fully express that
which has touched and transformed me.
Once I had (mostly) returned to the ego realm, the next and final phase in
completing the journey was to integrate what I brought back with me to my
Phase Three: Integration
The integration phase is the time when the role of the ego changes from
observer, supporter, and witness (Clements, 2002) to one who engages with the
material brought back and proceeds with drawing meaning from the experience.
This also marks the time when the ego is simultaneously transformed by the
Clements (2002) speaks of changes of mind and changes of heart that
happen through the work and relationships with Spirit. She states that changes of
mind refer to getting information or knowledge on something we already knew. It
is the spiritual information we receive that sheds light on the essence of our work
and that allows us to pass on this same work to others. Changes of heart refer to
that transformation that takes place within us. In a sense, changes of heart deeply
transform the very person that we are in order to better partner with Spirit.
Sometime these changes lead to inner work to retrain our ego-self in making it
softer or stronger. Through the inner work that takes place, one moves away from
getting in the way of Spirit and toward accepting its guidance. These two changes
happen in parallel (Clements, 2002).
The integration phase marks the completion of the cycle of organic
inquiry; as I entered the integration phase, I knew in my heart that my research
was complete and that despite the deviation from my ideal list of participants, the
participants I found were the best possible selection given my inquiry questions.
At the beginning of the research, I had made a list of participants that I ideally
wanted to interview; I knew I could manage to get an interview with each of
them. After the fieldwork started, so many variables came into play that the path I
expected to follow completely changed. Instead of panicking, however, I
maintained my trust in the process and in my partnership with Spirit. I kept my
commitment to remain open, flexible, and trusting, and the result was an
integration phase that was again yet another transforming experience.
The integration phase transformed me to be even more linked to the world
of Spirit, even more conscious of the subtle realms of existence that influence our
lives and whose guidance we can invoke. It allowed me to genuinely feel the
underlying one-ness in humanity, and tangibly proved to me that whatever we
truly hold in our hearts as a priority, inquiry, wish, or intention manifests in the
tangible world according to the level of surrender we can allow ourselves. Lastly,
the integration phase taught me that while this research might be complete, the
completion point is also the beginning of a lifetime of work in the field of
leadership and its role in improving lives not only in Africa but throughout the
world. The dissertation process might end for now, but my work in partnership
with Spirit will continue to discover and unveil further aspects, facets, and truths
about leadership.
The Appropriate Method for This Study
Organic inquiry calls the researcher to partner with Spirit to enter a sacred
space and to guide the unfolding of the inquiry. As I looked to call on the Elders
of Africa, I had a knowing that they would welcome me and my bag of questions,
when I came as a daughter seeking answers. I knew, not because it is written
somewhere, but only because I knew it is so—energetically, spiritually, and
practically as well. This is the kind of framework in which organic inquiry
allowed me to work. I drew on the stories as an evocative vehicle of subtle
sensing, feeling, and thinking, from both my side and that of the storytellers (the
elders), to tap into the diverse and intimate view (Clements, 2002) of African
Leadership in order to engage my readers, peers, participants, and myself in a
parallel process of transformative interpretation.
As I enter the room where an Elder may be, it not just like entering a room
physically, it is about remaining conscious of the energetic field that is present. It
is about paying respect, without saying a word. It is about sensing the aura in the
room and the interplay between the energetic fields of all present. It is about the
greetings, the process of starting up the conversation, how I relate to the Elders as
a daughter, a soul trying to find answers.
Growing up in the West, I often had friends who claimed adulthood at 18.
I had friends who called adults by their first names (with their full mouth as we
say)—it made me cringe, because in Africa, adulthood is not a factor of time but
something earned. To have a voice in a circle of elders, one must have had a
number of journeys in the wilderness that can be counted as one having earned the
marks of life and maturity. Otherwise, we all know where we stand. We are to
listen and humbly present the questions we may have. It is about deference to
those who know a deference that at the same time gives all full respect for who
one is. It is the kind of deference that puts us all on the same platform but that
distinguishes between those who hold the wisdom and those who seek the
wisdom, those who might be ready to receive the wisdom and those who still need
time to ripen as potential fruit for the community.
Organic inquiry gave me space for all of this. It allowed me to carry out
the research with all that I am: an African, a daughter, a sister, a mother, a spouse,
a friend, an inquirer, a courageous soul (albeit sometimes, I want the light to be on
at night), and a girl who often needs some assurance along the way. Organic
inquiry calls for accountability, reverence, and appreciation for the environment,
for human effort, and for the mysteries of creativity (Clements, 2002). I feel that
organic inquiry is perfectly suited for research in Africa and especially for
research calling for the participation of our elders. It allowed me to be in a space
where I can express: my love to this continent, to the elders, and to the world; my
respect to all involved in this inquiry process; and my quest to seek permission
and guidance to enter the liminal and collect stories of wisdom.
I found that organic inquiry’s data collection protocols resonated with me,
as they gave me permission to hold the assumptions of the presence of Spirit
within me, within my inquiry, and within the conversations I had with my Elders
(Curry & Wells, 2003). It allowed me to look within, in partnership with all
involved in this research and even in foreseen bridges with those who might read
the findings. Curry and Wells (2003, p. 17) put forward that some features of
organic inquiry, couched in Feminist theory, “…honor the sacred at work in
everyday life, value participants’ voices and the inter-subjective nature of
knowing as authentically expressed in stories, and make explicit a goal of
transformational learning.” The main purpose of the interviews and conversation
with elders was to find clues about how to learn leadership, how to bring change
and transformation in Africa, and how we may deepen our concept of African
Leadership. Thus, based on the literature and also on listening to my own heart,
organic inquiry was the perfect fit for my inquiry.
Effects on Data Analysis
Organic inquiry, as participatory method, supports the data analysis
substantively because by definition, it relates to participants as co-researchers
(Curry & Wells, 2003). Participants are not subjected to the questions of the
researcher, but are active members of the conversations in exploring the selected
concepts and terrains. In my inquiry about African Leadership, this shared
conversational space provided access to the insights I sought, as the Elders
engaged in reflections about their lives and experiences, and spoke from their
hearts about what is so for them and what they hoped I would carry back with me.
And as I returned to my home after traveling for the interviews, I had the
opportunity to revisit the field of inquiry, the space of the sacred, and those
moments of collaborative inquiry to emerge my own sense of understanding.
What I collected from the elders was absorbed and simmered inside of my heart,
and in due time, it re-emerged in a way, in language and format most useful for
me and the readers of this work.
While I was not always certain how to express the stories and messages
that I brought back in my own words but in a way that reflects both what the
Elders have said and how I have interpreted it, I intuitively trusted that when the
time came, the stories would emerge in the best possible way to be heard, to be
listened to, and to possibly transform lives. Organic Inquiry allows the
recognition of such subtle and intuitive knowledge; it also allows the researcher to
work based on this very intuitive knowledge of that which is yet to be manifested
in the material world, but exists already in the world of Spirit.
Curry and Wells (2003) warn that organic inquiry will generate immense
data, during and after the interviews and in the process of the reflections, analysis,
and writing of the findings. To best of my capacity I maintained the essence of the
stories and retold it like it is; in other words, my intent was to preserve the stories
unchanged as I reported them back to the reader. I worked to carry the soul of the
storyteller as she or he told me the story, so that the same ground for learning and
transformation could be made available to the readers of my research. Clements
(2002) adds that for stories that have been told individually, it fell upon me to
engage an investigation to discover a collective or metaframe of the meanings
within the data. In a way, although several elders told the stories of leadership in
Africa, it was up to me to identify the commonalities in their message, in order to
present and extract the essence of African Leadership.
Approach to the Inquiry
The process of the inquiry was as important as the inquiry itself. As I
entered the space of each of the Elders, I was conscious and mindful that although
this was an interview as it is classically known in research, to me it was rather a
process to collect stories and to leave an open path for “the right” conversation to
emerge. I readily awaited what the Elders felt moved to share with me. The way
that I acted, the way I asked the questions and interacted with the respective
participants shaped the relationship and therefore the ways the participants
responded and shared their stories with me (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). The
heart of the inquiry was anchored in my ability to conduct each conversation with
a beginner’s mind, with my ability to free myself of what I know and be open to
that which I don’t know that I don’t know. Much lay in my capacity to keep my
mind and heart as a new, white piece of paper so that the elders each could draw
and share their views, their perceptions, and their wisdom freely.
As I engaged in making the list of potential elders to talk to for this
research, the step that most resonated with my heart was to reflect on who I might
know of, who I might have access to, and who I might be moved to reach out to in
order to deepen my understanding of Africa as a continent in the context of the
role leadership plays and the power of change it holds. I hoped to reach out to
those men and women who would contribute to helping me address the core
question of African Leadership and its role in defining how the development of
this continent can best evolve. The process of the inquiry was not just about
making a list of leaders and going to them; rather, it was about living and
embodying my inquiry to the point that the inquiry and selected method led me to
identify who I had to talk to, whose story I needed to listen to, and whose message
I had to pass on. I saw my inquiry as a quest to collect rare pearls, with which I
made a strand. And this strand of rare pearls can be passed on to many in Africa
and in the world to not only wear, but to continue the quest for more pearls to
make more strands.
Technically, I have sat, lived, and worked my inquiry for all the years of
my doctoral education. In reality, my inquiry started many years back when I was
still a small child transplanted to Europe; a child who went from wearing sandals
every day, to one who had to learn to wear boots and deal with snow. It was only
a year into writing the proposal for this study that I was blessed by an organically
emerged list of leaders who, in my opinion, hold the stories I look for.
My commitment was to identify enough individuals in Africa who have
the heart to share with me the wisdom and their understanding of the dynamics at
play. I do not claim that the leaders I selected are the only ones who hold such
wisdom and knowledge; my only claim is that the leaders I selected are those who
can practically and reasonably offer me the torch I needed to shed light on the
complexities of this continent. My hope was that the leaders I selected were my
elders, and as elders they would respond to my inquiry as our ancestors did to
their successors. My opportunity to have these sacred conversations was not due
to any of my doing per se, but rather to the generosity and compassion of the
Spirit that guided and led my way.
In this inquiry, I called on our most respected, visionary, and ElderLeaders. I called on them as we call on them as the Elders of Africa. I called on
them as a daughter, as a messenger and explorer. I called on them as one soul that
wants to learn in order to apply the learning gathered to what serves our future
communities best. I called on them not as a PhD student, but as a foot soldier
searching for meaning, searching for the knowledge, the key to unlock Africa’s
Participant Selection
My intention for participant selection was focused on looking for insights,
stories, and life experiences that could allow me to draw meaning for African
leadership. What I looked for and ultimately selected were not just leaders per se,
but individuals from whom I could learn, individuals I could understand and
relate to. I wanted to find participants who would be willing to share their stories,
both their successes and their challenges. I wanted to find individuals who would
want to pass on their wisdom with the intention of allowing others to learn from
their experiences.
During the proposal stage of this research, I generated a list of 25
individuals I planned to contact and interview. The list was not a rational choice
per se, but rather a choice of the heart: I thought of starting with a circle, the place
where the stories live; I thought of the channels of how the stories move from one
soul to another; and I thought of selecting the channels that I most resonate with.
This list of elders had emerged one person at a time from months of prayer,
meditation, and reflection on the stories that I was seeking, guided by Spirit. In
this way, organic inquiry guided even the participant-selection process. I had
chosen the individuals from the community around me; the participants selected
were people with whom I am connected through family or friends. They were
people who had touched my life in one way or another. My networks of friends,
family, and colleagues provided me with access to all of the participants.
At the start of my fieldwork and process of contacting participants, my
initial intention to interview those 25 leaders remained; however, something new
emerged that I had not expected. As I started contacting these participants with
whom I could almost directly find a way to connect, logistic issues, scheduling
issues, health matters, and other unexpected incidents occurred. I realized that
although I may have had an extraordinary chance to reach these selected leaders, I
would be subject to possible and unexpected challenges in completing my
interviews because of such issues. As obstacles arose in reaching my participants,
and feelings of uneasiness crept inside my heart, I had to find moments of retreat
to reconnect to Spirit and find, in the space of the unknown and uncertainty,
ground for assurance and renewed faith. I went back within my inner space of
meditation. I remained in silence. Through the silence I sat listening to the voice
that whispered to my soul:
Be still. Be quiet.
Stand still and breathe.
Liberate yourself from fear.
Free yourself from anxiety.
Stand tall and trust.
Through meditation, sitting in silence in my workspace, or sitting by the
ocean front in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I had to find in myself the ability to
surrender to the process of my inquiry. I had to find a way to let go of the nagging
questions that tried to invade my space and spread anxiety: “When will I finish?
What if I don’t reach these people? What if I run out of time? What if there is no
money to travel? What if I miss my appointments. What if this; what if that?” I
had to find the courage to surrender to the process and trust the journey. I had to
know that part of the process of learning is also the journey itself.
In the process of surrendering, I came to recognize the challenges I
encountered as gentle nudges from Spirit to lead me to the stories, especially to
the stories I did not know—I did not know. It is then that I saw the challenges I
encountered as an opportunity to open to other leaders. It might be a chance to
gain insight from the unexpected leaders whom I either had not known before or
thought I had no chance of meeting. At this stage, I stopped holding on to the
initial list; instead, I welcomed the unfolding of events, whether it was interviews
granted, emails not being answered, or interviews canceled—it was all welcome.
I surrendered to not knowing and trusted that in the not knowing, names and ideas
would emerge leading me to the stories I sought.
Through the process of learning to be still in the face of anxiety (and, at
times, fear), I learned something fundamental. I learned to let go of the need to
control. I learned to recognize my humanity in the face of uncertainty and
embrace this humanity and all that comes with it; I learned to give myself
permission to see beyond and exist beyond what my humanity might allow. This
means that I learned to leave my house with an intention and trust that the journey
to fulfill the intention would be as much a part of the learning as the completion
of the intention. I made plans with intricate details, often without having a budget
at hand but with the faith that the budget would emerge in due time. It worked,
and it brought me to the realization that in this short life that we spend on this
earth, material wealth accumulation matters less than the treasures we collect in
terms of experiences, relationships, journeys, conversations, and community.
So, although I set out to contact 25 participants, at the end of my research
I am presenting 20 participants. I have come to accept that the number is less
important than the messages, the stories, the insights and experience. (Please see
Appendix E for the list of final participants and Appendix F for brief bios).
Selection Criteria
When I discuss this dissertation and the process of the research, I tell
people that the process was more than qualitative or quantitative methods, as we
know them. As I sought to find the stories to help me understand Africa and the
leadership on the continent, it all started with embodying the inquiry. I lived with
my inquiry and I talked with my inquiry. There were many days of just blankness.
There were days where the silence was louder than the noise. There were days of
anxiety about the deadlines. And sometimes, some breakthroughs happened. It is
these breakthroughs that kept me going.
One such breakthrough relates to the time when I saw a mental map of
where and from whom I planned to collect the stories. This mental illustration just
emerged give me a clear direction of the way forward. It was obvious and it was
clear. I was surprised to witness organic inquiry in action. I was relieved to know
that all the months I sat and lived with my inquiry were not in vain and that it was
all a question of timing and maturing that set the cadence of my progress. This, I
realized, was organic inquiry in action. This was the heart of my inquiry
advancing, and the selection process to collect the stories.
Several common factors exist among the individuals I chose to involve in
this research. All of them had major stories to tell. All of them have been great
leaders, some known at the global level and others at the country level. I thought
to myself that if I could have access to anyone in the world, who are the people I
would go to seeking wisdom on African leadership? Who are the people that I
would want to learn from? Who are the people who have overcome major
leadership challenges in their lives, in their work, and for their nations? Who are
they? And one by one, the names emerged. One by one their stories that I had yet
to hear drew me in.
All of the individuals selected have proven their insights about systems
dynamics. These are visionaries of Africa to whom I felt drawn. I believed they
held insights, knowledge, and wisdom on the issue of African leadership that had
yet to be unveiled. I believed that their stories would be key in forging the next
generation of African leaders; those who will be leading the continent fifteen,
twenty, or fifty years from now.
I also proposed these participants for my research because I trusted I might
have access to them and arrange to spend whatever time they may spare in a field
conducive to hearing their stories and their messages. In their work and in their
lives, they have all proven their commitment to the continent. They stand to
ensure that future generations continue on the work at hand in Africa.
Protocol for Securing Participants
A protocol was used in soliciting and gaining the participation of the
people listed above. The process entailed the following: (a) soliciting (see
Appendix C), (b) confirming (see Appendix C), and (c) discussing waiving the
informed consent and confidentiality. However, the exact way in which this
process was undertaken was organized in three slightly different ways.
Protocol for Participants Known Personally
For those whom I know personally, I called them to tell them about my
research. I asked if they would be willing to give me a morning, afternoon, or
evening to talk about Africa and the issue of leadership on the continent. I clearly
expressed why I had chosen to involve them in this inquiry and how I saw their
contribution in the scheme of the greater research. During this call, I hoped to
arrange for time to meet with them. Although I had designed this protocol to send
letters of solicitation to participants, I did not do so for the participants I knew
personally because it would have been odd; rather, the communication between us
remained on the telephone, through email, or in person.
Lastly, although it was understood that the conversation we had was
confidential, I highlighted that only what they agreed to let me use in the study
would be used and carry their name, both confirming the informed consent of
participation and making clear the confidentiality.
Protocol for Participants Not Yet Known Personally
Much in Africa, as anywhere in the world, happens through networks. All
of the participants I did not know personally, I was blessed to have connections to
through my personal network of friends, family, and colleagues. Engaging the
interview process for this group of individuals started with a call to the
individuals I knew who could connect me with the participants I did not yet
personally know.
In this call to friends, colleagues, or family members, I explained my
research and asked for their support in arranging a connection with the various
individuals I wished to engage in the research. I also committed to the
confidentiality of the conversation, as well as the informed consent to
participation. Once I got the connection through an introductory email or through
an introductory call, I proceeded with the participant as per the protocol.
First I sent a thank you letter for their willingness to have a conversation
with me, and informed them that I would follow up with a formal solicitation
letter for their participation. I followed with a second solicitation letter describing
the gist of my research, and speaking about the stories I was looking for and why
I thought their story would benefit my own and others’ understanding on the issue
of African leadership. In this same letter, I asked them to tell me when and where
would be most convenient for me to have this conversation with them.
Once I secured a response by letter or email, I sent out a third letter
confirming the interview time and place. In this same letter of confirmation, I
clearly communicated that I intended to maintain confidentiality and also
committed to getting their agreement before I published anything referring to their
particular story (informed consent).
Data Collection Process
Data were collected through conversations (organic interviews). Initially I
had thought that I would be able to have several hours with each participant, but
due to circumstances, timing, and other variables I had varying amounts of time
with each participant. With some I spent several hours and with others I was only
able to spend about 30 to 45 minutes. But in all cases, the quality of the interviews
was consistent, and the depth of the conversations was comparable across the
Data collection occurred through the process of me coming to them as a
“daughter” to an elder on one hand and as a “messenger” on the other hand. I
came to them both as a PhD student, looking for stories and wisdom about
leadership in Africa, and as a daughter wanting to learn and gain insight from an
elder in order to make sense of my experiences and deepen my understanding of
what might be needed to bring change and transformation on the African
continent. I came as a messenger for my generation and others to follow, tasked to
relay what I was told by our elders (in story and in spirit). I came to them as
someone in service of African development, and more specifically, as someone
dedicated to collecting stories of wisdom. I saw myself as a tree among many that
are trying to maintain and continue growing the forest of knowledge and insight.
All participants were made aware that I intended to record the interviews;
all of them consented. There were several reasons for recording the interviews:
first, to allow me to focus on the conversation rather than be distracted by strict
note-taking; and second, with the permission of the participants I have been
investigating creating a multimedia product in the form of a DVD that would
allow others to listen to the interviews. In fact, the largest African humanitarian
organization, ENDA Tier Monde, has expressed interest in using their network in
over 45 countries in Africa to distribute the product to schools and higher learning
It was important to be careful in the way that the questions were asked and
the interview carried out, as questions always hold the assumptions of the one
who asks. At the start of the data collection phase, I did not have any particular
questions listed ahead per se, but rather a loose frame of reference, a commitment
to remain in the field and with the spirit of the inquiry. I thought that having a list
of questions to ask would restrict the conversation and the findings of the
interviews. In time, in the process of setting up an interview with H. E. President
Dr. Koroma of Sierra Leone, I was asked to send a list of questions; although the
interview with President Koroma did not take place, the list of questions I
generated became the guide for all the interviews I conducted.
The Interview Questions
As I wrote the questions, they emerged in two parts: the first concerned
leadership in general, and the second investigated the personal experiences of the
leaders. As I wrote the questions, I kept envisioning and imagining how the
conversation would flow, how we would be talking, and what the right timing
would be to discuss the different issues. Each of the following sections begins
with the actual question, followed by a discussion of what I hoped to learn from
the answers to that question. Some questions have multiple parts, excavating the
concept from multiple directions.
Questions About Leadership in General
Defining Leadership
What makes a leader? In your experience, what factors, circumstances,
and environments would most influence the process of grooming young
people in becoming leaders in their community, society, and the world?
Would you consider these factors be universal, or rather, specific to (a) the
African context and/or (b) your national context?
The gist of this question is to investigate “what” exactly influences
individuals to become leaders. Are leaders born or is leadership learned? If a
parent, a teacher, or even a learning institution or community wanted to raise
leaders, what would be the influencing factors and circumstances to pay attention
to or leverage to raise children and young people to become leaders? Knowing
that leadership is not only limited to leadership in the public sector, what are some
of the traits and early signs of leadership qualities, if any, that we could
encourage, nurture, and foster? Finally, the last part of this question aimed to
explore whether all the factors and circumstances influencing leadership
discussed are specific to the country of the leader interviewed, or specific to
Africa, or could be considered universal factors.
Exploring the Qualities Among African Leaders Versus Leaders From Other
What individual qualities might be seen among African Leaders that might
not always be apparent among leaders from other cultures and traditions?
By the same token, what leadership qualities might Africans leaders learn
from leaders of other cultures/traditions and use to enrich their leadership
This question aims to identify leadership quality distinctions, if any, that
might be made between African Leaders and leaders from other regions. Are there
distinct characteristics among African Leaders that might not be reflected in other
regions of the world? What unique traits might African Leaders share? In
addition, this question also aims to identify what leadership qualities African
leaders might want to learn from leaders from other regions. The purpose of this
question is to bring out the characteristics and peculiarities of African leadership,
especially by exploring the subtle traits that might make African leadership
Investigating the Leadership Role of African Regional Institutions
Knowing the economic and human development challenges faced by most
of the African nations, how do you see the impact and role of the
leadership capacities of African Leaders, at the country and regional level,
in moving the Development Agenda forward? In this context, how do you
see the leadership role of the African Union (AU) and other such regional
With this question, I wanted to discuss the role of the institutions set up
regionally and how the leadership of such institutions might be of value in
supporting leaders in Africa to move the development agenda forward. I was
exploring leadership from an institutional perspective to see whether there were
any examples of institutional leadership that served—substantively—economic
and human development efforts exerted at all levels across the continent.
Investigating the Greatest Challenges for African Leaders
From your perspective and experience, what would you consider are the
greatest challenges for the African Leaders, especially the future Heads of
States and government, in terms of exercising their leadership in favor of
growth, development, and creating a better future for communities across
the continent? What are the opportunities, if any at all?
The essence of this question is to identify the core challenges African
leaders face. What do African leaders really consider to be a challenge, and how
do they hope to address it? Listening to what is considered to be the greatest
challenges from the participants, who are part of the pool of senior African
leaders, provides a special insider view of what really are the obstacles for leaders
in Africa. The challenges discussed might end up matching what we know in
general, or there might be a whole new aspect of the challenges brought forward,
which would then allow a better appreciation of the issues at hand in African
Can great leaders fail?
I felt that part of understanding success comes from understanding failure;
failure and success may be sides of the same coin, and with this question I wanted
to hear the perspectives of my participants on failure, and whether great leaders
can fail. My intention was to understand how Africans leaders might position
themselves in relation to failure. How would we, as a society, define failure?
Often we see that history repeats itself, and it might be that new generations are
not learning from past experiences. At a national or regional leadership level, the
way the leaders see failure and relate to it can be a key insight as to whether
continuous learning occurs, and whether the leader is open to his or her humanity.
Leaders’ Personal Stories and Experiences
Personal Questions on the Sources of Inspiration and Leadership
Would you please share with me stories of the incidents, events, or
landmarks in your life that have influenced and inspired you most in your
becoming the leader that you are today? Were there some key turningpoints in your life where you realized that you wanted to go into public
service, and if so, what were some of these events? How did these events
influence your life and what were the lessons you drew from those
So much can be learned from the incidents and situations that have
affected an individual in choosing their path in life. When talking to the
participants, my aim was to elicit where they have found their inspiration for
service. Was it a random turn of life, or was their inclination to service due to
certain identifiable factors? Could we recreate the situation or the factors in order
to allow future leaders to emerge? Were there any principles of leadership that
these incidents instilled in the Elder leaders I interviewed and marked a turning
point in their lives?
Our capacity to reflect on the opportunities, the challenges, and the
choices these leaders made allows us to contemplate how we might address the
opportunities and challenges that emerge in our own life of service, and to realize
how the choices we make might define the shape and trajectory of our greater life
journey. I feel that this is very important, especially when the message of this
research is shared with the youth and younger generation leaders. The point will
be to bring out the stories of the Elder leaders as a source of inspiration but also as
a benchmark for results, decision-making, and choices.
Personal Questions on the Source of Inspiration, Energy, and Determination
If we could stand on the line of time today, and you reflected back to the
past years of your life, the past years of our ancestors and history, and then
looked forward to the horizons of the future that holds the unknown, the
potentials, and possibilities—if you could take a moment to be in this
space, what would you say inspires you to move on, to move forward?
What are the core principles that have guided you in your leadership, as a
parent, as a professional, and as an African leader?
The aim of this question is to elicit what keeps the leaders going on their
path, even though the path is full of obstacles, challenges, and difficulties. We
each face the ups and down of a journey, and those in leadership positions face
the ups and downs in a way that is even more marked. What is it that we can learn
from their sources of resilience and source of determination to move forward? At
times when we think of these leaders, as the general public, it might be easy to
think that their lives are free of problems, yet the truth is the opposite—these are
people who probably face a lot more challenges of all kinds that we could not
even imagine. So, in the face of such challenges, what can we learn from the way
these leaders handle and face up to their challenges, their uncertainties, and their
doubts? Knowing what keeps these leaders going is what will allow the next
generation to also adopt such principles and develop new aspects of their
character to also be empowered with endurance, persistence, determination, and
The concept of “African leader” as used in this question might bring forth
some concern, especially in the face of strong cultural variation in Africa. I used
this term in the interview questions because all of the participants I interviewed
are individuals conscious that they are both simply leaders and also, more
specifically, African leaders. While there are cultural variations and immense
diversity within the continent, there is also a common denominator of “Africanness.” The implication of such association is that the participants speak from the
regional voice as opposed to speaking from an ethnic or national voice. This
regional voice fulfills my purpose because I am looking at leadership in the
context of the continent.
Personal challenges and lessons learned.
What were some of your greatest challenges? How have you dealt with
them and learned from them, and if you had to do it all over again, would
you do things differently? In the context of your own challenges as a
leader and testing times that you may have gone through, would you have
any thoughts to share about dealing with possible failure, possible success,
and uncertainties?
This question intends to investigate the nature of some of the personal
challenges the leaders have faced and how they handled the situations. There is
something priceless in listening to stories of resilience and stories of courage.
Recent studies have shown that one of the most reliable indicators and predictors
of true leadership is a person’s ability to find meaning in the challenges he or she
faces and in his or her capacity to learn from even the most trying circumstances
(Bennis & Thomas, 2002). “A crucible is, by definition, a transformative
experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of
identity” (p. 3). This question I ask my participants about the challenges they may
have faced and the lessons that they may have drawn from the challenges relates
to asking about their crucible(s). What were the experiences that have forged
them into the leaders they have become?
Many African leaders have faced tremendous challenges, at times related
to their work, at times related to their convictions, and at times related to just who
they were as a person. Many have been imprisoned unduly. The lucky ones have
been able to make it out of prison alive, while many others have perished in the
dungeons and cells of confinement. Understanding the challenges the participants
have faced and learning about the way they dealt with the challenges may offer
immense insights in understanding the dynamics at play, as well as insights in
how to deal with the challenges that we face in relation to the stands we take, the
convictions we maintain, and the choices we make.
This question also explores an additional aspect of the perceptions of the
participants regarding success, failure, and uncertainties. Often we are led to
believe that success is great, and we see that failure or uncertainties are not
rewarded. Yet the greatest lessons often come disguised in the failures or
uncertainties we face, and it is up to us to awaken to the learning opportunities
often hidden in the times of trial. Through this part of the question, my aim is to
bring out stories about how even leaders have doubts, even leaders face failure at
times, and even leaders have to have a mindful relationship to success.
Role models, teachers, and mentors.
If you had to speak about the individuals in your life who were your role
models, teachers, and guides, what would you say about them? How have
they inspired you? Who are these individuals? And what qualities have
they bestowed on you that you might want to pass on to others?
One way to gain insight into someone’s personality and character is to
hear him or her describe role models; this question elicits the participants’
aspirations and stands in relation to those they hold as role models, guides,
mentors, and teachers. I expected a wide range of personalities to be brought out
as role models and teachers, and my aim with this question was to bring out subtle
aspects of the participants’ personalities that might not have otherwise been
reflected, through those they consider as guides and teachers.
Looking into the future, passing on messages of wisdom and guidance.
If you look forward 50 or 100 years, and if you could speak at an assembly
or a plenary attended by the African Leaders of that future era, what
guiding words would you say to them? What would you pass on to them
as wisdom, insight, and guidance to take the continent forward? How
might you warn them, encourage them, and inspire them to do their work?
Assuming that the principles of leadership are timeless, this question looks
into the future and envisions the leaders the continent will have in 50 or 100
years, eliciting the messages that today’s senior leaders would share to guide and
encourage those future leaders. With this question, I hoped to find messages from
the Elder leaders that could apply in today’s environment but also that would be
relevant in 100 years. How do the participants see the future? Do they envision a
future that overcomes the current challenges, or is it rather a future not much
different from the current situation? Will future leaders be tackling the same
issues or will they have a new set of challenges to deal with? And no matter what
challenges they face, can we say something to them that will give light to their
path and give them direction?
I remember sitting with very senior members of my community as a child
or as an adolescent, and I find that much of what they used to tell me then still
applies in my life today. I suspected, therefore, that this question might lead me to
find timeless advice about leadership from the Elder leaders of today, intended for
the young leaders of tomorrow. Having this kind of advice today might allow us
to adapt and contextualize our way of being and deepen our principles, not only of
leadership but also of life in general.
If there are insights and words of wisdom that could also serve those who
will be leading a hundred years from now, and we knew those insights today, how
might that change the way we lead? How might we change the way we raise our
children and groom the youth to take up leadership in due time?
Speaking to the young leaders of today, what would you say?
Lastly, what would be your message, today, for the young men and
women of Africa in terms of the opportunities and challenges, in terms of
what they can do to contribute to the development of their communities,
nations, and the continent?
This question brings the preceding question’s discussion to the present.
Knowing today’s realities, opportunities, and challenges, what is it that youth
need to know and hear, right now, in order to assume their leadership role? Do the
Elder leaders have something to tell youth in order to guide, inspire, and
encourage them effectively? My aim was to find words of inspiration that youth
could hear to be moved and motivated toward action.
There is a certain amount of lethargy that exists at the ground level in most
African communities. At times around me I see people who have lost faith in their
ability to change things or to do things that will transform reality. My sense was
that if I could bring messages from Elder leaders from across the continent to the
youth, this would be a powerful beacon of hope. I trust that such messages will
bring a strong awareness among the youth but also among the communities, of the
power we each hold in terms of our ability to cocreate the world we live in.
This question really concerns trying to take the messages from the Elder
leaders and touch the hearts of the youth and members of our communities—in
the same way we used to before the mobility of modernity. When the results of
this research are published in the form of an audio-visual product, the messages
will be very important in nudging the youth toward a constructive and positive
Data Analysis
The data analysis was part of the third step of the organic inquiry method,
namely integration. There were a number of steps in the data analysis including
transcribing the stories collected, recording my own “receiving” of the stories,
reviewing the elders’ stories, reflecting on how these stories had touched me,
examining the intuitive impact of the stories on the inquiry, and a continuous
reflection on the entire process (Clements, 2002). Each of these stages in the
analysis of the stories was done in complete surrender to that which wanted to
emerge, to the insights and wisdom carried forth not only by the stories but also
by how the stories were told.
The data analysis has occurred on two timelines, in two ways. First, the
analysis was performed and is continuing on an ongoing basis, changing,
morphing, and deepening through time; second, a more concrete analysis was
conducted to write up the findings for the dissertation. Therefore, the main
challenge with the analysis was my discerning when it was complete for this
dissertation project, and how to allow the ongoing analysis to become part of my
professional and personal development.
The analysis involved spending time “marinating and soaking in” what
was found at every step through interviews, through reading, through
conversations, through daily life, through meditation, through just being in the
inquiry at all levels of my being. In all the aspects of conducting this research, and
especially in the data analysis, I consciously and continuously tried to partner
with Spirit to receive guidance, insights, and light throughout the journey. The
data analysis became more substantive as I took the collected data to reflect upon
the findings in conjunction with other secondary information available in reports,
books, and journals.
Throughout the analysis, I was guided by the principle of organic inquiry.
My work started with partial data analysis during the data collection period, as I
kept notes/journal to myself. This initial analysis was a guide for my work after
the data collection period. After the data collection period, I planned on
transcribing the recordings of the interviews. It is the combination of the initial
data analysis; the reflection process through reading, journaling, and reflecting;
and the interpretation of the interviews that make up the findings of the research.
As Yin (2003) states, the use of multiple sources increases the accuracy of the
Presentation of the Findings
The findings are presented in two parts. First, the introduction of the
participants describes my encounter with each of them. My experience, my
journey in finding each participant and collecting each story has been for me as
much a learning process as the writing of the findings per se. This encounter and
narrative of my journey is written with the spirit and form of an oral story.
Second, I have compiled the main lessons in a way that highlights the different
aspects and component of leadership. These two parts are not, however,
separate—they are part of the same story.
As I wrote the stories, as I passed on the wisdom of our elders, I conveyed
the message conscious of “how” the message is best delivered. The way that the
stories are told was defined by my experience of “how” stories are told in the
African tradition in which I grew up.
It is at around sunset that the best stories come out. In my country we say
that when the flag comes down, when the soldiers return to the barracks, when the
work day is finished, when the pots are cooking, when the scent of dinner invades
the air, when the children come home and the elders sit by the tree—it is at this
time that the best stories unfold.
The light at this time is very gentle, the day prepares for the night, the sun
retires to leave space for the moon, and the wind is mild. It is at this time that the
best stories unveil. Around five or so, we often sit out under the tree, on the
balcony, by the steps, or behind the house facing the back courtyard. And we start
meshing the stories of the day, the stories of yesterday, and the wisdom
emerges—sometimes as parables, sometimes wrapped in humor, and often as a
vibrant cacophony where everyone talks all at the same time. It is about truth, our
truth. It is about the time we all reminisce and flow with “the” flow of our
collective being. You hear laughs, you hear voices, and you hear random familiar
noises brushing the scene with eternal colors that maintain the texture of our lives
through time. This is the time I will tell the stories, share the wisdom I have
collected, showcase the pearls I collected, and together with those present we will
weave the pearls on a strand to be kept as a relic, a keepsake offered by our
I have written the story. I have tried to set the stage in a way that no matter
where one reads the story, we can meet on the balcony and witness the sun as it
leaves room for the moon. No matter when or where one reads the story it will
always be the time of day when the flags come down and the men come home, the
time when the women start cooking and pots start heating, a time when cats start
stretching and the sheep start baaing. I take the reader there in this space of
sharing under the great Shola tree, the one that stands in front of my
grandmother’s home, the one that lives across the mountains on this small hill, the
one that marks the African horizon, and the big tree that anchors our village
structures. There we will sit, and there I will tell my people, “Listen, listen—I
have a story to tell.”
In reporting the stories of wisdom back to my generation and subsequent
generations, I make it clear that we are in the presence of Spirit, in the presence of
our ancestors and the elders who shared the stories with us, and in the presence of
the spirit of our children and their children. All were present in body and or in
spirit, as I started writing the stories.
The findings of this research are offered in this kind of setting, where we
gather to talk and to learn the ways of Africa. We may start the conversations
around sundown, knowing it might continue into the night—that is how we, in
Africa, report back the findings of our quests, bring back the lessons, and convey
the sacred message sent by our elders. We gather and we tell the story.
We are “judged” as we tell the story, judged or rather evaluated whether
we are carrying back and bringing the spirit along. And for as long as we speak
the message that we carry, the spirit of the senders envelops the speaker, the
messenger. In my experience, as a story is told, the space in which the story is
told changes in energetic textures in harmony with the level of seriousness of the
message within the story, and the community-based hierarchical respect we have
for the sender. As I come with stories from our most respected elders, the message
comes with a level of seriousness that will command stillness and attention as I
tell what I have been told to report back to the children, men, and women of
Africa. Here, in African communities, the more serious the story, the more solemn
the audience, and the less action around. (Even the dogs stop barking, although
the chickens might still peck around quietly and if they are too noisy, someone
will throw a shoe or a rock their way and they will run quaking away.) This is
how we envision telling the story.
As I tell the story, I am in the presence of all our ancestors and all of our
descendants. Time is no longer a constraint or a factor—we know it is eternal.
What matters is passing on the wisdom, passing on the flame of the spirit, so that
all who have heard the message can go on and also relay the gift of the wisdom to
others in the same manner, with the same intensity and texture. It is a process of
branding the heart, branding the minds and the souls, leaving eternal scars (in a
good way). And if these scars could speak, they would say, “I am marked as one
who has also heard the story. I am liable, I am accountable—I have received the
message and I am to pass it on also.”
If I manage to tell the story in a way that pleases the sender, I will know. I
will know in my heart. Concretely speaking, all I will get from the elders is
possibly an elusive smile (one that unveils no teeth), or possibly a glance that
goes beyond the eye and reaches to the soul (something like a third eye glance), or
maybe a straight order to go get the elder a glass of water or an order to go call
somebody. Nothing will be explicitly verbally expressed to me, the messenger, as
to the quality of the message delivery. Sometimes, others might be told that I did
a good job and I will hear that through the grapevine. (Nothing to boast about, or
else the compliment will fade away melting away as salt in rain.) One just knows
that the elders approve and one knows that it will rarely be verbalized—it just is,
and one just knows. And we are to take this approval not as an ordinary
compliment but as an indication that even more is expected of us. It is so. It is so,
and this is how it has to go.
Validity Procedures
Assessing the validity and reliability of a qualitative study entails
investigating its component parts as in any other study (Merriam, 1998), but
quantitative and qualitative studies might use different expressions to persuade the
public of their trustworthiness. The qualitative study might focus on giving the
reader enough detail throughout the study to convince the reader that the
researcher’s conclusions make sense, whereas the quantitative study might focus
on proving that all procedures were used and implemented properly. By the same
token, qualitative research presents people acting in events whereas quantitative
research presents static states and a number of variables. The main issue to be
remembered is that the validity and reliability of the study permits the researcher
to prove to the reader that the research findings are trustworthy.
Validity concerns how well the findings are matched with reality and how
much the researcher is really measuring what the research claims to measure. It
has to do with whether the findings of the research are true to that which the
researcher is studying (Braud & Anderson, 1998). However, in qualitative studies
reality is not static; it is ever-changing and multidimensional, which is why
Merriam (1998) states that what is being measured is how individuals are
constructing “their reality,” or how they understand their world. At the same time,
and especially in relation to Organic Inquiry, it is important to note that
alternative ways of knowing, personal knowledge, and knowledge received
through intuition or otherwise by means considered paranormal are recognized as
valid (Braud & Anderson, 1998). Furthermore, Braud and Anderson (1998) add
that having access, working through, and sharing findings or learnings may occur
in non-ordinary states of consciousness and that it may be possible to develop
state-specific sciences based on these modes and states”
In support of the above thoughts on validity, I am sending the final writeup of the dissertation to all participants, to share with them the findings and
results of the research. The recognition of the validity of the accounts by the
respondents has been identified as one of the crucial benchmarks for validity;
therefore, the opportunity to incorporate participants’ feedback and additional
insights on the interpretation of the data presented a chance to validate my
Second, in a continued effort to establish validity, once all the changes and
revisions have been completed, I intend to circulate the paper among peers
working on leadership and in the transformation program to have them assess the
rigor of the analysis and resulting outcome. The peer review may generate further
interpretation of the findings and further inquiry for future studies. The peers will
be selected based on their knowledge of some or all of the following: Africa,
African development issues, leadership development theories and practice,
integral theory and approach, transformation and change in human systems, and
research. The purpose of the peer review is not limited to only individuals who
are familiar with African issues, because one of the aims of this study is also to
communicate the findings with an audience that might not be fully informed about
the issues of African development and the relationship to leadership. My aim is
to have at least five individuals review the dissertation.
Delimitations and Limitations of the Study
One critical limitation of the study has been my limited connectivity and
inability to have access to full-fledged libraries or library research support. This
situation has limited my ability to make a thorough review of available scholarly
works. I have had to limit myself to what was accessible to me within my
African leadership is a broad topic with many possible interpretations. The
main limitation of this study is the fact that this topic and its interpretation cannot
be limited to the participants in this study nor to my own interpretation. This
study does not aim to define African leadership or assert that it has rigorously
gauged the current situation of African leadership. It is only a beginning. It is my
beginning into the field of transformative leadership and my first steps in looking
into what is most important to me: African leadership development. I recognize
that the study carries my own bias about what needs to be done in Africa in the
context of leadership development. However, my intention is to present this study
to peers and development practitioners as a first step in engaging a reflection and
conversation about African leadership. And for this end, the limitation of this
dissertation might be acceptable.
All of the participants, elders, and leaders I engaged in a conversation
about African leadership are from a particular generation. They are the Africans
who have witnessed and known the days before independence. These men and
women were present during the independence struggles, and some of them have
participated in the struggles. All of the leaders have experienced Africa’s painful
journey into modern development. They have known the tragic events of political
crisis, and are also conscious of the current strides being taken in Africa and the
challenges at hand. While it is a fact that they bring a wealth of information and
knowledge, one might argue that the perspectives they offer might be limited to a
particular generation, though I personally feel that these individuals have a depth
of wisdom and insight that can transcend the limitations of their generation.
These elders represent the Africans who dreamed of independence,
dreamed of development, and faced the challenge of modern development. The
time that they were leaders and continue to be leaders allowed me to understand
both “traditional” and “modern” leadership in Africa. Their collective worldviews
encompass Africa in its entire way of being while remaining conscious of the
evolution of global development. The participants I chose are by no means
paragons, perfect in every aspect, but I chose them for their demonstrated
leadership and the impact they have had on my life. I strongly believed and
intuitively knew that what these leaders would tell me about African leadership
would serve not just my own personal understanding, but my generation working
in bringing a better day for the continent.
There are two more substantial limitations to study. First, regarding the
interviews, the interviews were not all the same length of time. The implication is
that not everyone had the chance to sit in silence into which quiet ideas may be
born. Second, initially, I had intended to send back my work to each of my
participants to have their input, review, and comments. Due to time and logistical
constraints, I have not had the opportunity to do so (as of the defense of the
dissertation). I do, however, intend to send a copy of the dissertation to each
participant once it is complete and has been approved by my committee.
This chapter presents the stories I have collected—the insights the
participants have shared with me about leadership, and more specifically, about
African leadership. I begin with my own story of the research process; then, in
part one of the chapter, I present the participants and how I relate to them. I share
the way the encounters with the participants occurred, my experience of the
process leading up to the interview, and the process of the interview itself. I
chose not to share the stories of the interviews that were cancelled, as I did not
have the opportunity to hear from those potential participants. Overall, I tell the
story of my journey in whatever form best relays the experience.
In part two, I present a summary of the main issues that emerged from the
interviews. In this discussion, I draw out the lessons learned both at a personal
level and at a level that can serve a greater audience. This particular discussion is
presented following the same order as the interview questions discussed above.
This discussion leads into the following chapter, where I present my
analysis and reflection on the stories of my inquiry.
Preamble: Taking it “One Step” at a time
When I finally decided to pursue a Doctoral Degree, I had none of the
resources necessary to go into the program; I only had my inquiry in my heart and
the faith that somehow, by some miracle, I might manage to get through the
I did not have the money to pay for my tuition; I did not have the money
for the flights. At the time I lived in Lusaka, Zambia, and a round-trip ticket to
San Francisco was no less than about USD 1,800 which was not too far from our
monthly earnings. We could not afford it as a family, but I knew in my heart that I
had to move forward with my application to the program and follow the path a
step at a time. And so I did just that. I did everything a step at a time and tried not
to worry about the future challenges that were bound to arise. I did not worry
about the rivers I would have to cross; I just trusted that bridges would emerge.
The realization is about taking life one step at a time; I am not to worry
about step 3 or 8 or 784—what I should know is that I am only responsible for
step “1.” With this in mind, I submitted my application and throughout the entire
process of my studies, it has been a matter of one step at a time. A step at a time
throughout the application process, a step at a time each time I had to pay tuition,
a step at a time each time I had to travel. It is a step at a time that I went through
the proposal, and especially the field research and interviews. It’s about
surrendering the tendencies I may have to want to control and to know everything
ahead of time; this is what I had to let go.
It may be serendipity that I choose to use Organic Inquiry as my
methodology; the interesting thing is that Organic Inquiry had been my way from
day one. This entire research has been taken on, carried out, and completed in
partnership with Spirit, irrespective of my awareness of that fact. It is the
guidance of Spirit that has led me through the path from one interview to the next,
from one leader to the next, and from one learning experience to the next. For
this, I must acknowledge and thank Spirit for all that I have learned and hope that
through my learning I will be able to share this collected knowledge and wisdom
about leadership and Africa with as many people as possible on the continent and
the world. I must also acknowledge the fact that my educational background, my
personal network and contacts and hence the doors that such networks can open,
as well as my capacity to establish relationship—all these factors have contributed
to my research. They have complemented my work with Spirit and have put me
in a privileged position to carry out my research; indeed, part of me believes that
such factors are the work of Spirit.
The issue of leadership is a key topic for our world at all levels, from
family to community to nation; it is the main driver of our lives. And for Africa, it
is a topic that could not be more pertinent, especially because it defines how the
nations of Africa might overcome the seemingly never-ending challenges of
livelihood and economic development.
As an African child who grew up uprooted at a very young age from my
home and country due to armed conflict, and one who lived in a state of pseudoexile in my formative years; as an African daughter who returned, as an adult, to
work on development programs across the continent; as a mother who hopes to
see a different Africa for her children and hopes that the future will bring a day
when the next generations of Africans can freely live in their countries with all the
opportunities for peace, security, health, education, and so on—the topic of
“African Leadership from the perspective of African Heads of States and Elder
Leaders“ came almost naturally because, to me, it is the elders and those who
have been in positions of leadership who hold the answers to the questions of
As I completed my proposal, I tried to generate a list of individuals in
positions to address my inquiry on the topic. Initially, I wanted to just ask the
leaders to tell me about leadership and what they had to say about it in the context
of Africa. I sent my first letter to request an interview to the President of Sierra
Leone, H. E. Dr. Earnest Bai Koroma. Clive Neel took my letter to the State
House himself and handed it to the right person. The President’s Chief of Protocol
received my letter and called me within the same day. “We will arrange an
interview for you, but would you please send us the list of questions you plan to
ask?” Although I was not intending to write questions ahead of time, let alone
send them ahead of time, this request from the State House pushed me to
articulate my inquiry in tangible questions. It seemed that the request to write the
questions was the work of Spirit nudging me gently to structure my research.
There was a sense of anxiety as I sat to write the questions. Would my
questions be good enough? Would my questions reflect my inquiry? Would my
questions be too elementary such that the President would decline seeing me?
Would this or would that—endless questions of doubt, hesitation, uncertainty, and
wavering. But I had a deadline to comply with. I had to write the questions. I had
to trust the process. I had to rely on Spirit and the fundamentals of Organic
Inquiry: of counting on the partnership with Spirit to enter the realm of the
Liminal domain, to be able to sit quietly and meditate on the sacredness of the
study, to be able to hold the intention of the research and know that the questions
would emerge, the ideas would flow, and the path would make itself known.
I sat at my computer, trusting that the right questions would come forth to
draw out the stories, the wisdom, and the insights I sought to hear and find. I
wrote the questions in the way I hoped the stories would unfold. I was almost not
able to type as fast at the thoughts and questions flowed. I hardly had to edit the
questions; after some feedback from Matthias and Clive, I emailed the questions
back to the State House the same day. I was a bit nervous about sending my
questions to the State House in Sierra Leone, but gathered the nerve to send them
anyway because I had to find the strength to trust that they represented my
inquiry. This was the beginning of the field research phase.
It was a blessing to have had that request to create the questions, because I
used them over and over again, and each time, each question unfolded an aspect
of the story that I never could have expected. And so, for each interview, I sent
out these questions (Appendix D) along with a letter, my abstract, and a letter of
introduction from my department at the California Institute of Integral Studies
And one step at a time the interviews manifested; most of the time, I was
blessed with naturally flowing appointments, and at other times the appointments
were difficult to secure. Some were canceled at the last minute, others after I had
flown miles away from home, across to one side or the other of the continent.
I must say that throughout the entire process, I somehow was blessed with
a sense of surrender. I did not get excited when the interviews happened, or upset
when they did not occur. I knew inherently that the path was to be led by Spirit,
and to Spirit I surrendered the logistics. I knew the stories that needed to be heard
would draw me forth and ensure that the interviews would take place. I knew in
my heart that if a story had to be included, it would make me make a detour in my
path and bring me to the place where I would be able to hear it.
To name a few examples of the way Spirit led the way, here are a few
individuals I met and interviewed, individuals I was led to know through Spirit
and the serendipity of life. During my visit to South Africa in July 2009, I
unexpectedly traveled to Botswana for a day to attend a meeting on the Global
Fund for HIV/AIDS and TB, where both former Presidents of Botswana were to
be present. When I arrived in Gaborone after a five hour drive from Pretoria, I
learned that we would not make it to the meeting because the person who was to
give us the address had switched his phone off. However, over a gathering that
took place that same day, I met Archbishop of Botswana Dr. Trevor Mwamba. I
would have never met him had I not gone to Gaborone. The interview with him
brought light to a whole other side of leadership. It was during the same trip in
South Africa that I crossed paths with Mr. Ahmed Kathrada, a freedom fighter
veteran who spent 26 years in prison together with the most senior members of
the African National Congress (ANC), such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu,
Govan Mbeki, and so many others. Again, during this trip, I had the chance to
meet with Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, the man who was the lead ANC negotiator for
the new South African Constitution. Each of these leaders shared with me their
stories, their experiences of leadership, their respective messages for the next
generations, and most of all, a part of their heart, a part of their being which I
hope to bring forth in the following pages.
During the same trip, I traveled to Zambia assuming that arrangements
were made for four interviews, only to find upon arrival that only one interview
would take place. Another time, I traveled to the Gambia and the interview was
canceled after my arrival. Through Spirit, I learned not to dwell on the interviews
that were either canceled or that did not occur. I felt that maybe there was no story
there for me, and instead I focused on the “Yes-s” I received and trusted that it is
through these “Yes-s” that I would get that which I needed to know to complete
my canvas of learning.
And as I traveled the path to complete this canvas, the process taught me
that the data does not only come from the literature and from the interviews, but
also from all the experiences, flavors, textures, sounds, and colors I encountered
while in this space of inquiry. It has happened many times that I found myself
surrounded by elders during various occasions. For example, on July 18, 2008, I
was very excited to know that I had an invitation to attend the 90th birthday of
Nelson Mandela at his home village of Qunu, in rural Transkei, South Africa. The
atmosphere in the hall was magical. I felt so honored to be in the presence of such
a giant in the history of not only Africa but the world. (At the time, I had no idea
that I would again be at his birthday in 2009, this time at his home in Pretoria.)
During my travel to South Africa in July 2009, by some serendipity, I
ended up being among the guests who accompanied Former President Kenneth
Kaunda of Zambia to the residence of Nelson Mandela on the day of his birthday.
And as I stood there singing happy birthday to this giant-hearted man on his 91st
birthday, I wondered about the incredible course of his life and that of his party,
the African National Congress. I thought about how the commitment and
resilience of a handful of men and women mobilized a nation and transformed it
to be a democratic nation where whites, Indians, Africans, and others could live
with freedom, human rights, and peace. It was not necessary to speak to anyone or
have any interviews to feel the strength, the courage, the resilience of the leaders
present in that room. Although we tend to focus on Nelson Mandela, being in that
room was an unforgettable experience of how an enlightened collective of
individuals can certainly change the world.
The interview I had with Justice Yvonne Mokgoro at her office in the
Constitutional Court building in Pretoria, South Africa literally made me break
down in tears. The building represented the rebirth and the spirit of the new South
Africa after Apartheid. The very same bricks had formed the structures and walls
of the courts during apartheid, which had caused the immeasurable suffering of so
many men and women, and were now used brick by brick to rebuild a new
building for a court that stood for justice, human rights, and freedom. The
building is so open and fluid, so full of art and soul. And when one knows a bit of
the history that took place in these same premises, one can only stand in awe in
the face of the human capacity to transform and alchemize deeds of evil to deeds
of utter good. When one can witness the resilience of human beings and their
ability to transform a cruel reality into one that stands for heart and justice, the
heart can only sob both in celebration of joy for the transformation and also in
deep sorrow for what once took place there. The same bricks that made the walls
of the prison where so many of the ANC freedom fighters were imprisoned,
tortured, and tormented—now, in another reality stood tall. In our conversation,
Justice Mokgoro said to me: “It is the place that we have made to uphold human
rights, justice, and freedom.” My conversation with her and listening to her words
transformed me forever, because through her words and her voice I felt the power
of commitment, the power of conviction, and the power of compassion—which at
the end of the day are the attributes and foundations of the essence of leadership.
One of the greatest lessons learned through the process of this research is
that I have truly learned, more than ever, to live in the moment, to make the best
of the situation, to remain mindful of the impermanence of life, to have
compassion for my own strengths and weakness so that I can have the same
compassion for others, and to trust the path, trust the greater being who is leading
the way. I learned to surrender. I learned to come forth with all my confidence
and all my doubts at the same time, with my happiness and joy as well as with the
sadness that often tears my heart apart. I deepened my ability to unveil the
authentic self—that self, that inner being that reflects the greatness of the divine
bound by the human limitation of the flesh. I recognized this inner being, inner
self, and spiritual being in all her might and all her limitations as revealed and
reflected in the human being I am in this lifetime.
Encounter with the Elders: The Stories and My Transpersonal Experience
As I look back at the journey of this inquiry, I realize that I have been
changed by the overall and general experience. I have also been transformed by
each encounter that took place as well as by the interviews that never took place.
For the interviews that took place, intentionally or through fate, each of the
participants I interviewed added to my knowledge, touched my perspectives,
deepened my understanding—humbled and honored me. Each participant
anointed me with the oil of service, determination, compassion, and resilience. I
am changed. I am transformed and I realize that my role has further been
anchored, not only into inquiry to understand what leadership in Africa is about,
but also into a sense of responsibility to pass on what I have learned and what I
will continue to learn, to a greater audience in Africa and the world.
As I entered the stage of writing the findings and presenting my
experience, I felt confronted with a challenging task. This challenge, I sensed at
the seat of my soul, was a result of the responsibility I feel in passing on the
stories in the way that I have received and experienced them. The responsibility I
feel—to pass on the stories with the same passion, the same magnitude and honor,
the same love and courage I have received—is heavy. There are a number of
factors that also contribute to this challenge. One factor is my realization that a
new part of me, a new self that includes and transcends the person I was when I
started the journey, is in the process of emerging. It is a self that I have always
known but that had remained dormant. It is a self that is vulnerable. One that is
strong. It is a self that is tolerant and compassionately demanding.
Another factor contributing to the challenge is that this process of writing
tested my faith. Despite the doubts that nibbled at my toes and crept through, I
had to remain calm and maintain my trust in Spirit. I had to hang on to the
partnership with Spirit that had brought me this far and know that it would see me
through. This was not easy.
Deep inside, I realized that now was the time to leap forward, to step
ahead in Faith even if I see no ground to step on. I had to work and move on using
not my physical self but my subtle self. I had to see through the eyes of my soul.
I had to breathe as my spiritual self, that eternal self that knows.
With this said, I stopped to take a deep breath. I stopped and looked to the
path ahead. I saw the mountains and the valleys. I looked back and I saw my
ancestors. I saw the leaders that have brought Africa this far. I saw the leaders I
have interviewed. I saw their gaze and the gentle smiles that say more than a
million words. I looked to the side, left and right, and I saw my peers. I saw
them working, dreaming for a better future, and I realized it is time to tell the
story so that the horizon we are looking at together can manifest the future we
deserve as a people and as a community.
I took a deep breath and remained silent for a moment, a moment that
when it ended thrust me forward into a new world. And with these words
whispering to my heart, I stood tall:
Be still. Be quiet.
Breathe. Breathe.
Know that I am with you.
Know that we are with you.
Yes, they are waiting.
Go on pass on the flame as it is to be passed on.
Be still. Be quiet.
Breathe. Breathe.
Yes, many have died.
Yes, many have been massacred, persecuted and tortured.
Yes, many have fought for justice and paid with their lives.
Yes, many have let blood for our sake, for human rights.
Yes, we have lost many and we have wept for centuries.
But we are together, throughout eternity.
Our blood is one and the same.
My death is yours and your birth is mine.
The tears, yes, they are mine and yours— ours.
We weep in silence together
As our tears flow, our courage fills up
Our strength grows and clarity is ours.
Be still. Be quiet.
Stand still and breathe.
Liberate yourself from fear.
Free yourself from anxiety
Stand tall and trust
Knowing you will make mistakes.
Knowing you are not perfect.
Knowing you will fall.
But also knowing you will rise again, only stronger
Recognizing your mistakes as your greatest teachers,
Embracing your flaws, bringing out your heart.
Be still. Be quiet.
Breathe. Breathe.
Know that I am with you.
Know that we are with you.
–Yene Assegid, May 2010
Delving Into the Process: My Journey
The journey of my inquiry, my quest to understand the core issues
affecting my life and the livelihood of so many African men, women, and
children—it did not begin at the onset of my doctoral studies. It started way back,
with a part of me that was old as the oldest trees that one finds standing in the
midst of our lands. These trees, despite the weather and harsh conditions,
continue to stand tall and strong, not because they are strong per se but because
their roots are determined to stay anchored to the earth and to hold on tight
through everything. Their roots hang on, even when everything around seems to
indicate that there is no hope left. Their roots are so determined that this very
determination and conviction to survive twists and shapes the base of the tree,
giving it a comparable appearance to the neck muscles and ligaments that hold
high the head of an ancient sage.
This very old part of me has existed always. It is this part of me that
awoke when I landed with my family in Brussels, Belgium in the mid-1970s and
realized that going back to the place I come from, to my grandmother’s home,
would not be an option for many years to come.
It was around this time in my life when my inquiry started. I wanted to
know. It is then that I started selecting my participants, in a way. I found a way to
select the people I wanted to listen to. I found the stories that I had to pay
attention to, in order to find the answers I sought. I looked for the stories that
might lead me to the sources of knowledge where I would find understanding. In
this way, this inquiry of mine started over thirty years ago.
Although the dissertation must have clear time boundaries, I must honestly
say that some of my participants have been a source of learning throughout my
life, and the learning will continue for the rest of my life as I continue my path
and keep these participants very close to me as guides, angels, and sages escorting
me along the way. And when my journey ends, I hope that I can pass on to others
the legacy of these sages as it has been passed on to me. These are the leaders I
have known for a lifetime. They might be family or family friends, but whatever
the case, they have held me close; they have listened to my questions; they have
offered me their guidance; and they have demanded of me, implicitly or
explicitly, that I pass on their stories, abide by their teaching, and most of all,
uphold the wisdom they have shared with me.
Some participants I have known only as an adult, and there are also the
participants whom I have come to know since the onset of my fieldwork. And
even though I met these participants only at the time of the interview, I can say
that there was something inside that connected us beyond time. They were no
different than all the other participants I had known for longer periods of time.
It would have been enough, at times, to sit together in sacred silence. And
in this other field of existence I was fortunate to enter, I gathered insights and
wisdom that, to me, bypass words. My commitment was to make a genuine effort
to put these insights to words and hope that I can transfer to others what I have
been given to understand in my life.
The list of participants and a short background on each can be found in
Appendices H and I. While I have done my best with the bios, I feel words do not
do justice to the contribution of these leaders to their people, their communities,
their nations, and the world. I have done my best to describe these elders, but it is
important to bear in mind that such short description are very far from depicting
the true image of who these people are.
Some of these participants have a leadership that is traditionally
recognized, while others have political recognition, and still others have academic
recognition of their leadership roles. To me, they each represent a gateway to
learning and understanding the intricacies of our African lives. It is in this spirit
that I now bring forth the stories I have collected in the order that I have received
Participant 1— Mr. Azmi Samara
The first time I met Gashe Azmi I was nine years old. He and his wife,
Yeshi came to our apartment, in Brussels, one Sunday afternoon not long
after we had arrived in Belgium from Ethiopia. The sun was shining, but the
temperature was much below freezing. When the intercom bell rang announcing
a visitor, excitement took over the apartment. My sister and I had been preparing
ourselves for their arrival. We had no idea who was coming, but we knew there
were important guests to come and that they might be from our country. We were
dressed up, fixed up, and just sitting in our room fidgeting around in anticipation.
The apartment was spotless. Peanuts, crackers, and drinks had been nicely lined
“Gashe” is a terms used in Amharic language, the language in Ethiopia, to refer
to someone older, to someone that is loved and respected. It is comparable to
“Uncle” in the English language. For women, the term “Etiye” is used. It is
comparable to “Aunt/Aunty” in English Language.
See previous note.
up on a crisp tablecloth awaiting the guests. And although my sisters and I were
eyeing the crackers from afar, we were tiru lejoch
and we didn’t touch a crumb.
My mother was dressed up, without over doing it, just something decent
like a tchewa sew
is expected to dress. The entire atmosphere in the house was
slightly tensed but festive. It was one of the first times that we had had visitors
since we left our country.
Eventually, we heard the elevator go down and then come back up to our
floor. We could hear them open the door of the elevator. It was an old elevator
and the door was manual; one had to open and close it. And then, as they stepped
out of the elevator we could hear the floor of the elevator squeak from the weight
being lifted. And then finally the doorbell rang with its “DING … DONG” with a
long delay between the sounds.
My sisters and I ran back to our rooms in the back of the apartment; we
shouted up and down, metu! Metu!
It was quite something to have visitors for
the first time since we left our country. For me, it was almost too much
excitement to bear. I thought my heart was going to burst. Finally the heels of my
mother walking to the entrance door “click, click – click, click – click, click”
interrupted our running around shouting.
In Amharic, this means “good kids,” well behaved and disciplined kids. There
is a sense that it is only in becoming Tiru Lejoch that one can make one’s family
proud. Anything less is considered a curse or a disgrace.
In Amharic, Tchewa means “wise, polite, decent, and well mannered”; Sew
means “person.” But the two words put together, Tchewa Sew, refers to a certain
character or caliber of person that implies education, discipline, God fearing, old
lineage, and so on.
In Amharic, this means “they are here!”
I hear the doorknob and finally the greetings, the commotion to get in, to
get their coats and kiss them. God only knows how many times we kissed each
other. Back home, I remember that kisses can go up to six times per pair. Three
kisses per person, so six for the pair. My sisters and I were peeking through the
door separating the living area from the bedroom area. And then, suddenly, my
mother turned our way: nu selam belu.
We were caught. My heart was
thumping. My sister and I were caught off guard and stared like deer in
headlights. There was no going back—we had to say hello.
My sisters and I were so shy that saying hello was an unimaginable
insurmountable ordeal that we usually never managed. It is at this time that I
looked into Gashe Azmi’s eyes for the first time in my life. His eyes were
sparkling. His eyes lit up the entire room. His eyes carried his heart and oozed
love and compassion. Etiye Yeshi was standing right behind him. I must confess
he won my heart over. Gashe Azmi’s heart, comparable to an ocean, is timeless,
is free of boundaries, and most of all, is full of love that can accommodate the
world over.
We were told that Gashe Azmi was from Sudan. I was proud to know of
the Sudan. My paternal uncle, Gashe Seifu had moved to Khartoum with his
family and at times they sent us halwa (a sesame seed-based desert). It is in this
way and under these circumstances, that I met Gashe Azmi and over the years
learned to know him, to appreciate him, and to love him as an elder, a teacher, and
most of all, a symbol of peace.
“Come and say hello.”
My interview with Gashe Azmi took place about thirty years after I first
met him. I went to see him at his residence in Chevy Chase, Maryland in January
2007. He had moved from Brussels, where he had lived with Etiye Yeshi for
many years, to the Washington DC area to be closer to his three children. His
sons Noah and Eyob and his daughter Rahel had put down roots in this area and it
made sense for him to live closer to them and his grandchildren.
The interview took place in the living room. Gashe Azmi was a musician
at heart. He loved music, and so wherever he went and whatever he did, there was
always music playing. During my interview with him, the background music was
classical Ethiopian ballad of Tizita combined with conversation with Etiye Yeshi
(she would insist that we have some lunch, and he would argue back that we
could eat when we were finished with our task).
As he spoke and answered my questions, I traveled through time following
his voice that recollected the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s of African history. This
was the last interview he gave, and the only audio record that exists with his voice
and his story. The recording is intertwined, as I mentioned above, with classical
Ethiopian music and side conversations with Etiye Yeshi—it is interesting how
natural the musical background feels because Gashe Azmi spent his life spreading
peace and harmony around him. Wherever he went, there was always a gentle
background of classical music.
Many years after I had started to engage in my professional work, I came
to discover the work of this man who had been part of most of my life in a very
different way. Although I had known him mostly during his retirement, through
the conversations prior to the interview and during the interview I learned the role
Gashe Azmi had played during the years of African independence struggle. I
learned of his role while he was in charge of finances for the liberation struggles
within the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Gashe Azmi’s work brought
him side by side with many of the icons of African liberation fighters. He worked
closely with the likes of President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Former President
Kaunda of Zambia, Prime Minister Lumumba of the Congo, and many others
including leaders of the African National Congress anti-apartheid freedom
fighters of South Africa.
He mentioned to me at the beginning of the interview that when he took
up his post with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) currently known as the
African Union (AU), he had to take an oath of maintaining confidentiality
regarding his assignment. He nonetheless generously allowed me to conduct the
interview and managed to speak to me in terms that did not breach his oath.
At the time the interview took place, Gashe Azmi was 86 years old. The
interview started as a conversation about my life, my children, and how life was
in Sierra Leone (where I lived at the time of the interview). Slowly, we engaged
in the heart of the topic. It seemed as though he had gone back in time to describe
to me the kind of work he did and the kind of challenges he encountered, and to
link all of that work to current issues and challenges confronting most African
The entire conversation revolved around the need for integrity within the
leadership of nations, institutions, and our communities. In speaking about
integrity, two issues came out: the challenge of greed and corruption, and the need
for peace at all levels.
His experience was that, very often, personal interest and greed among
people in leadership robbed people on the ground of their due services and
benefits. Greed emerges when individuals lack enough connection to the needs of
the communities or lack sensitivity to the needs of the communities they are to
serve. But at the same time, greed is something that can emerge when individuals
are only concerned about their own immediate communities. In either case, greed
might be the main cause of corruption.
While corruption is a notion that is as old at the world, it is present
substantially in all sectors. One of the examples that Gashe Azmi mentioned is
the challenge he had with particular superiors during his time working as a
finance person for the Committee of the Liberation Struggle. Gashe Azmi had
made it his commitment to ensure that the Liberation Fighters got the financial
support that was earmarked for them, in full. Because of this commitment and his
determination to ensure it, he had to endure pressure and harassment from some
of his superiors who were determined to keep a good part of the funds for their
personal use.
The need for peace at all levels is related to having peace within ourselves
so that we can spread it around. Leadership without a foundation of peace is
leadership that would undoubtedly lead to disaster. “Which mother wants to see
her children die at war?” he said many times over as he spoke about the need for
The essence of the message of Gashe Azmi is the importance of peace.
He stressed the importance for all individuals to try and have inner peace first, so
that they are able to spread peace within their communities and nations. This
message of the importance of peace has been branded in my soul.
The time of the interview is the last time I saw Gashe Azmi in person. I
spoke to him on the phone a few times after the interview, but about a year later, I
learned that he had passed on. I feel both privileged and lucky to have had the
chance to have an official interview with Gashe Azmi. He has been one of the
subtle pillars of my life.
Participant 2—H.E. Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, First President of Zambia
By the time I attempted to set up an interview with Former President
Kaunda, I had been living in Zambia for over three years and had come to enjoy a
solid community of friends, both Zambian and from other countries. This was
before I completed my dissertation proposal, but I knew I wanted President
Kaunda as a participant. Although, as with Gashe Azmi, I did not have the
questions I later used for most of the participants, I trusted that the qualitative
questions I asked would provide material to include in the findings.
I did not know how to contact the office of the President, so I started
asking around among my friends to see if anyone had a contact in the office of the
First President. It turned out that a good friend of mine knew the President very
well, as his father had worked closely with him. This friend helped me arrange
for my first meeting.
I drove to the office of the Former President Kaunda together with my
friend, and with his introduction I was able to speak to the secretary, explain what
I came for, and officially ask for an audience. The secretary was kind and
promised to get back to me, which she did in a few days time informing me of
when I might be able to carry out the interview.
On the day of the interview, I came to the office about an hour early. I did
not want to miss the appointment. I waited and waited for what seemed to be
hours. But soon, I heard some commotion outside and then a voice singing a
gospel song. The secretary nodded to me indicating that “he” was in. It was
Former President Kaunda who had just arrived. He had met an old friend waiting
for him outside, and after greeting this friend, I suppose someone may have asked
him to sing—and he started singing (just a verse or two). I was thrilled to be
getting ready to finally meet the man who brought Zambia to independence, the
man who gave vital support to the African National Congress struggle against
Shortly after, his assistant came to let me know that I could go into his
office. As I came into the room what I saw first was a grandfather. Of course, it
was the First President, but it was also a grandfather. He welcomed me kindly
and invited me to sit. His desk was full of papers, and he must have been working
on his laptop because the machine was still running.
Zambia is among the few countries in Africa that has never had any
conflicts with its neighbors. There is something about Zambia that emanates
peace and stability; a lot of this peace has to do with the nature and character of
the nation’s first President, Dr. Kaunda. In his capacity as Head of State of an
independent young Zambia, President Kaunda played a key role in the antiapartheid movement. He offered unparalleled support to all the activists, and in
fact Lusaka served as a base for the leadership-in-exile of the African National
Congress (ANC).
The interview with President Kaunda lasted about one hour and half. It
was a conversation. At the time I did not have a recording machine, but was
using my iPod to record. As I started to set up the iPod, I asked him if he had
used one of these machines before. He said he had not. And although I, myself,
am a bit technologically challenged, I found myself speaking about all the virtues
of an iPod as a device to save music, to save multi-media, to record, and even to
use as a hard drive. President Kaunda just listened to me. I was not sure if what I
was saying was new to him or if he was just allowing me to explain out of
At the onset of the meeting, I started by telling him a bit of where I come
from and why I was doing research on African leadership. I told him how my life
had started very closely linked to the life of my grandparents and how, due to the
revolution, my family immigrated to Belgium. I explained how this move
transformed me and brought a new kind of consciousness to me about my
African-ness and about the issues of politics, leadership, and conflicts in Africa. I
told him that since the time of my family’s relocation to Europe, my inner quest
has been to try to get an understanding about Africa, including the factors that are
leading the continent into the vicious economic and human development cycles it
is caught up in. I continued to explain that I believe the answers to my questions
will come from the insights I could get from senior leaders. In light of this, the
reason for my interview with him was because he is one of the few African icons
who not only fought for independence and freedom, but also managed to maintain
peace in his country and favor social and economic development. I saw my
chance to talk to him as a rare opportunity and hoped that through this
conversation he would share with me some of his perspectives on the issue of
African leadership. The essence of his message was as follows.
The question of leadership is as important in Africa as it is in any other
country of the world. Leadership has a lot to do with what happens in the lives of
people, in the development of nations and the building of economies anywhere in
the world. Africa is no exception. The important issue is for “our” youth in Africa
to learn from what “we” have learned, experienced. To learn and draw lessons
from our successes as well as from our failures and challenges. It is the capacity
of the youth to learn from their seniors, from their surroundings, and from history
that will allow them to develop even better leadership competences.
Speaking about what leadership principles he would like to share with the
youth and with future leaders, the President spoke of the following: (a) Love God
your creator with all your heart and put your focus and attention on Him, as He
will keep you on the right path; (b) Love thy neighbor; and (c) do unto others as
you would have them do unto you. Regardless of color, ethnicity, religion, and
any other factor that might differentiate people, we have to focus on points b and
c mentioned above. As leaders, we have to understand and accept these principles
of “love they neighbor” and “do unto others as you would want to be done to
you,” because if you love our neighbors, you cannot steal from them, think badly
of them, or do them harm. You can only think good of them. If we do this as
leaders, how could we steal from people? How can we not be held accountable for
our work? How can we harm our people?
If we do this as African leaders it will be the beginning of a new age and a
new wave of development for the continent. Organizations such as the African
Union and other regional organization can do a lot for Africa, because they can
orchestrate dialogue for and with the people of the continent; they can bring the
leaders together and create a platform to reflect, think, and create.
Leadership is about service: service to the people and service to God. We
must bank on that, and remember that leadership is not about self but about the
other people. It’s about those who call you their leader, and they have to be
served. You have to be there for them and their interest, not yours.
Along the line of sharing experience and availing this experience to future
leaders, youth, and community members, President Kaunda mentioned how we
might have to look at institutionalizing the transfer of knowledge. He spoke about
the organization of the Africa Forum, which brings together all Former African
Heads of States. Their aim is to make available the human resources, capacity,
and know-how of their members to the benefit of current leaders and governments
of Africa. Africa Forum aims to offer guidance and support in resolving some of
the difficult issues facing the continent. These members are not all knowing and
perfect, but they can offer insights, contributions, and lessons that can serve our
communities. President Kaunda highlighted that while making mistakes is part of
being human, what defines a leader is his/her capacity to learn from the mistakes
and use the lessons learned to create good and welfare for the greater community.
The transfer of knowledge and wisdom is not only the responsibility of
senior leaders—the younger generation of leaders or new leadership must also
play their role. The younger-generation leaders have to be willing to listen, to
draw meaning and lessons out of what their predecessors left behind. Often times,
in Africa as in many parts of the world, the incoming leadership rarely makes an
effort to build on what the predecessors have left behind. Instead, the new
leadership often dismantles what the previous leaders have left, including their
names and reputations. This is not constructive. It does not serve anyone, and
least of all, the community that we all stand to serve.
To me personally and for my research, President Kaunda was encouraging
and supportive. At the end of my interview with him, he stopped in thought for a
while and then turned to me and said: “You have to meet my retiree friends.” I
have to admit that I did not know exactly which friends he was talking about. I
thought it might have been some friends in Lusaka, and I was happy to meet
them, so I accepted. “We will get in touch with you,” he said, and we ended the
interview on this note.
Some weeks later, I was contacted by one of his closest colleagues who
informed me that I was to join them in Johannesburg to attend the General
Assembly of the Forum of African Heads of States. This was a Godsend for my
research—in hindsight, President Kaunda opened up a path for my journey that
would allow me to meet many of the leaders I might never have met otherwise.
Even though I was not consciously aware of Organic Inquiry at the time, I
can say today that it is in part Organic Inquiry and the subconscious partnering
with Spirit that allowed this unfolding. My attendance of the Forum opened up a
whole new sphere of learning, both for me as a scholar of leadership and also for
the scope of my dissertation. Attending this Forum has been a transforming
experience. It was an extraordinary working session to witness. There were close
to 40 African former Heads of States and Heads of government sitting side by
side and working together to explore ways of supporting the current leaders of
Africa. I am deeply indebted to His Excellency for this chance to get a peek at
how things work behind closed doors. I had the chance to speak to his Excellency
many more times after being part of his delegation; the last time I saw him was
again in Johannesburg, South Africa, on the occasion of President Nelson
Mandela’s 91st birthday in July 2009.
Participant 3—H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan,
Former Secretary General of the United Nations
In July 2007, I had the chance to meet with Mr. Kofi Annan in Geneva,
Switzerland. The meeting was arranged for both the sake of this research as well
as the leadership program, Integral Africa, which I was trying to establish at the
time. The encounter with Mr. Kofi Annan took place on my father’s suggestion.
I had spoken so much about leadership and the work that I was hoping to
do both in terms of research as well as the design of programs to develop
leadership capacity that my father once asked me: “Why don’t you go talk to
Kofi?” It seemed very natural to him that I talk to Mr. Annan—the two had
attended the same university in Geneva in the 1960s and knew each other from
the early days.
To be honest, I was a surprised at my father’s suggestion and at the same
time delighted to accept his suggestion. In any case, I would be relying on him to
secure the appointment. This part of the story took place in June 2007.
Afterwards, I went to Berlin for an art retreat and meditation session for about
two weeks. At the end of a meditation retreat, I received a call telling me the
appointment had been set for July 11, and I was to come immediately to Brussels
to travel together with my father to Geneva to see his old school friend.
I do not need to present the achievements of Mr. Kofi Annan and describe
what he represents for the world—all I can say is that he embodied all that we
read about as an enlightened leader. I opted to take the train from Brussels to
Geneva; I wanted to have the time that the journey would take to spend precious
moments with my father. I enjoyed every single minute. Finally we arrived in
Geneva after many hours on the train. We headed to our hotel, and as we drove
around the streets of Geneva, my father commented on the various areas and
buildings, reminiscing about the college days he had spent in this city.
Our appointment with Mr. Annan was the next day. For now, all we had to
do was to settle in and possibly go out for dinner. For me, this experience was like
going back in time, as I listened to the stories of my father. I could only imagine
the few African students that might have been in this city some 40-50 years ago. I
could only imagine how their lives intertwined with the events that took place
across the continent.
On July 11 my father and I headed out to our appointment. It was a
beautiful day. The sun was shining. We were well received at the reception of the
office and guided to the waiting room. After some time, Mr. Annan came out of
this office to welcome us. The way he received us, the way we talked and
discussed, the way that he gave us his precious time—he embodied the lessons we
have to learn about the roles, responsibilities, and bearing of a leader.
I did not record the conversation; it was a very natural conversation that
remains very clear in my mind. But in a very thoughtful way, the personal
assistant of Mr. Annan later sent me two of his speeches that he allowed me to use
for my reference.
The lesson I drew from my conversation with Mr. Annan has more to do
with how as a leader he has dealt with the professional and personal challenges he
faced, than with what he said about leadership. At times, the lessons are not in
the words but in the “being” of the person. The capacity of Mr. Annan to continue
to remain of Great Spirit, gentle and compassionate despite the bitterness of some
of the challenges he faced speaks to me more than anything.
What might count is that we remain cognizant of the fact that we always
have a choice in how we react to what life brings to us. We can choose whether
we want to be overcome by the challenges or whether we overcome them. It is a
matter of choice as well as awareness.
Participant 4—H.E. Mrs. Josephine Ouedraogo, Former Deputy
Under-Secretary General of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa,
and Secretary General of ENDA Tier Monde
My first encounter with Mrs. Ouedraogo was in 1997. At the time I was
working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Ethiopia in launching a project
to take care of women surviving from prostitution. At the time, she was the
Director of the Gender Program within the United Nations Economic Commission
for Africa. I wanted to have an appointment to tell her about the work we were
doing on the ground level for the welfare of urban destitute women of the red
light district. I was not sure she would give me time, but to my surprise, she
granted me an appointment.
This first appointment lasted for almost one hour. I was struck by her
humility, openness, and humanity. She is at the same time brilliant and humane,
with a heart that emanates courage, determination, and commitment for the
welfare of the greater communities at the grassroots. Her sincerity and candid
words often take many by surprise.
Our relationship has continued through the years and through all the
changes in our respective lives. Mrs. Ouedraogo remains one of my role models
and mentors. At the time we spoke and had the interview for this dissertation, she
had just left her position as Deputy Under-Secretary of the United Nations
Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and was heading one of the largest
African humanitarian organizations, ENDA Tier Monde.
The essence of Mrs. Ouedraogo’s message was about the need for
Africans to take on responsibility for the fate of Africa. Her message focused on
the importance for Africans to recognize the tradition and the wealth of
knowledge that is in our hands and make use of this knowledge in order to create
better livelihood for the communities across the continent. Her message focused
on the need to work harder, the need to stop blaming others (be it the colonial
powers and times or be it the modern-day donors and Western powers). She
spoke about being accountable for all that is taking place on the continent, being
accountable for all that we might be missing, and also for the future that we could
possibly create.
Participant 5—Dr. Moustapha Gueye, United Nations Development Program,
Global Leadership Development and HIV/AIDS Senior Advisor
The first time I met Dr. Gueye was in Ethiopia in 2001. We met in the
context of the Leadership Development and Capacity Building program that the
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) was launching to address and
respond to the issue of HIV/AIDS in the country, and have remained colleagues
since that time. Although I had lost touch with Dr. Gueye since I left the UNDP, I
caught up with him again by serendipity.
I was traveling through Ghana to Sierra Leone, and during the layover at
the Kokota International Airport I ran into an old UNDP colleague, Joe Annan,
who was on his way to Dakar. Through our conversation I learned that Dr. Gueye
had been relocated to the UNDP office in Dakar, and I decided to get back in
touch with him. This incidental meeting with Joe Annan resulted in my going to
Dakar to meet with Dr. Gueye and conduct this interview.
The interview took place in Dakar in March 2009 in Dr. Gueye’s office.
Before the interview we spoke about our respective work and caught up with each
other’s lives. I was pleased and also not really surprised to find out that he had
continued to work on the leadership development program in the context of
HIV/AIDS throughout the various African countries. He is one of the few people
who, about a decade ago, was convinced (as I am) that the issue of HIV/AIDS and
even the issue of African Development in general is more an issue of leadership
capacity than anything else.
The heart of the message from Dr. Gueye was anchored around looking at
leadership from an integral perspective. He felt that in order to create the future
that we want, we must be able to learn from the past, and act today with the future
envisioned in mind. Many of our actions are often based in past paradigms, and
unless we change this and anchor our action on what we want—rather on what
has been in the past—the future will only be another version of the past.
Participant 6—Dr. Akwasi Aidoo,
Founder and Director of Trust Africa Foundation
My encounter with Dr. Aidoo occurred through an introduction to him
from my friend and colleague, Jessica Horn, who is based in Freetown, Sierra
Leone. She had known Dr. Aidoo through her work in philanthropy and suggested
that it might be a good idea to meet with him and see if he would be willing and
have time for an interview with me.
I sent several emails to Dr. Aidoo asking for an appointment and an
interview. As Dr. Aidoo was based in Dakar, I informed him that I would be in
Dakar and that it would be great if we could take this opportunity to have the
interview. Unfortunately I did not get any replies from Dr. Aidoo and assumed
that he had either not seen the email or might be out of town. I did not insist, and
accepted the fact that the interview might not take place.
I completed my visit in Dakar; on the last night, before flying out the next
day early in the morning, I received a text message from Jessica telling me that I
should check my emails. He had written back and informed me that he had
indeed been out of town. We arranged for a short call that same evening and
decided that there might not be time to have the interview that evening, so he
suggested meeting me very early in the morning before my flight to complete the
interview. I was delighted. If he had not copied Jessica on his reply, I might have
never met him and the interview would have never happened.
We did the interview in two parts: one that next morning when we met
before my departure back to Freetown in March 2009, and the second in May
2009 when I returned to Dakar to complete my interviews.
While my interview with Dr. Aidoo contained extensive insights about
leadership and development, which are presented throughout the discussion of the
findings and analysis, one main idea has remained with me. He is a firm believer
that everyone has the potential for leadership, the potential for greatness as well as
for bad. What might allow us to produce leaders is the way we socialize our
children and our youth to groom them in becoming leaders. Societies have ways
of producing leaders, and each society might produce their leaders in ways
appropriate to their respective contexts. The challenge is when the old ways of
producing leaders no longer work for us. There are three very important elements
when we think of producing leaders: the socialization system, the context, and the
mythologies of our societies. These elements have to be taken into context for
specific times, for specific challenges, and for specific communities. In a nutshell,
the message of Dr. Aidoo is that leadership is dynamic. It is a competence that has
to remain closely connected to the systems in which it is to be exercised.
Participant 7—H.E. Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki,
Former Prime Minister of Niger and CEO of NEPAD
I did not know of Dr. Mayaki until my husband Matthias suggested that I
try to contact him. Matthias came to know of Dr. Mayaki at a European Union
conference on rural development and agriculture, where Dr. Mayaki delivered a
presentation on the issue of agriculture and development in Africa. At the time,
Dr. Mayaki was heading a civil society organization based in Dakar; he was the
founder of this organization focused on rural development issues in Africa. Prior
to that, Dr. Mayaki was the Prime Minister of Niger from November 1997 to
January 2000.
I sent an email to Dr. Mayaki to introduce myself, tell him about my
research, and see if he would be open for an interview on the topic of African
leadership. At the time I wrote the email, I thought he was based in Dakar,
Senegal where I knew his organization was based. I hoped that I could take the
opportunity of being in Dakar to have my interview with him.
I was already on the road to complete another interview in Banjul, Gambia
when I received a message from his assistant informing me Dr. Mayaki would be
traveling out of Dakar just as I would arrive. I was arriving on the evening of
March 6, 2009, and Dr. Mayaki was leaving Dakar early in the morning on March
7, 2009. Without being certain whether I was overstepping boundaries, I asked if
he could meet with me in the evening right after I arrived. He agreed. I rushed to
our appointment as soon as I arrived.
Our appointment was in the lobby of the newly built Hotel Terrou-Bi. A
big-screen TV was showing a final soccer match between two top European
Soccer Clubs. I waited by the reception area after I asked the receptionist to
inform Dr. Mayaki that I had arrived. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Mayaki came
through. We tried to find a corner of the reception where I could record the
interview without much of the noise from the soccer fans. It was about eight
o’clock when we started the interview.
I did not want to take much of his time, so I stuck strictly to the interview
questions I had prepared. Throughout the interview and especially in the parts
where the questions ask about the personal stories of the participants and their
motivation to go into public service, I found that much of his early life is
comparable to my own life and the life of many of my family members. I
understood very well where he was coming from; I could relate to the source of
his inspiration and his motivation to work on development issues in Africa.
At the end of the interview, I asked him if he was traveling for a meeting,
and he said he was traveling to take up his new post. I did not know what he
meant, and it is then that he told me he was now the CEO of the New Partnership
for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). I recount this story because it summarizes
the kind of leader he is; despite the status of the position he held and others he has
held in the past, he remained down to earth and accessible.
Throughout this research, my experience was that most of the men and
women who are truly leading, truly in positions of leadership and possibly
prestigious positions, are the ones who have remained open, humble, and
accessible. They are the ones who are still ready to support the efforts of others in
whatever way they can. Dr. Mayaki is one such leader.
Participant 8—Mrs. Sena Gabianu
Senior Economist and Former World Bank Official
I have known Mrs. Gabianu since the mid-1990s; at the time, she was
working at the World Bank in Ethiopia and I was working at the grassroots level
in an HIV/AIDS prevention program especially designed for women surviving
from prostitution. She was a mentor and supported the work I was doing by
coming to us on the streets, at our community gatherings, and at any other
occasion to which we invited her. When Mrs. Gabianu retired and left Addis
Ababa to return to Ghana, I felt a sense of void because a mentor I valued had
left. While I could not see her as much as I wanted, I kept up with the
I traveled to Accra, Ghana to conduct the interview with her. I hired a car
to drive me to her home, which is a bit outside Accra. When I arrived at the gate,
I was not sure if it was the right house. But then I saw an inscription on the wall:
“Lalibela House,” and I knew I was in the right place. Lalibela is a famous
Ethiopian pilgrimage town filled with underground monasteries and churches
dating back centuries. Someone opened the gate for us and let the car drive
through. As I got out of the car, I saw her coming out of her house to greet me.
She had not changed a bit since I had last seen her (possibly almost ten years
earlier). I felt a sense of pride to come and see her after so many years. It seemed
we were meeting again to continue the conversations we had started a lifetime
The most important aspect of Mrs. Gabianu’s message was the need to
start building up institutional memory within our communities, organizations, and
societies. Much of the wisdom, knowledge, and lessons learned often get lost as
there is very little that is recorded systematically. This institutional memory is
what the next generation could leverage to continue working where their seniors
left off.
Participant 9—Lady Almaz Haile-Mariam, Sage
I have had many interviews with Lady Almaz Haile-Mariam over the
years; indeed, what I bring in this dissertation is all the wisdom and insight that
she has taught me throughout my life. Lady Almaz, whom we lovingly call
Almazesha, is my grandmother; yet, I can say that she is a grandmother for not
just her biological grandchildren but for an entire nation. She is a sage, an icon of
wisdom and compassion who has shaped the lives of hundreds of children, men,
and women.
She was raised by her grandmother who, in addition to the classical
mission education, ensured that Almazesha would receive full military training—
training in horsemanship, marksmanship, and fine arts, as well as a
comprehensive education in theology and Geez (ancient Ethiopian language). I
believe that it is the sense of honor, courage, valor, and perseverance as well as
empathy for mankind instilled by her grandmother that prepared Almazesha for
all the challenges, opportunities, and tests she faced in her life.
Almazesha’s input in this dissertation is not limited to what she said to me
in the interviews. She was such an influential person in my life that I know most
of what I am and do is a result of the tutelage she bestowed on me all my life.
Because I have been raised under her tutelage and because she has been
the most influential person in my life, the message I received from her interview
blurs with what she has taught me all my life. In short, Almazesha’s take on
leadership is that it is our duty to stand and be counted for the welfare of our
community, for our society, and for the sake of God. It is our duty to stand in
defense of human rights, justice, and peace. It is our duty to be ready to be of
service for others instead of expecting to be served by others.
What she sees as necessary in Africa is an increased tolerance of diversity
and human rights as well as a capacity to look within our own traditions and
knowledge to resolve some of the conflicts and challenges modernity has brought
to the various corners of the continent.
Participant 10—Reverend Dr. Themistocles, Orthodox Church of Sierra Leone
I met Rev. Themistocles (Rev. Themy) on a flight from Accra to Freetown
in December 2007. As I walked to my seat, I saw someone in an Orthodox
priest’s clothing; I did not say anything to this person and kept on walking to my
seat. Even though I have not been an active member of the Orthodox Church,
somehow I count it as part of my heritage. I see the Orthodox Church tradition as
part of the tradition of my elders and lineage throughout the centuries. So, in
many ways, I still identify with the Orthodox religion as it has been the religion of
my family for centuries.
Once I sat down at my seat, something inside me was telling me to go
back and to ask whether this person was an Orthodox priest or not. So, I got up
and politely asked this person who was sitting there with a long white beard, a
black hat, and a black priest robe. He replied with a lot of humor: “Let me ask
you: Is it the hat or the beard that gave me away?” I knew I had to change seats
and sit next to him to talk. I asked if it would be all right with him if I changed
seats to come and join him. He agreed and I went to sit with him, and that is how
the story began. We spent the entire flight talking about spirituality, the Orthodox
Church, Sierra Leone, and much more. I learned that he was coming to Freetown
to establish the first Orthodox mission, and I gave him my address and details to
stay in touch. When he looked at the street name, he said, “I am going to be living
on the same street.” This was the start of our very interesting relationship.
Father Themy, as he is called in the community, was born in Alexandria,
Egypt. He is ethnically Greek and lived most of his life, other than the time spent
studying or on mission, in Australia. He started out as a musician in his early 20s;
in fact, he was a bass player and even toured with the Rolling Stones. He told me
that he really believed in the communist ideology until he realized that without
love and compassion one could possibly not make a better world; this led him to
enroll in university to study theology. He completed two doctorates at Harvard
University, one in education and the other theology, before starting his mission
work in Africa. Father Themy spent over ten years in Kenya establishing the
Orthodox mission there and working with destitute communities before beginning
his work in Sierra Leone.
Father Themy has been a source of knowledge and reflection for me. His
input in this research is most valuable as he brings with him a compassionate
understanding of the dynamics at play in African development combined with a
clear sense of the nature of governance, democracy, and leadership. I conducted
the interview with Father Themy in April 2009 in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Father Themy has possibly one of the busiest schedules in the whole of
Sierra Leone. He is in the process of building a Cathedral, a Teachers’ College,
several clinics (in Freetown and outside Freetown), and apartments for the
students and lecturers of the Teachers’ College; he is involved in the renovation
of a primary and secondary education school that caters to close to one thousand
students; he runs his Church, makes himself available to his parishioners, and
holds mass on Sundays and several other days in the week; he has regular and
intensive dialogue with government officials; and has to regularly keep those who
are supporting his work informed about the progress on the ground through
endless reports, calls, and budgets. We agreed to meet at his office, which at the
time was still under construction and was right on the construction site for the
Cathedral and the school being renovated, right in the heart of downtown
Freetown. We met in the afternoon. It must have been at least 36 degrees
Centigrade with the sun right at the height of its journey through the sky.
It was hot. I arrived at the site earlier than scheduled time. Father Themy
arrived shortly after I did. I was waiting for him, outside on the veranda of the
offices under construction facing the entrance to the court yard leading to the
class rooms. The site was buzzing with people ranging from construction
workers, students, school teachers, security guards, people just being there, and
many people who were in one way or another connected to the activities going in
the new Orthodox Church compound. And despite the work going on, we
managed to find an office that was almost quiet. There was, of course, no air
conditioning running as the office was under construction.
A person’s understanding of what leadership is forms from the
presupposition of who the person is, what his/her training is and what his/her
beliefs are. Based on these variables, we can find a wide range of definitions. “If
you ask me specifically, having Christian philosophical principles, I would say
that leadership is servitude.” The best way to be a leader is through service. The
more a person rules over others, with a sense of authority and superiority, the less
one serves others—hence, the less the leadership of such a person. The people
around such a leader might follow out of fear, but not out of love; such a person
may feel that he has power over people, but will not have the love of the people.
Whereas, when the person’s aim is service, the more that person serves others, the
more others are willing to follow.
In essence, Father Themy’s point was that leadership is service—without
service, there might not be any leadership. “The only way to be an authentic
leader is to serve; to wash their feet so to speak.”
One of the strengths Father Themy mentioned about African leaders is
their capacity to mix completely with the people. While in Europe or the United
States, such a level of mixing may not be possible, in Africa one can witness
moments when the leaders completely mix with the people. Examples are times
when Heads of State make visits to the various localities, and they have no
problem in walking through the market, sitting with the people, dancing with the
people, and engaging in genuine conversations with the people.
The main messages of this interview concerned leadership as service and
the African leader’s capacity to freely come together with the community and to
continue to be accessible to the people. Such closeness would not be so easily
possible in Western environments.
Participant 11—Mr. Youssou N’Dour,
World Renowned Artist and Founder of the Youssou N’Dour Foundation
Throughout the years, I have witnessed the career of Mr. N’Dour, not only
his achievement in the entertainment world but also the contribution that he has
been making in terms of economic and human development. When I was in Dakar
for my interview with the other participants based in Senegal, I thought that it
would be great if I tried to contact the office of Mr. N’Dour.
I first asked the man at the reception of the hotel where I was staying how
I could go about meeting Mr. N’Dour. To my surprise, he told me I should try to
go to Mr. N’Dour’s show the next day. I was ready to go—until I found out that
the show started around 11:00 PM. I knew I would be long asleep by then. The
man then said that I could also try to go to his studio, a block away. This is
serendipity, I thought. Soon after, I was asking around among the people I knew
in Dakar and finally, I found a way to reach his office and speak with someone
who could help me.
I wanted to interview Mr. N’Dour not only because he is a leader in his
field but also to gain the perspective of someone in the arts about what leadership
means in Africa and how it translates to change the lives of communities. Often
when we speak of leadership, democracy, governance, and so on, we fail to
remember to include the perspectives of artists and creative arts professionals, yet
it is they who often lead the opinions of communities through their messages in
music, film, or other forms of art.
It took some time to get a date and time for the interview, and rightfully
so—he is a busy man. The day of the interview, his assistant came to pick me up
from my hotel. The studio was just a block or two away. We walked across, and
within a short while Mr. N’Dour arrived. He was accompanied by all his children,
who ran around the studio. As much as he is a global celebrity, he was down to
earth and “normal.” We took one of the offices for the interview, and without
much formal introduction, started the conversation around the questions I had
The main theme of this interview revolved around the role of artists in
development. Often in Africa, artists have not been recognized for their
contribution to the development of their communities; to a certain extent, it is
only recently that art has been recognized as a full-fledged profession. Yet, artists
are the soul of the community. It is they who—in the form of songs, writing, or
poetry—come forth as the voice of the people.
Leadership is often a result of the mission each person has: Each person
comes to the world with a mission, and it is each person’s initiative to achieve this
mission that brings out the leadership. When one has a mission, it is something
that is within us, something that is born with us, and although we may not know
why, we can find ourselves prisoners of our mission unless we step out and do
what we need to do to allow it to unfold. Some people might be reluctant to
follow their mission in life; other may not take time to reflect and allow this
mission to emerge. Such people might not always find peace, as inner peace is
achieved when one follows the triggers of one’s mission, regardless of the
challenges that might bring.
Participant 12—H. E. Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Former Minister of Education and
Current Head of the National Election Commission
The first time I had heard of Dr. Thorpe was in Sierra Leone at the onset
of the presidential election campaign when she was appointed to head the
National Electoral Commission. During the deliberation of election results in late
August 2007, the entire nation witnessed her in action. As she was about to read
out the results of the ballots and hence announce the winner of the elections, two
of the five members of the Election Committee resigned on the spot. Perhaps this
was an attempt to mar the process. Her reaction to this event was shared live
through the radio broadcast. Many of the election observers were expecting that
the resignation of the two members of the committee would bring havoc, but she
calmly announced that because three members remained, the commission still had
quorum and the process could continue. It was as simple—and as stunning—as
As the head of the National Electoral Commission, it is her integrity, her
unbiased views, and her commitment to excellence that substantially contributed
to the fair running of the election process. I was able to arrange for a meeting with
Dr. Thorpe through a friend, Francis Fortune, here in Freetown, Sierra Leone. At
the time I was available to conduct the interview, Dr. Thorpe was holding a
training workshop for her team, so the only time we could meet was during their
lunch break at a research institute on the outskirts of the city of Freetown. I
arrived there early and waited for the lunch break. Dr. Thorpe was punctual. She
greeted me kindly and we headed to an empty office where we sat and started to
talk about my research, had a brief introduction about my work, and started the
The interview resulted in a rich discussion, much of which is included in
the second part of the findings. Here, I bring forth the main point of her message:
Leadership starts with education first. It is essential that access to education is
available to many boys and girls in Africa, and ideally to all. It is through
education that the minds of children open. With guidance from adults in the
community, these children have the opportunity to grow into responsible adults,
able to serve their community and nations. Education is what opens horizons for
people; it is education that allows us to articulate our dreams and fulfill them. It
is also education that gives us the tools we need to exercise the leadership within
each of us. “Everyone has the potential to be a leader. We the community, the
parents, the teachers have to be there to guide our children in understanding their
potential and in encouraging them to follow through with their dreams”
Participant 13—Mr. Abdul Rahman Turay, Head of the Strategic Policy Unit at
State House and Principal Advisor to H. E. President Koroma of Sierra Leone
I met Mr. Turay during an assignment investigating the perspective of aid
recipient institutions on the effectiveness of multilateral aid agencies. At the end
of our meeting for that assignment, I spontaneously asked Mr. Turay if I could
contact him again to discuss the research I was doing on African leadership. I
followed up within days and sent him an email explaining the project and asking
if he would participate. We set up a meeting on a Sunday afternoon, and I came
ready to conduct the interview. I was already setting up the recording device,
when Mr. Turay asked me to put it away for a while until we had a chance to talk
a bit more. Well, we spoke for many more Sundays. Each Sunday, we would
discuss various topics related to leadership, economic growth, African history,
and so on. Each Sunday, Mr. Turay gave me a number of things to look up or to
read before the following meeting. We completed the interview, specifically for
this dissertation, in May 2009.
The discussion with Mr. Turay took several weeks, during which we
discussed a wide range of topics related to leadership—the interview was more of
a moment to summarize the discussions we held. Much of what Mr. Turay said is
included in the second section of the findings. To briefly summarize his main
points: Leadership involves vision, organizational ability, creativity, and the
ability to understand public opinion; and a key aspect of leadership is the leader’s
capacity or ability to gauge the right timing to execute decision.
Mr. Turay is one of the few participants who did not agree with me about
African leadership versus Western leadership. He said, “one should not be talking
about African leadership; one should be talking about leadership. Qualities you
find in leadership are universal.” In speaking about how leaders might be
groomed or prepared, his message was that leaders come forth in times of crisis or
rapid change. One cannot plan to be a leader; one can only respond to a situation
and take the lead in a way that feels right to him or her.
I have continued to work with Mr. Turay and often go back to him for
guidance and advice on the work I am doing in terms of building a platform for
exchange and peer support for young men and women leading in their respective
fields of work in Africa.
Participant 14—Mr. Tokyo Sexwale,
Businessman, Politician, and Former ANC Activist
In July 2009, I was in Johannesburg to continue and hopefully finalize my
interviews. I worked with close friends and colleagues, Kelo Kubu and Thati
Mokgoro, to try and secure some appointments for interviews. When I arrived in
Johannesburg, very few of the appointments were confirmed, and a number of
them had been canceled or postponed for various reasons. The situation did not
look very good, and I was worried that I had once more traveled in vain.
A few days after my arrival, Kelo took me to attend the annual Nelson
Mandela Lecture. This year, the speaker was Professor Mohamed Yunus of
Grameen Bank. After the lecture, where we had a surprise visit by Mr. Mandela,
there was a reception where participants could get refreshments, mingle, and
connect. This reception was a moment that further changed my outlook on
As Mr. Sexwale walked by, Thati and Kelo told me to go speak to him
immediately. I had not known of him before and was very reluctant to just walk
up unintroduced and ask for an interview. They insisted so strongly, however,
that I gathered my courage, a deep breath, and went to speak to him. I explained
where I came from and why I had traveled to South Africa, and asked him if he
would have time for an interview. He said, “Sure, let’s do it.” I froze in surprise,
and because I did not know if he meant now or later—I quickly realized that he
meant right now.
I fumbled through my bag and found the other bright yellow cotton bag
that was sewed for me on the street in Ethiopia. I kept my recording material in it
because it was offered to me by a young woman, Abebech, that used to live in my
parents’ home in Addis and was HIV positive. Abebech was a runner in school
but had to drop out of school when she became pregnant. Her dream of becoming
a runner never materialized. Before she passed on, she went to the market to have
a dozen such yellow bags made for me, so I could keep them in her memory. She
was and always will be very dear to me, so I keep my precious things in her
yellow bags. For my recording materials, I also trust that her blessings will help
me overcome my technology/electronics-challenged nature. My yellow bag
carried four more little satiny bags with girly decorations such as dangling pearly
beads, containing the cables and various parts of the machine neatly stored. July
in South Africa being cold, all the layers I was wearing made it difficult to be
swift. Throughout the process of me fumbling through, getting one bag after the
other out and trying to juggle it all, Mr. Sexwale was patiently standing there, at
times giving me a hand and holding some of the stuff I was pulling out of my
many bags. I was stressing because it was obvious that I am not very well
coordinated and am fully electronically challenged, even with my own equipment.
But he gave me time. I have no idea why. But he stood there almost
reassuring me to take my time and to relax. Maybe it was the spirit of Abebech
speaking to him in some way. I am certain that Spirit intervened. Finally, I sorted
the cables and wires of my recording equipment and tried to attach the
microphone to his coat. But before I could manage to clip the microphone on his
jacket, he grabbed the microphone in his hands, held it close up as if ready to
speak into it, and said, “Okay, this is how it is done. Let’s start.”
This is how the interview started. It was the shortest interview of all but
also one of the most paradigm-shaking. When I asked Mr. Sexwale about the
similarities and differences between African leaders and leaders from other
regions, his reply was simple. “I don’t believe in the concept of African leaders
and leaders from other regions. You have leaders, world leaders, regardless of the
region they come from.” This statement hit me like thunder. I remember thinking
how true this statement was and how not understanding or not being able to see
leadership from this perspective might limit a leader’s field of operation.
The other main idea that emerged out of the interview with Mr. Sexwale is
his point about courage and leadership: As he spoke about the various attributes
of leadership (e.g., vision, honesty, hard work, sincerity, humility, conviction,
persistence, etc.), he said that when all such attributes fall to the side, the one that
must remain is courage. It is not that a leader is never afraid or that a leader never
doubts—a leader is human, and doubt and fear are part of being human—but what
sets a leader apart from the rest is his or her ability to keep the courage to move
forward with and for his or her convictions. It was obvious that Mr. Sexwale was
speaking from personal experience. And although the interview did not last
nearly as long as the other interview, the exchange we had brought forth truths
about leadership that have changed and transformed me.
Participant 15—H. E. Justice Yvonne Mokgoro,
Chief Justice at the Constitutional Courts of South Africa
The first time I heard about Justice Mokgoro was in Arusha, Tanzania in
2007. A year later I met her in Johannesburg through my friends Kelo Kubu and
Thati Mokgoro. The first few times I met Justice Mokgoro, it was in a private
setting together with her son and daughter in law—I got to know her in the same
way one would know a parent of friends. In 2009, I had the opportunity to have
an appointment with her for an interview; during the interview, I came to know
her as the activist that she has always been.
As I said earlier, July is one of the coldest months in Southern Africa, and
Johannesburg is no exception to that. My appointment with Justice Mokgoro was
for 8:30am in her office at the Constitutional Court. She was one of the 11 judges
assigned to this court by Mr. Mandela. As usual I did not want to be late, so I
reached the building before 7:30 AM. Praise, the young taxi driver who drove me
to my appointment, is always punctual and each time he drops me off somewhere,
he wishes me good luck. I was very cold, so I was literally wearing most if not all
the clothes I had brought in my suitcase. I waited in the lobby. I had been told
about the history of the building, but nothing could have prepared me for the spirit
and energy that I felt inside.
Around 8:15 AM, a young lady came to escort me from the lobby to
Justice Mokgoro’s office. I was told she was on her way, delayed by traffic. It
wasn’t long before I heard her voice through the hallway, and she appeared as
energetic as ever, as if it was spring. I was still shivering despite my multiple
layers. She teased me a bit about not being able to deal with the cold, and shortly
after, we sat down to start the interview.
For the sake of time, I had already set up my recording machine and was
ready to start the interview right way. Her assistant had told me that I had a
maximum of 30 minutes. As I reached for my recorder, as many of the other
participants before her, she asked me to tell her a bit more about my research and
what I hoped to achieve. She asked me about my motivation for doing my work.
For some reason that I could not explain, her question triggered something I did
not expect. I did not anticipate the answer that was about to come out.
My answer to her question was directly related to my childhood and the
fact that my family had to leave home. For some reason, as I explained, emotions
took over and tears started rolling as if a tap had been opened somewhere in my
heart. Her question took me back in time: I envisioned my sisters and me on our
first day of school in Brussels, in a place that was very strange to us. I could see
us in the dark and cold morning, all dressed up and with hands and faces so
properly creamed that we shined from the lotion applied. Although Belgium was
good to us and received us well, I remembered how I felt in those days. I was not
sure how welcome we were in this new country; I did not know how long we
would have to stay or how long it would take for the situation in our own country
to get better so we could go home. At the same time, I also knew that the option
to go home to the compound where I grew up was not an option. So, in my
perfectly well pressed school clothes, with perfectly shiny faces, and with
perfectly polite behavior, I remember sitting in front of the school principal’s
office, my hands clasped together and my feet criss-crossed under the chair, with
a million questions about our future. I sat there, finally conscious that a part of
me—the part of me that ran up and down my grandmother’s garden, with
laughter, mischief, and freedom—had to die. I knew it was over.
As I was following this “regression” in time, for lack of a better word, I
forgot about the interview. I forgot. As I explained what I was seeing to Justice
Mokgoro, I told her that I am doing my research to understand why such
uprooting and separations happen and how through improved leadership we can
find a future where families stay together. By this time, my eye liner had run, the
box of tissue had found its way to my side, and instead of doing the interview, I
found myself in a deep conversation with Justice Mokgoro where she, too, shared
with me why she does the work she does, why she stands for human rights and
justice. Justice Mokgoro and I sat there—in her spotless office meticulously and
tastefully decorated, in this building that witnessed so much tragedy in the days of
apartheid and that today represented the power of transformation sourced by the
power of vision, the power of forgiveness, and the power of hope. In an
unexpected way we were connecting at a deep level through the stories of our
lives, inviting each other to the box of tissues as one would invite guests to more
cookies at a fancy tea party. Time had stopped for me; I just soaked in the
moment. And the feeling took my breath away.
Possibly in response to what happened, Justice Mokgoro also entered a
space of reflection, and started telling me about the meaning of not only the Court
system but also of the building as a building of transformation. Once, it had been
used by the apartheid government as a place to hold trials, to detain and even
torture activists fighting against apartheid.
Our conversation took much of the time allocated for the interview. But
thankfully, the next appointment was running late, so her assistant was able to
allow me some extra time to carry out the interview.
A substantial amount of new knowledge came out of the interview, much
of which is in the second section of the findings. Broadly speaking, this interview
brought another angle to leadership that related to justice, human rights, and the
law in service of the people. Justice Mokgoro also mentioned the need for
courage for one to be able to exercise leadership with integrity. Many times, a
leader is confronted with making the right decision (which might not please the
community) and making a decision that is less than right (which would make the
community or some members of the community happy). In such times, especially
in the field and work of legislature, law, and justice, leaders have to find the
courage to make that right decision despite the fact that it is an unpopular
decision. Leadership is about the courage to stand for our convictions. It’s about
not being afraid to stand alone for the sake of our vision and our truth.
Participant 16—Mr. Ahmed Kathrada,
Senior African National Congress Official, Former Cabinet Minister in the
Mandela Government, and Lifelong Political Activist
At the Nelson Mandela reception, I also met Mr. Kathrada. Again, it was
Thati and Kelo who insisted that I go and present myself. Once again, I had to
gather my courage, approach someone I did not know, and ask for an interview. I
am almost felt like a child being pushed forward by a parent. I walked up to Mr.
Kathrada and said, “Excuse me, sir.” “Yes.” “My name is Yene; I am visiting
from Sierra Leone,” I continued. “Yes” he said again, looking at me, wondering
what in the world I was up to. “I am doing research on African leadership, and
can I have an interview with you?” I blurted out. No reply. “I promise I will not
be more than 30 minutes, or even less if you don’t have time. In fact, we can do
the interview right now,” I continued. “I am traveling soon—I don’t think I can
have time,” he finally said. “Thank you very much, sir,” I replied. I did not want
to insist. Then he said that I should get in touch with his Personal Assistant, Sahm
Venter, and see if she could work something out for me. One thing led to another,
and Sahm happened to be not too far away. I exchanged details with her, and
again repeated that I would be very short. She told me that if he granted me an
interview, it would be for a couple of hours.
Almost a week went by before I heard from the office of Mr. Kathrada. I
was hoping they would call or email. I somehow knew that his Sahm would do
her best, and that if he had time, the interview would happen. And if it did not
happen, I was not going to take it personally. By the time I heard from Sahm, I
had done a bit of research.
Mr. Kathrada was among the six senior members of the ANC, including
Nelson Mandela, who were tried and sentenced to life in prison at the famous
Rivonia trials. “In the Robben Island prison register, Nelson Mandela was
famously recorded as prisoner number 466/64. Number 468/64 was Ahmed
Kathrada” (Kathrada, 2009, as summarized by GoogleBooks, n.d.). He spent 26
years at Robben Island. After his release and the establishment of the new South
Africa, he joined the government of President Nelson Mandela and was appointed
political advisor to the President (Kathrada, interview, 2005).
On the day of the interview, which was set for 9:00 AM, I arrived, again
much earlier in order not to be late. Once more, it was Praise who drove me to the
appointment. Upon arrival at his condominium complex, I called Sahm to inform
her that I would be waiting in the lobby. She called me back shortly after to tell
me that I could come up and start the interview, even though it was earlier than
scheduled. His home reminded me of the home of my own senior uncles and
aunts. I felt comfortable. I was thankful to have the opportunity to talk to him.
We spoke, did the interview, and exchanged stories of our lives. I stayed
until well past 1:00pm. As I left his apartment, my head was spinning from all
that I had learned. I headed straight to the bookstore to purchase the books he had
recommended on the history of South Africa and the times of apartheid.
I spent a whole morning with Mr. Kathrada, and my interview with him
was life-changing. What can I possibly say about how I felt to listen to Mr.
Kathrada, a veteran activist engaged in political activism since the age of eight? I
can only say that I was deeply moved in ways that I did not even expect. I feel a
combination of admiration, gratitude, and immense awe for the courage and
determination that he embodies.
The interview with Mr. Kathrada was by far the longest interview and one
of the richest in terms of material. It is difficult to summarize the main points of
our discussion in a few lines—the discussion could be a short book by itself. So, I
focus on what struck me most from the interview.
As some other participants had mentioned, Mr. Kathrada also said that
leaders are born out of crisis: It is the response to crisis that gives individuals the
strength, the courage, and at times the madness to go out and stand up for a cause.
It is the crisis that brings out the leader in each person. For Mr. Kathrada, a man
who began as a political activist at the age of eight years old, leadership was not
something he learned, but something that was part of his life given his activities in
the fight against apartheid.
I asked Mr. Kathrada what others could learn from the South African
experience, and his reply was unexpected: “I don’t know what can and cannot
work for others; I know our story and why we did what we did.” There is a lesson
to be learned from his answer in that our strength is also in our ability to know
what we know and differentiate between that and what we know we don’t know.
In speaking about his life in prison, I learned from the interview that it was
the mindset, the convictions to the cause, and the resilience that each of the
political prisoners had that allowed them to keep each other alive, stay physically
and mentally healthy, and most of all, not breaking. This is leadership, born out
of extreme suffering—the crucible of leadership, as Bennis and Thomas (2002)
refer to it.
Participant 17—Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa,
Businessman, ANC Official, and Former Politician
Justice Mokgoro helped me get an appointment with Mr. Ramaphosa.
During my visit to Johannesburg, South Africa in July 2009, my friends, Kelo and
Thati, had a Sunday brunch at their place; Thati’s mother, Justice Mokgoro, was
there. In the midst of grandchildren running around, sons, daughters, friends
arriving, leaving, chatting, eating, and so on, she took some time to speak about
my research. This was before I went to interview her in her office. She promised
to recommend some individuals whom I should meet and possibly support me
with an introduction so I could set up interviews. She told me that the following
Tuesday she would be meeting with Mr. Ramaphosa, and she would tell him
about my research and possibly try to have a meeting set up for me. She did,
however, also warn me that it usually takes many months to get an appointment
with him. She asked me, just in case it would be possible to take 15-20 minutes
out of her meeting with him and allocate the time for me, I should not leave home
Tuesday and should wait for her call.
On Monday, I called the Executive Secretary of the Africa Forum,
Professor John Tesha, to follow up on possible interviews with some of the Forum
members. He had no time to meet as he was heading to Botswana for a day and on
his return he would be going on mission to Ethiopia. One option, he said, might
be to join him on the day trip to Botswana, and we could use the driving time to
talk. In addition, since he was heading to Botswana was for a meeting with
Botswana’s Former President H.E. Masire, a member of the Africa Forum, there
might be a chance for me to also have an interview. If I joined him on this trip,
however, I would be missing the chance for my possible interview with Mr.
Ramaphosa and not keeping my promise to stay home to wait for Justice
Mokgoro’s call. On the other hand, if I did not take up his offer for a possible
interview with H. E. Masire, I might be losing a chance to have input from one of
Africa’s most stable and economically sound countries.
I had to make a decision. It was late afternoon. I decided to go for
Botswana. The next day at 4:00am, Praise arrived to take me from Johannesburg
to Pretoria where I would be meeting Professor Tesha. We started driving to
The Africa Forum is an organization that has brought together all Former
African Heads of States and Government.
Gaborone at 5:00am for the 10:00am meeting. We had a smooth road and arrived
in Gaborone in good time. However, once there, the person who was supposed to
lead us to the meeting was nowhere to be found. We could not reach him by
phone, as his phone was off. I found myself in Gaborone, at 10:00am with a
canceled meeting. Should I have stayed in Johannesburg? Did I make the right
I knew that one way or another, if I was in Gaborone instead of
Johannesburg, it might be how things were supposed to happen. Later in the day,
I found out that we could not drive back to South Africa and would have to wait
for the next day. So, now, not only was I not in Johannesburg as expected, I
would be stuck in Gaborone overnight and would only be back in South Africa by
the end of the day on Wednesday. However, what appeared to be a mess on the
surface, emerged as something possibly orchestrated by Spirit.
In the late afternoon, after having arranged for accommodation, Professor
Tesha and I met with some of his colleagues based in Gaborone. It is at this time
that I met the Rt. Dr. Trevor Mwamba, the Bishop of Botswana (discussed
below). The rest of the time in Gaborone passed without incident, and on the next
day, we drove back to Johannesburg. Once there, I found out that Justice
Mokgoro had called to inform me that the meeting with Mr. Ramaphosa would be
on Friday. I was relieved to know that I had not missed my chance and that my
unexpected journey to Botswana was without consequences for my work in South
On Friday, I reached the office of Mr. Ramaphosa just past 7:00am, in
plenty of time for my 8:00am appointment. Once more Praise drove me to my
appointment. There were ladies cleaning the entrance and the lobby. They
welcomed me and settled me in the conference room. I set up the recording
machine, took out my notes, and started going over the questions. I had been told
that I would have thirty minutes maximum; I had to be ready to hit the ground
A little before 8:00am, I remember just looking at the door thinking that I
would have to start my introduction anytime now. But no one came in. After what
seemed an hour (but in fact was just 20 minutes), Mr. Ramaphosa’s assistant,
Melanie Spencer, walked in. We had been communicating by phone and email in
the past days to get the appointment time settled. She shook my hand. Her hands
were freezing cold. “Did you just come in?” I asked. I could see that she also was
not a cold weather person. “Mr. Ramaphosa will be a little delayed—just make
yourself comfortable and he should be with you soon.” On this note, I took out the
book I was reading and just sat back, waiting.
Mr. Ramaphosa came in some thirty minutes later. He was dressed in
casual, stylish clothes—a thick sweater and jacket, all black. He welcomed me
and greeted me with kindness. I rushed to explain what I was hoping to achieve in
the thirty minutes and as I continued to turn my little machine on, he asked me to
take a few minutes to tell him a bit more about my research, my reasons for doing
this research, and some background on where I was coming from. This threw me
off without a doubt. And once more for reasons I cannot explain, my reply to his
question came as a complete surprise to me. “What part of my background do
you want to know?” I asked. “Whatever you think is relevant,” he answered.
That is when I heard myself saying “Well, my story—my story started in
Ethiopia, when I was born….” I could not believe I just said that. And I could not
believe I started on this route. No need to say I spent the rest of the time
explaining my journey, telling my story, speaking about back home and my
family’s move to Belgium, my attempt to go home and set up a dairy farm, my
adventure in the music business in an effort to raise funds to get my farm started,
all the events leading up to this moment where I was sitting in his office asking
for an interview. Just about the time I was going to be through explaining,
Melanie walked in reminding me that I had only a few minutes left.
Having had the time and the chance to have a meeting set up with a person
with whom it takes six months to a year to get an appointment, I could not believe
that I had spent the time talking and doing nothing about the interview. I did not
want to impose or take up more of his time, so I suggested that we could meet in a
few days, maybe over the weekend. He said he had to attend a meeting and
would not be available.
I was glad for the meeting, even though I did not record any of the
conversation. In any case, that would have been irrelevant, I thought, since the
conversation was not led by the questions I had prepared. We ended the meeting
The meeting he was talking about was the visit of senior ANC officials to
Nelson Mandela’s Residence on Saturday July 18, 2009 for his 91st birthday. On
that Friday the 17th of July, I had no idea I would also be at the same event.
with the intention of completing the interview in the coming months on my next
visit to South Africa.
And then as we walked out and said goodbye, Mr. Ramaphosa said
something that struck me: “Now, that we know each other, we can work
together.” The entire time that I thought I had missed my chance to do my
interview, I had not realized that our entire conversation was a lesson in building
relatedness in order to allow the establishment of a ground to work together.
Mr. Ramaphosa is world-renowned for his mastery of negotiation skills. In
this short time of less than an hour, I learned the importance of getting to know
each other in order to be able to work together. I promised to return to South
Africa by October or November to complete the interview. We agreed on that and
said goodbye. However, I did not go to South Africa as planned. The passing of
my grandmother, Almazesha, changed many of my plans. I will be meeting Mr.
Ramaphosa in July 2010 to complete the interview. The meeting has been set.
And although that interview will be too late for the dissertation, I feel the
conversation I had with him so far is substantial enough for me to draw meaning,
lessons, and insights. As far as the lessons of leadership from Mr. Ramaphosa, I
draw on the conversations we have had to share the message that he passed on to
me. Organic Inquiry allows for such an approach through the process of entering a
sacred space to unfold the research:
[w]hether unstructured or semi-structured, the Organic researchers aims to
allow participants’ stories to unfold in a natural way….The interview is
conversational, and mutually disclosing such that the artificial barriers
between the investigator and the participants dissolve into two coresearchers looking together at the experience of interest. (Curry & Wells,
2003, p. 96)
As one of the outcomes from this dissertation research, my aim is to
compile all of the interviews and conversations I have had not only with my
participants but also with many other individuals in the process of this research
and publish a book of leadership stories and lessons I have learned through my
journey. I hope to call the book True Leaders’ Time Travel. The upcoming
interview with Mr. Ramaphosa will be for me the last interview regarding this
dissertation but the first to start the process of putting together the book on lessons
learned. He will be the bridge between the two journeys.
Participant 18—H. E. Dr. Trevor Mwamba, Archbishop of Botswana
My encounter with the Archbishop Dr. Mwamba in Gaborone in July 2009
happened through pure serendipity. I met him during the trip to Botswana that I
mentioned above in relation to my meeting with Mr. Ramaphosa. I was hoping to
have the input from spiritual leaders in my research. I had already interviewed
Reverend Dr. Themistocles in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and now I was presented
with an opportunity to have the input of a spiritual leader from the Southern
African region.
I told the Archbishop about my research during the conversation we had
over dinner. He told me about the work he has been doing in civil society and
how, while he is an Archbishop and a spiritual leader, a lot of his work revolves
around economic and human development. The background could not have been
better as far as my research was concerned, and so I asked him if he would be
willing to be one of my participants. I felt that he should be part of this research
project not only because of his work in civil society, but also because of his
former career as a human rights lawyer and his role in the community as both a
spiritual figure and a development practitioner.
Dr. Mwamba has an unusual and fascinating background. He is Zambian
by birth and was born into a family of political and spiritual leaders in Zambia:
his father was a well established politician and his mother a recognized spiritual
leader. He told me that he was torn between studying law, going into politics, or
serving the Church. He first graduated in law from Oxford University and then
continued to study theology, which led him eventually to his current position as
We tried to have the interview in Gaborone in July 2009, but time did not
permit; we then planned to meet in Pretoria during my intended visit in October
2009, but that also did not occur due to other engagements. Finally, we conducted
the interview by telephone in September 2009. Through the interview with the
Archbishop, I was able to add depth on the perspectives of spiritual leaders on the
issue of African leadership. He was able to answer the questions I had prepared in
a very pragmatic way with a clear spiritual lens.
The main theme of the interview was a discussion about leadership from
the perspective of theology, politics, and development. One of the main ideas was
that when one speaks of servant leadership, the prerequisite to such leadership is
first the recognition that all beings are creatures of God. And as servants of God,
our responsibility—in any religion—is to serve God by loving one another. It is
this love that can lead us to naturally want to serve. Our ability to see divinity in
one another is what enables us to forgive. Service and forgiveness are
cornerstones of leadership, without which a leader might reduce himself or herself
to far less than what one can be and achieve.
Participant 19—H. E. Dr. Amos Sawyer, Former President of Liberia
I first met H. E. Dr. Sawyer at the General Assembly of the Africa Forum,
which I attended through the invitation from H. E. Kaunda to meet his “retiree
friends.” Dr. Sawyer was the President of the Interim Government of National
Unity in Liberia (November 22, 1990–March 7, 1994). In the period following the
abduction and subsequent killing of President Samuel Doe, Prince Johnson and
Charles Taylor both made claims to the presidency, but in an emergency meeting
held in the Gambia in 1990 and attended by 35 Liberians representing 7 political
parties and 11 interest groups, Dr. Sawyer was voted in as the interim President.
He was appointed for one year first; later, his appointment extended during the
civil war fought against the rebels, who were led by Charles Taylor.
After the Africa Forum meeting, I contacted H. E. Dr. Sawyer through
email asking him if he would be willing to give me an interview. Once H. E. Dr.
Sawyer replied positively, I tried to see how I could find a way to travel where he
would be. It was my luck that he had just traveled to Monrovia, Liberia from the
United States. I planned to go and see him there, but circumstances did not
permit. Finally for the sake of time, we set out to have the interview by phone.
In the end, the interview took place by teleconference. H. E. Dr. Sawyer
was well aware of the Internet challenges I might encounter and gave me ample
time to try to connect to him using Skype. The main themes of our discussion
revolved around what it takes to help our children grow into becoming the kind of
leaders needed to serve African communities and nations. H. E. Dr. Sawyer’s
thoughts were to start by making sure that children are taught values from a very
early age, and that they develop to be adults with integrity who are committed to
do the right thing. This integrity and commitment to do the right thing should not
be because someone is watching them or because they are trying to get
somewhere, but rather because integrity and doing the right thing serve for the
creation of greater good.
In Africa especially, we have to teach our children to develop a sense of
discipline, self control, dedication to work, and determination to focus on
what it is they need to do and to be committed to do it well.”
Our children, who are the future leaders, have to understand that while it is
normal to take care of our individual needs, we also have to give equal attention
to addressing the needs of the greater society.
In addition to the above, it is also our responsibility as parents to instill in
our children an appreciation of our identity, culture, and traditions. This might be
especially important for children who grow up outside of Africa and who might
not understand the life and ways of Africa as do children who grow up in Africa.
The discussion we had regarding the challenge of African leaders, the role
of regional institutions, and the personal aspect of H. E. Dr. Sawyer’s life as a
leader can be found in part two of this chapter.
Participant 20—H. E. Dr. K. Y. Amoako,
Former Undersecretary General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of
the Economic Commission for Africa, and Current CEO and Founder of the
African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET)
I have known Mr. Amoako for many years. When he was the United
Nations Undersecretary and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission
for Africa, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I came to know him as an African
leader, as an innovator, and also as a close family friend. A lot of what Dr.
Amoako has done in his career in the context of African development has always
been on the cusp of the future. I recently heard from the team at ACET that
reporters call him a “game changer.”
Dr. Amoako’s career has not been an easy one. It is never easy when one
is committed to creativity, to solutions, to innovations. Back in 2003–2004, he
was one of the first senior African officials to welcome and endorse my vision to
apply the integral approach to leadership development in Africa. He was willing
to hear me out and give me a chance to show that which I was so convinced of.
As I started this fieldwork and the rounds of interviews, I did my best to
communicate with him several times and try to arrange an interview. And each
time without fail, we did not manage to arrange for a meeting. We kept on
missing each other by days across the cities in which we traveled. I finally gave
up hope of having him as a participant research. And then, once I had reached a
stage of completion with my dissertation and was about to arrange for the review
of my first draft, I was contacted by an organization based in Holland to be the
moderator for their workshop in Ethiopia. They wanted to work with me,
specifically. As Freetown is remote on the flight routes, I had to fly through
Accra, Ghana, to catch my flight to Addis Ababa. I took a chance and wrote a
short email to Mr. Amoako asking if he would be in town, and if so, whether he
would have time to see me for an interview.
Mr. Amoako had just been in the process of setting up and launching an
organization focusing on economic transformation: the African Center for
Economic Transformation (ACET). The launch of ACET had him traveling
extensively, so he was rarely in one place; even when he was in town, he was
always tied up in meetings. His reply came to me after I had reached Addis
Ababa. He was in town and would have time to see me. But on my side, I could
not see him as my connection for the return flight would not allow me extra time.
Once more, I thought I lost my chance—and then I realized that I had misread my
ticket. I had in fact a day in Accra. I wrote back to him immediately. We agreed
to meet. We set a time. As soon as I landed in Accra, I took a cab and headed to
his office. I did not want to miss the chance to have an interview with him.
Once in his office, I realized that my recording machine was in my large
suitcase that was checked through to Freetown. Once more, I had to find a way to
trust that in partnership with Spirit, I would find a way to record the interview.
Thankfully, his executive assistant had a digital recorder. I was nervous
throughout the interview that the machine might not record, but tried to stay
focused on my questions and the interview. In the end, everything worked out.
His executive assistant promised to get me the recording on CD before I left
Accra. As promised, the next day I was met at the airport by someone from ACET
office who handed me the interview on a CD. Finally, after all these events, I was
happy to know that Dr. Amoako’s input became part of my research.
Dr. Amoako has always stood for bold and innovative leadership as a
strategy to boost African economic and human development. In the interview, he
spoke of leadership with vision, leadership where the leader knows clearly where
to take their nation, or the continent for that matter. It is about leadership that not
only inspires but also shows the way, sets and communicates the big picture to
others in a way that others can understand, share, join, and participate in.
Leadership is about transformation, about individuals not accepting where
they are and thinking that they can do much, much better. It’s about challenging
the status quo for something better, for a new reality based on a vision. The
boldness is in the vision—it’s in the objectives a leader sets and in the clear sense
of determination to achieve those goals (Dr. Amoako, interview).
Vision, innovation, and boldness are what might make some individuals
be great leaders. However, these same great leaders might fail, despite their
greatness, unless they believe in themselves and their vision, can inspire, and can
get the people behind them. Unless leaders have these attributes, they run the risk
of not achieving their goals and possibly failing—no matter how great they are
(Dr. Amoako, interview).
The interesting fact is that often we see leaders as great after the fact—
after they have achieved something. Society judges great leaders by what they
have achieved, which is something already done; hence, one could argue that
great leaders cannot fail. We might have to consider the issue of great leaders
succeeding or failing from a different angle. It might be about how a leader
achieves something or fails to try to achieve something, and how s/he draws
lessons from the experience. A good example might be Kwame Nkrumah, who is
a great leader. While Nkrumah remains a great leader for what he has achieved in
his lifetime, if we were to judge him on what he set out to achieve, we might not
say that he is a great leader because he did not achieve the vision and goals he set
out to reach. We have to consider other angles to gauge the success or failure of
leaders in order to have a true appreciation of a leader’s competences (Dr.
Amoako, interview).
Because of the personal relationship I have with Dr. Amoako, we were
able to get deeper into the issues of the interview. The session was a combination
of a conversation, a reflection, and an intention to look at what else is possible for
Africa. It was also a moment to unpack the opportunities that great leadership
could offer as well as the obstacles that are to be expected in the process of
building up the kind of leadership that the continent needs.
Introduction to the Themes of the Findings
In Organic Inquiry, the researcher’s responsibility is to only move forward
with steps that resonate with one’s inner being; together with Spirit, this allows
the researcher to find the clues, signs, and hints to unravel the answers to the
inquiry. In my case, once clarity around the step forward was established, the
stories flowed out effortlessly and naturally.
I thought of many different ways to start the discussion of the themes of
the findings, and after many days of reflection, I decided to start with a quote
from one of Ethiopia’s greatest, a woman referred to as “a Warrior of Peace, a
Warrior of Transformation.” This Elder Leader is Almaz Haile-Mariam
(Almazesha), my grandmother. I bring her message with a spirit of reverence to
all the leaders, the giants, and the souls that have brought our nations and
communities this far in history, and with a spirit of gratitude to all the leaders who
have given me their time and encouragement and who have shared their stories
with me.
I call for the Elders to anoint and bless the process by which I am
delivering their message so that the message I bring forth is heard, understood,
and taken up by the current and next generation of leaders in Africa and the world
in a way that best serves humanity.
Here is what Almazesha said to me when I asked her what leadership is
and how she would define a leader. I did not know then that this would be the last
time I would see her, but it turned out so.
One’s leadership qualities and competences are not, as many might think,
gauged by the level of force and strength the leader shows. Nor is it about
how tough one can be, but rather about how tolerant and understanding
one is. One is judged by mankind, by history, and by God by the virtue of
how many lives one has touched and how many smiles one has brought
onto the faces of the destitute, how much comfort one has brought to the
desperate, and how often one has reached out to the lonely and those who
society may have forgotten. It is our ability to lead by example, to stand
for justice and human rights at all times that will move our communities
forward. It is our capacity to remain mindful of our spirit and to forgive
and to love—despite the temptation of the flesh to hate and fight—that
will allow us to overcome the greatest challenges our people face. This is
how it has always been and it is how it will always be. Have good spirit,
work hard, believe in humanity, remain wrapped in humility, anchor
yourself in resilience, have the courage it takes even if you are afraid—to
step forward and be counted. And of course, don’t take life so seriously;
all things will pass. Never forget to laugh because only laughter and
humor enrich your good days, but also reinforce your spirit through tough
times. (Almaz Haile-Mariam, personal communication, April 2009)
It might take the next generation of leaders serious and conscious effort,
mindful courage, much resilience, and compassion to fill the shoes of the giants
who have brought the African continent not only to independence from
colonialism, but also to success in sustaining communities despite all the armed
conflicts and natural disasters. The leaders Africa has had in the past fifty years
have been leaders with a cause: some fought for independence and others for
peace, freedom, and equal rights. In all cases, these men and women worked
relentlessly to ensure the welfare of their communities and nations in a selfless
and empathetic, yet courageous and strategic way. The current leaders of the
continent and those who will take up the torch will be working in an environment
that is completely different from that in which the Elder leaders worked. What
will be the cause the next generation leaders stand for? Will it be economic
independence? Will it be protection of the natural resources or mitigating armed
conflicts? Will it be about poverty alleviation or about the persistent epidemics
like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria? Or will it be all of it?
Ours is a conflicting time: we have the information age where the world
has become a virtual village; we are in an age of financial crisis and resource
depletion; and we are also in a time where Africa’s population demographics are
unusual. In 2008, out of an estimated 967 million Africans, about 400 million
(42%) of the population was under the age of 15—this youthful population age
structure presents an opportunity for growth (Africa Population, 2008). In
addition, Africa is also a continent with immense natural resources and ample
land ready for development.
In such a circumstance, the question is how our current and future leaders
will choose to work together to ensure that all nations on this continent reach a
level of development that affords the basic living conditions for communities
across the continent. How will we work in order to have peace, stability, health,
and education as well as prosperity and opportunity? How will we be part of the
global community working toward global welfare? Will we choose to remain
recipients of aid and the underdogs of development or will we as people come
together to harmonize our efforts, rise beyond our challenges, and create a new
reality? These are all issues that depend on the quality of leadership we are able to
emerge as individuals and also as a collective.
In the following sections, I share the themes that emerged among the
thoughts, perspectives, and reflections of the Senior leaders I interviewed.
A Requiem for My Teacher, My Guide, and My Mentor
Today I start writing the findings of my research.
Today I start reflecting on the messages bestowed on me.
Today I feel ready to come forth and tell the stories I have been told,
Ready to come to terms with what I have learned
and how that will without a doubt transform me.
Today I have to assume my own leadership and stand tall
in the way my grandmother raised me;
For today, I was told she passed on.
And today marks a day of passage for me. It’s Meskal in my country.
It’s Meskal in my heart.
A time to become that which I have been raised to be;
It is time to show all the love I have received,
Be the compassion and empathy I have been blessed with.
It is time to tell what the Elders have told me.
My tummy feels empty. There is a nostalgic yet serene sadness within me;
At the same time, I feel pride in what I have learned
I feel blessed to have known those I have known.
I feel blessed and lucky to have lived in these times,
And shared knowledge from the source of wisdom.
Today is the day that I have gone through the point of no return,
The point when one must rise above all chaos and assume one’s role
in one’s world and system.
Today Almazesha passed on.
She had told me she would be going, just about a week ago.
She said it in a dream. I failed to interpret.
Although she may be gone from the world of the flesh,
I will keep forever the gems of wisdom, the pearls of compassion,
the strength of her courage, the laughter in her voice, and the sparkles in her eyes.
And I hope that when I see her again,
I hope she will tell me: “My child, you have done well.”
So today I sit anew, as if for the first time, to assume my role of messenger,
And I am here to tell you the stories of wisdom the Elders have passed on.
Almazesha, I am because we were, we are, and always will be.
–Yene Assegid, September 27, 2009
Leadership: Universal Perspectives
In this section, I present findings on leadership in three sections. First, I
consider how participants defined leadership and identified what makes a leader.
Then I present participant views of the qualities of African leaders as compared to
leaders from other regions. The third section discusses the leadership role of
regional African institutions, and the discussion closes with a consideration of
participant views on whether a great leader can fail.
Defining What Makes a Leader
Understanding the factors that can be attributed to the making of a leader
emerged as an essential step in my inquiry. Certain attributes (i.e., inherent
qualities and characteristics, individual features that serve to identify aspects of a
personality) were mentioned by most of the participants, with subtle details,
differences, and descriptions offered that added precision to the picture. In the
process of exploring the facets and attributes of leadership, it is noteworthy to
maintain a distinction regarding leadership attributes in terms of whether the
attributes are universal, African-continent specific, or national-context specific.
This distinction later allows more clarity in the discussion and conclusions
regarding African leadership.
Vision Steeped in Local Context But Broad in Scope
Participants agreed a leader is someone with a broad vision that extends in
both time and space but that is also deeply rooted in an understanding of local
people and local conditions.
The leader sees beyond what the people he is leading see. He sees their
immense potential and through the gift of leadership which he or she
has—the gift of seeing beyond the people. So, he can see the long term.
He tries to draw people to become what they ought to become. He is a
seer with ability to see beyond the present. He can look at the situation
and perceive what the consequence of that situation in the future. He or
she might even be like a prophet. (Mwamba, interview)
Being able to see holistically the extent and scale of the situation and also being
able to envision what might arise at the horizon allows the leader to not only
accommodate everyone within the community but also to ensure their respective
welfare both in the present and in the future (Haile-Mariam, interview). This
broader perspective allows the leader to encourage the community to make the
necessary sacrifices, to bring out the necessary courage, and to work a step harder
to reach the common goals for everyone’s benefit. A leader is someone who can
think beyond today and into the future while keeping history and the past in mind
(Haile-Mariam, interview).
Connection with the local people and their situation is an essential element
in this vision. The leader is one that has a deep understanding of the cultural and
societal values of the community in which he or she operates (Haile-Mariam,
I like leaders who listen a lot. You can’t lead people if you have not heard
them. You have to know their concerns, the things that matter to them. So,
you listen and if they need help you know what kind of help to give.
(Gabianu, interview)
In a small community referred to as the “Maja People” that lives in the central
Africa region, the totem of the King is a rabbit; this is to emphasize the
importance, through the symbolic, big rabbit ears, how important it is for the
leader to listen to all members of the community before making a decision
(Mwamba, interview). A leader develops her own conceptions of what the general
community interest is, the interest of the collective in which she lives (Mayaki,
This synergy between broad vision and deep local connection was
identified as an important factor of leadership. “As leaders, we have to envision
the future, but the key is in our ability to anchor ourselves in the present and
having a creative tension between the present and the future” (Gueye, interview).
This capacity to envision and project the future based on the current reality might
be what allows society and leaders to take steps and measures to ensure the kind
of future they hope for. This kind of process would also allow leaders to avoid
certain predictable tragic consequences
(Haile-Mariam, interview).
Societal Influence
Participants agreed that society plays a role in the creation of great leaders,
and that this was an important consideration. While every society has ways of
producing its leaders, the challenge is when the old ways of producing leaders no
Haile-Mariam was alluding to how at times governments would want to bring
on ethnic division within the nation and the society, as was done in Ethiopia.
These ethnic divisions are the ones that often result in a disaggregation of the
societal fabric, or in worse cases, in brutal internal conflict and civil war as in
longer work for us: Times have changed, the world has changed, and things have
turned around, and yet we are “kind of stuck.” Socialization is how we produce
the people with a vision, courage, and a sense of sacrifice who will step up to lead
us in times of challenge (Aidoo, interview).
Several participants offered historical examples of the effect of societal
influence on how leaders develop. In many traditional societies, such as in Ghana,
the definition of a leader was a very militaristic one—the Asantehene had to be
someone who could lead the Ashanti people to war, and the system was designed
to produce such leaders. This system also crossed the gender line; one of the great
leaders in Ghana among the Ashanti peoples was a woman
(Aidoo, interview).
In the colonial period, other types of leaders were produced that could address the
challenges that our societies at that time. Ghana needed a Kwame Nkrumah for
the anti-colonial struggle and early years after independence, and specifically, his
features as a very charismatic, intelligent, and firm leader. The features of that
particular leadership were different from subsequent forms of leadership that
subsequent periods called for; later, Ghana needed more a leader who could listen,
would be more connected to the people, and would follow the people as opposed
to constantly mobilizing them (Aidoo, interview).
Similarly, in the history of Ethiopia, there have been many powerful
leaders, male warriors and Kings, but also women warriors and Queens. In the
Ethiopian tradition young people were recruited for training in martial arts and
The Queen Mother Yaa Asantewa (1850–1921) led her people into battle and
fought the British before being captured and sent into exile on the Seychelles
war strategies based on early signs of leadership competences; these same young
people were also taught the Holy teachings of the Bible to instill in them the fear
of God and a belief in justice and the importance of human rights. The leaders
needed at that time were leaders to defend the country from invaders, and so a lot
of the process to teach leadership focused on that particular capacity (HaileMariam, interview).
Participants agreed that what we consider to be a good leader varies and is
subject to the mythology in which the leader emerges. In some contexts we need
someone who can listen and bring us together, and in another context we need
someone who can draw the line and says: “this is where we are going and that’s
it!” Leadership qualities are important, but only in relation to the context (Aidoo,
What makes a leader is always formed given certain pre-suppositions of
who you are and what your training or background is and what your
beliefs are. For example if you ask Mao Tse Tung, he would say that a
leader’s power comes out of the barrel of a gun—that would be his
understanding of how power begins. Whereas if you ask someone that is a
Christian and has other values, then a completely different understanding
of leadership would arise from that particular person. (Themistocles,
In Senegalese society a good leader would be someone who can champion
dialogue and negotiation, because in the Senegalese society dialogue and
negotiations are part of the mythology; it is part of who they are (Aidoo,
interview). In Ethiopia, the society sees a good leader as someone with
perspective, one that is fair and just, and one that is especially humble and modest
(Haile-Mariam, interview).
Participants also discussed the duty of the society to groom leaders, and
enable them to particularly not only appreciate peace but also be able to see the
tangible value of peace for mankind (Samara, interview). It is normal to take the
necessary measure to defend oneself and one’s nation, but it is essential never to
forget that leadership is not war. War destroys everything that our forefathers
have built for centuries within days; the greatest leaders are those who can handle
even situations of war in a very humane, intelligent, and solution-oriented way
(Samara, interview). If we emphasize and reward goodness, if we show in our
behavior and action good deed, we are bound to create a community that thrives
on positive behavior. This is linked to the kind of leaders that society/community
would have and the commitment the society would have to stick with its values
and pass it on to its young generation (Aidoo, interview; Haile-Mariam,
interview; Ouedraogo, interview; Samara, interview).
Societal influence on leadership development was seen as highly
important. When we think of influencing the emergence of leadership, then it is
within our responsibility to ensure that there are suitable frameworks and
environments that allow creativity, innovation; these frameworks can be in line
with legislatives, cultural, or also in terms of social norms and traditions, human
rights and justice that allow creativity and innovation (Gueye, interview) while
being anchored in living values that are true not only for Africa but true
universally (Gabianu, interview). All human beings are capable of excellence, and
even though some might have an inclination to this or that kind of character, it is
essential to understand that the society we inherit is often a result of how we have
raised the adult members of that society when they were children (Haile-Mariam,
interview). No substantial change and transformation can take place within our
societies unless we create the systems and atmosphere to encourage, nurture, and
support the emergence of ever evolving, ever more creative and innovative
leadership (Samara, interview).
A number of participants described how a leader is one who is connected
to the people and who has enough perspective to direct their actions for the
greatest community good.
Leadership is actually servitude. It is serving others. The more you serve
others, the greater your leadership is. The more you rule over others, with
authority and a sense of superiority, the less you will be an effective
leader. You may have power in the artificial sense, but nobody likes you.
You don’t have the love of the people. The only way to have the love of
the people is to serve, to wash their feet. (Themistocles, interview)
The process of leadership happens to better the quality of the lives of
people. Leadership helps create the safe environment which allows the expression
of freedom, human rights and civil rights and the full realization of individual
potential in service of the collective’s wellbeing (Gueye, interview). We have to
have a general shift in our understanding of leadership, as a continent, from an
autocratic person doing it or saying it all to opening out and bringing in young
people to see that the community and the nation are important and our challenge
should be in serving the nation and not only about our selfish self (Thorpe,
Communication Skills
Communication skills were identified by several participants as an
important aspect of leadership. A leader is a person who works at three levels:
first, she develops an understanding of the general community interest; second,
she is able to articulate this conception or operationalize it in a way that it serves
the well-being of the community; and third, she has high communication
competences in order to express that which she wants to transform (Mayaki,
At the end of the day, a leader gets judged by the impact that she has had
in the society, impact that comes with the levels of influence the leader can exert.
It is the competences and intellectual capacity of the leader that allows her to
become influential (Haile-Mariam, interview); without intellectual competences,
it is not possible to lead others. These competences might be in communication,
in strategy, in mobilizing communities, and so on (Haile-Mariam, interview).
Participants agreed that a leader’s role is to create transformation. “At the
end of the day, being a leader is about transformation” (Mayaki, interview). Mr.
Mayaki offered a concrete example of that focus on transformation for one
particular population:
Let’s take Niger, my country, with a population of about 15 million of
which 80% live in the rural areas and 20% in urban areas.…In the rural
areas, they have managed through centuries to develop a balance with
nature and within the communities—but suddenly with Modernity, these
existing balances are disturbed….They are farmers and the transformation
would be to ensure that they understand the new and modern economies
related to farming in order not only to survive, but to be thriving and
contributing members of that society.
The transformation [offered by a leader] is to come with the
knowledge, information, and competences…and to listen to these
population[s] to help them improve their living conditions. This is the
transformation. And the leader is at the nexus of all this. He has to have
the understanding of the context in which he is going to operate and also
have the tools that will allow him to operate within that context. (Mayaki,
The role of a leader is to enhance the welfare and potential of others, to grow out
of those people the immense potential that they contain so they can flourish; the
leader is there as a conductor, as a catalyst for transformation (Mwamba,
interview). What makes leaders different from ordinary human beings is the
attributes they have to not only see opportunities and possibilities but leverage
what they envision to transform their current reality (Haile-Mariam, interview).
Leadership happens in a process that evolves—it’s about speaking,
listening, and being in a way that aims to transform the challenges of a
community. It’s about creating a new future for the next generation; if there is no
action, there is no result, and thus no leadership. It’s about helping people to
change the quality of their lives (Gueye, interview).
The Ability to Create Consensus and Inspire People to Follow
Participants spoke of leaders as people who create consensus in the
community and inspire people to follow their vision for change and
transformation. Leaders are those whom people follow for their clarity of vision,
for their convictions, or for their stand (Haile-Mariam, interview). They make
sure that everybody is on board and comes along; there are always those who trail
back, but a leader makes sure to bring them along (Gabianu, interview).
When we consider the question of “What makes a leader?” we have to
keep in mind that there might not be a direct translation of the word leader in
some of our African languages (Ouedraogo, interview). In fact, the concept of
“leader” or “leadership” per se might not have a direct equivalent (Ouedraogo,
In our traditions, and in my experience, when we want to refer to someone
as a leader, we might refer to them with words such as grande soeur [older
sister] or grand frère [older brother] or as patron/chef [boss/chief].
Sometimes in our traditions we speak of our Kings or Queens, or in a
more modern world we talk about those we call directeur [director],
President, or Minister. We would hardly use the word “leader” per se.
(Ouedraogo, interview)
Many also realize that a person we consider an elder and a leader is someone who
can bring us together, someone who can bring the community together. It is
someone with credibility who has the ability to take his or her community and
people from point A to point B, a person who can engage and orchestrate progress
within a group, or community progress, regardless of the fact that the community
may be just a single family, a village, or a nation (Ouedraogo, interview).
Having an assigned position does not necessarily mean the individual is a
leader. One can be a King without being a leader; one can be a President or Head
of State without being a leader. So when we speak of “leader” we must recognize
that we are talking about a particular personality and character—individuals who
can bring adhesion within their circles. A leader is someone who can create a
movement and see to it that this movement is headed in the right direction
(Ouedraogo, interview).
It appears that in the African tradition those we refer to as leaders are
those who take on the role of guides, mentors, and teachers, and those who
mobilize and bring together the community. There is an implied undertone of
goodness, almost as if these role models and guides have it within them to want
the good of the community they serve. It is about the leader’s capacity to uphold
the ideals of freedom, human dignity, and the right of the individual to fulfill his
or her dream (Annan, interview). Leadership is motivating people, carrying
people along to do something that needs to be done. You have a goal that you
have to attain, but you have to motivate the people so they understand and are
willing to come with you (Gabianu, interview).
A Gift of Potential?
Participants were not unanimous regarding whether great leaders are born
or nurtured; however, they did agree that leadership is a quality that can be
nurtured and developed. One participant felt that we might all have leadership
qualities and it’s about our capacity to bring out these qualities (Aidoo,
interview). Another identified three qualities that might be associated with the
making of a leader: concern for the welfare of the collective, solid conviction
about the cause or the issue at hand, and the willingness and eagerness to want to
contribute to some sort of transformation or change. These qualities might not be
present in every person; some individuals have these qualities and some do not;
those who do not have such qualities might never become leaders, even if they
were part of an environment that was conducive to producing leaders. However,
when all three of these qualities are brought together within an individual, it often
results in the making of a leader. With the right support of mentoring, guidance,
and nurturing, such a person has within them the seed that can flourish into great
leadership (Ouedraogo, interview).
Others identified leadership potential as a kind of spiritual gift that some
have and others do not. Dr. Mwamba believes that while it is not easy to say that
leaders are born, it is definitely a gift that a person is born with; this gift has to be
nurtured and harnessed in order to allow the person to excel. Father Themistocles
also affirmed this sense of spirituality within leadership, that it may be in fact a
true gift that distinguishes individuals who can naturally lead and those who have
been taught to lead.
Leadership is a gift and some are born with it; we can accept that the raw
material of leadership is that it is a gift. It is a gift of the spirit. It is one of
the gifts of the spirit. In the bible we talk about the Holy Spirit, how the
same Spirit gives the gift of leadership to one, to another the gift of
teaching, to another the gift of caring and hospitality—basically,
leadership and all the other human competences are a gift.
From that basis, then we come to ponder on how do we nurture this
gift? Like any gift and any talent it can be used positively or negatively.
This is where the importance of how children are brought up becomes
The gift of leadership is one that spreads into whatever profession
you may choose. Leadership in education, in politics, in creative arts, in
science, etc… but the spirit is the same. It has to be nurtured in the context
of a conducive environment, in order for leadership to really be effective.
And this conducive environment has to be one with moral values, because
leadership has to be grounded in moral values to serve humanity; treating
others as you would want them to treat you. It is the respect of others, the
honoring of others, the ability to see the value in others and the capacity to
see others as a child of God—that distinguishes and gauges the quality and
texture of the leadership. (Mwamba, interview)
One can find oneself in a position of leadership or assuming the role of a
leader, without having asked to be one; we cannot really say that leaders are born,
but it is certain that some individuals are more predisposed than others to assume
roles of leadership. Some of the predisposition can be the convictions or the
commitments a person holds, yet not everyone has a cause, a conviction, or a
commitment. Whether someone becomes a leader or not is not necessarily related
to whether they are educated or not (in terms of classic academia); one can be
holding a number of degrees of all sorts and not have any kind of leadership
capacity. The art of leadership is carved first in the family environment as well as
the society in which the person grows up and evolves (Ouedraogo, interview).
Good Character
Great leaders were seen by participants as people of good character. When
the basic character and personality traits that are pro-humanity and pro-peace are
strongly established, then we can be assured that the leaders will be able to adjust
to the context and the needs of the situation in the best possible way (Samara,
interview). But when the character of the leaders flows with greed, short
sightedness, corruption, and self-interest, then we can say that society at large will
be robbed from any opportunities for growth and healthy peaceful existence. The
main thing is to have leaders with a sound understanding of the value of being
humane and peaceful in all that they do (Samara, interview).
“Great leaders make you feel good—that is something that I keep seeing”
(Ouedraogo, interview). Great leaders are not judgmental and you can feel in
them the acceptance and tolerance they offer to others (Ouedraogo, interview).
Integrity is one of the main pillars of great leadership (Haile-Mariam, interview).
We all have a capacity for great, for good, for bad, and even evil—it’s a question
of how we nurture the good in us, how we nurture the leadership quality in us for
the specific period, for the specific challenges that we face (Aidoo, interview). It
is also about how we raise our children and what values we instill in them; what
values the society prides itself in. Children usually learn by example and the onus
is on families, community, society, and learning institutions to teach children at a
very early age about integrity (Gabianu, interview). We make sure that we teach
by doing; people do as the leader does, and this allows them to learn (Gabianu,
interview). Of course our young people need to be taught and taught about the
values we have and the values we cherish. The values such as honesty, integrity,
peace, respect, accountability, transparency, humility, tolerance—we will have all
the things we need to move forward. We have all the things we need right here in
our own society (Gabianu, interview). Mr. Tokyo Sexwale (interview), a man
who was sentenced to 18 years at Robben Island with Mandela also, firmly, listed
the following attributes: sincerity, humility, honesty, and so on, and added the
value of being disciplined. He said that leadership is about our ability to listen and
ability to understand the common task.
Although good character was mentioned in a variety of ways and by a
variety of names, courage was specifically named by nearly every participant as
an intrinsic quality for leaders. Sexwale (interview) stated that the Mandela style
of leadership is beyond all of these attributes mentioned earlier such as humility,
sincerity, honesty, and discipline; when all those are gone, one must remain, and
that is courage. Leadership is about courage, the courage you must have to stick
with your own convictions. Many leaders can only go halfway or maybe even a
third of the way, but if they lose courage, then all is lost (Sexwale, interview). Our
young people need to know about courage, they need to experience the spirit of
courage and learn to leverage it to achieve their goals and manifest their visions
(Gabianu, interview).
Even your enemies will respect you when you stand bold in the face of
adversity; when all fails and you still remain fully present with
commitment and engage the World with audacity for justice, human rights
and freedom for your people and community—you will have established
with all the fabric of your being; you will have earned the respect and
secured your right to die with honors. (Haile-Mariam, interview)
The issue of courage takes another dimension when we see through the
lens of a leader working through the judicial systems. When I spoke with Justice
Yvonne Mokgoro, she offered the following perspective.
A leader is a person who is able, who has the capacity to bring out
the best in those people that she leads and is able to harness that best for
the benefit of the people that she leads. She has to have the courage to do
what it takes to bring people together. And that is not always easy.
Leadership might take different forms in the various sectors of
work or various circumstance of life. In the judiciary for example, Judges
are expected to live their lives and exercise their roles in full service of
justice and use the existing system of justices, procedures, laws in the
interest of society, social welfare and human rights. In a democratic
system, where there is a separation of powers between the legislative, the
executive and the judiciary arm of the government, the government must
ensure that judges are not only competent but also independent minded
people. Such independent minded men and women in service of justice
have to deal with cases which at some stage might bring them to the edge
or in conflict with the legislative or the executive line. Judges often reach
situations where politicians might feel that they may be in position to
pressure judges to order judges to do what might not always be politically
correct. This is where the issue of courage comes in, as judges will have to
withstand the pressures and still move ahead to exercise their
responsibility in an unbiased untainted way.
A judge must have the courage to make judicial decision; to order
government; to indicate where to draw the line; regardless of the pressure
that she might be subjected to, even if it means that at the personal level, it
might bring her to a level of unpopularity with the politicians. In my work,
I have learned that as a leader I have to apprise myself to challenges
involved and continue to stand for justice – regardless of the pressure at
Questions of human rights are always questions of relationship
between ordinary people and their government. Judges, the leaders of the
judiciary have to use the existing systems courageously in the interest of
justice for the people. Even if this bring translate into collision with the
powers that be. In the continent this situation can be often very difficult.
Unless as a judicial officer has his or her own independent mind; is honest,
and comfortable with the position as a judge; it will not be possible to
garner the courage to apply the system for the benefit of the people for
whom the systems have been created. And regardless of the personal
repercussions, the pressures and at times the threats resulting from the
conflicts of interests at hand, a judge has to withstand it all. This is the
kind of courage I am talking about. The courage to stand for justice even if
that makes, at times, my own life miserable—I have to do it. (Mokgoro,
According to participants, courage supports great leaders in carrying out
their vision. Leadership is about our ability to stand, to really stand (Sexwale,
interview). As a leader one has to always operate within the context, be apprised
of the situations, and identify the challenges and the difficulties at hand in
carrying out the responsibilities that one has. Then it takes a great deal of courage
to work through those challenges, as those challenges might bring us in conflict
with other people (Mokgoro, interview). We are all leaders in a certain way
(Gueye, interview) and it is our ability to stick with our convictions as the great
leaders such a Nelson Mandela have (Sexwale, interview) that will allow us to
bring our visions to terms and service our people.
Nelson Mandela was often named as a leader of great courage. A leader is
someone with positive ideals, inclined towards peace and human security, for his
or her community; it is someone with principles and strong convictions
(Mokgoro, interview). “Nelson Mandela may be the most gentle, good-humored,
even mischievous icon that the world has known; you see it in his expansive
smile” (Annan, interview). At the same time, the leadership of Nelson Mandela
has been the strongest: “We all know about his courage and tenacity—which saw
him through 27 years in prison, and saw South Africa through the end of
apartheid and a difficult, but successful, transition to freedom” (Annan,
Courage and conviction were also identified as inspiring people to follow
a given leader. Leadership arises when the individual is acting out of her or his
convictions and commitments, as opposed to acting based on the demands of his
or her environment that are not anchored in their hearts. When one acts because of
heart-based convictions or from a deep-seated concern for the welfare of others
and the overall well-being of the community, then one is bound to rise up and
emerge as a leader within that community and system. It is then, through one’s
actions and through the reflection of one’s commitment in the quality and kind of
actions, that the rest of the community is reached, mobilized, and led into some
kind of movement by this new emergent leadership (Ouedraogo, interview).
What Defines Great Leaders?
When we think of the greatest leaders, those who have stood in defiance to
injustice and stood for human rights, freedom, and liberty, and we can think of the
times they have addressed the people in their speeches or in their writing—it is as
though they are prophetic and take their inspiration from somewhere very deep
(Burton, 2009; Mokgoro, interview).
All people in the world, they want peace. It might not be the case of some
leaders; so there are wars because some of the leaders want the war. There
is no mother who does not want peace for her children. Look at our
children and grandchildren; they want education. If there are wars, there is
no education and then that robs us from development. We want our
children and our grandchildren not to die for any war that is initiated by a
leader. We should not fight unless we are attacked. And attacked means
materially attacked, people coming with guns and arms to take what we
Some leaders get mixed up and say our interests are attacked. What
interests are they talking about? Are they interests of mankind, for
What is the use of war? Wars are the enemies of mankind. They
are destructive. Whatever our great grandparents, grandparents and parents
have built for years, the war destroys in a few minutes. People do not need
bombs and any war at all. We need peace. We should not fight unless we
are attacked and if we are attacked, then we can fight back. This is allowed
by mankind and also by religion.
A good leader is a leader that wants peace. Like Gandhi. He freed
India from the strongest empire of all, the British Empire; where they use
to say that the sun never sets on the British Empire, but now it is very
difficult for the sun to even rise in England itself [laugh] it disappears. For
the sake of Humanity, for the sake of the Divine books; Jesus Christ gave
his life. Prophet Mohamed suffered a lot, but he preferred to have peace
for his people.
It all boils down to peace, peace, peace. No war. War is number
one enemy for the human kind. Religious books, non-religious books,
Leaders, non-religious leaders or religious leaders, it does not matter, they
should all work for peace. And regarding religion, a good leader should
not play. Religion is religion. Even the atheists have a right to their
Are we seeing the end of the World? There certainly are the signs
from the religious and Holy books. There are the signs also physically.
Look at the pollution; look at animals, poor animals. We are also animals,
but a bit different because we are talking animals. The lion sees a gazelle,
he chases one and he eats and then rests. If a gazelle comes near him after
he has eaten he will not even touch her. But, we, we don’t hunt for
survival, “but for greed”. We kill plants also, for no reason. We kill more
than we need. Animals are better; they only kill what they need.
We should work for Peace and it my ideology, my belief and stand
in life and that of many people. I belong to this side; the side that stands
for peace.
One more thing, when we see that both in Islam and in Christianity
we have people fighting among the different interpretation of the religion.
How can it be that there is one word and they fight over it? It means that
they are not religious.
Look how many Mosques are completely demolished, for example
in Iraq, there is no reason for that. Mosques are a place of worship; people
go to a Mosque to meet with God, to ask for Mercy. A Mosque should
never be destructed. And those who destroy a Mosque, a Church or any
other place of worship, are ugly. (Samara, interview).
As human beings and human societies—mortals—we have to know that
we are bound to encounter trials and tribulations on this Earth. We have to know
that there will be times of testing, times of celebrating, times of mourning, and
times of renewing. We have to remain mindful that the world is one that is elusive
and one that passes. As much as it is impermanent, what remains forever are the
good deeds we do while our soul are still residing in our physical bodies. As
leaders, as citizens, as parents, as members of the community, as human beings, it
is our capacity to be greater than our circumstances, greater than our challenges,
and greater than the short run that will allow us to spread our wings and fly high
for the glory of our creator. It is not easy but it is a gift that is ours for the taking.
This isn’t much different than what we should expect of ourselves in terms of
excellence, no matter whether we are in a position of leadership or not; we are
always in at least one position of leadership at the least, and that is the leadership
of our lives and our choices (Haile-Mariam, interview).
Qualities Among African Leaders Versus Leaders From Other Regions
While leaders are leaders no matter where they are from (Sexwale,
interview), in this particular section the focus is on examining how leaders in
Africa and leaders in other regions of the world might have differences in the
quality of their leadership, in the way they exercise leadership, and in the way
they relate to those they lead. This section further explores what participants
identified as individual qualities of African leaders that might not always be
apparent among leaders from other cultures and traditions, as well as leadership
qualities Africans leaders might learn from leaders of other cultures or traditions
and use enrich their leadership capacities. The section concludes with a
consideration of leadership without borders.
Qualities of African Leaders
Communal orientation in connection, values, and priorities. Most if not all
African societies within the continent have concern for others. People have large
families (cousins, nephews, etc.) and we do not differentiate the relationships—
they are just our children and we continue to take care of them, even though our
society is poorer than most. We have learned tolerance to deal with people in
many ways: those who might need our help, those who might help us, those who
might build with us, those who might be part of our lives, and so on. We keep on
carrying people along. It has its difficulties, but it’s a burden we carry quite well
(Gabianu, interview). Shared across the continent is the way in socialization from
a young age. We learn to build relationship and share, including knowledge and
information. Those whom Africa calls great leaders are individuals who have
remained in sync with society (Ouedraogo, interview).
This communal life affects everyone in the way that they perceive life, and
is the reason why so many leaders in Africa exhibit this capacity to lead with
concern and in service of the community, because the community is the measure
of identity. The communal nature of our societies is what instills in leaders in
Africa the capacity to care for the collective (assuming we are talking about good
leadership). In fact, there is latent potential for African leaders to become great
role models, for the World, in inclusive leadership (Thorpe, interview).
Leading from this collective orientation is different, in terms of how
leaders gain support for their proposals and create forward movement.
There needs to be tolerance because we work in a society that is not
always academically educated so you may need to explain what is going
on and how it is done with respect, with inclusiveness and tolerance. You
have to show tolerance to the views of others with certain humility so that
people want to come along with you. Keep certain happiness as you work.
I must say the experience of such tolerance and inclusiveness has been
more of a norm rather than an exception throughout my life and career. As
leaders, we have to be responsible to our community, to our society and
then you produce your best. When you exhibit this to the group they are
willing to come with you. A leader should be able to motivate people, not
shout at them. People will come along when they understand the goal and
the direction and why we are doing it. With a little bit more commitment
we will get there. (Gabianu, interview)
The connection between leader and community was described as
bondedness or solidarity, demonstrated in both good leaders and bad. Great
leaders reflect this trait of bondedness with their communities, and we can see that
even bad leaders can have that (e.g., the fact that most African Heads of State are
remaining silent about the case of Zimbabwe and President Mugabe). The society
sees leaders as men of the people, women of the people, and this quality of
bondedness causes leaders in Africa to stand with their people and genuinely want
to take care of their people. It might be seen as nepotism at times or lead to
corruption at worse times, but we can also see how such trait can be leveraged for
public good (Aidoo, interview).
For Africa, solidarity defines a leader’s effort in the community in a way
quite different from the Western context. The sense of solidarity is important,
very widespread, and learned from a very young age.
I don’t think only of me and in relation to myself, and for my family and
in relation to my family, but rather I think in a much wider scope for the
collective and at a greater scale for the community. I can only exist, truly,
when I am recognized by this community as a member having a role or a
use within this collective. Whereas in the Western context, the effort is
rather on showing differentiations; we look at trying to show our
individuality and show our personal capacities (Mayaki, interview).
The ability of a leader to rise to the top was linked to his or her solidarity
and relationship base in the community, as was the ability to sustain leadership.
This sharing and this solidarity within the community becomes the human asset
base for any man or woman as she or he exercises leadership. As the relationship
base of an individual increases, so do his or her chances of reaching the top
(Ouedraogo, interview). What has sustained leaders or even allowed them to
emerge is the solidarity that we have in Africa, the concern for the community at
large has allowed the great leaders to emerge (Gueye, 2009).
One participant linked this community focus to the concept of Ubuntu.
“As might be expected of any communal society, in most African societies, we
believe that we are what we are because of society and community; that is what
Ubuntu refers to” (Aidoo, interview).
Consensus decision-making. This communal focus extends to the
consensus processes of decision-making that are characteristic of African leaders
and often different from those of their global counterparts. In the West, we value
originality of thought and individual thinking, whereas in our context in Africa, if
we have an original way of thinking or a new idea we tend to first test it through
dialogue with peers—because listening and exchange are extremely important,
and because the enrollment of the community in our decision is a major factor in
taking a decision forward or not (Mayaki, interview). African leaders might have
a greater need for resolving conflict through reaching consensus; this is how you
ensure national cohesion while you move forward. In the most ideal situation this
goes beyond legal issues, into a greater societal scope (Sawyer, interview).
One participant discussed the positive and negative aspects of communal
decision-making. The African leader might feel more of a need to be recognized
by others, by the community and society at large and approved for her work and
decisions—at times this eagerness for approval might lead certain leaders to make
mistakes by making decisions to please rather than to achieve something.
Paradoxically, this need to get approval and recognition from the community is
also a positive aspect because it makes leaders focus on results (Gueye,
Another participant named collective concern as the African equivalent of
leadership models. African leaders may not be individuals who have produced
great models, theories, and philosophies, as is often done among leaders of
Western tradition; these African leaders are just human beings with a great
concern for the collective and a willingness to be called to serve the welfare of the
community (Ouedraogo, interview).
An attitude of service. Another aspect of this communal orientation is that
African leaders are in a position of service to society rather than self-service, both
from the perspective of society and from their own internal understanding of the
leadership role. As a good leader, you are there for other people not for yourself,
and in this context the African leader is one who is extremely patient. He plays
the role of the father: for example, in Zambia, people refer to President Kaunda as
the father of the nation. As a father, the role of the African leader is properly
understood as one of a friend, a pastor, a councilor. And this is unique. He is the
one who listens to everybody. As a leader you are thinking about your
community, your contribution about the welfare of others, and that’s what drives
most leaders (Mwamba, interview).
One participant recognized that the service model of leadership is not
always apparent at the national level, but named it as a commonality at other
levels of society. In Africa, awareness of the community leads most men or
women in a healthy leadership position to remain servant leaders. A healthy
leadership position is one where the leader does not take the position or role of
leading to exert power over the people or control them (Themistocles, interview);
rather, the leader sees this position as a responsibility for the welfare of the group
(whether that group is a family, a community, or an organization). A healthy
leadership is one that is exercised by a leader who cares and is genuinely
concerned for those around him or her.
Most great leaders understand that they are not there to have power over
people because this will have no impact, but rather, their role is to serve, to
understand, and to live with the people. The servant leadership might not always
be a reality, especially when we see the number of dictators in the recent African
history, but we can say that leaders that we see at the community level and leaders
that operate within learning institutions or spiritual communities have this trait of
servant leadership (Haile-Mariam, interview).
Accessibility. This attitude of service also extends to a leader’s
accessibility across class and status, another feature of African leadership
identified by participants as differing from other regional models. Our great
leaders are accessible to all and ready to be of service to anyone who calls on
them, irrespective of the social or economic status, religion, age, or other
demographic category of the person asking to be heard (Ouedraogo, interview). In
Mr. Mandela’s leadership we see certain things that a European leader would not
do; for example, he would go and mix with the people; he would just be normal,
reach out, touch, sing and dance with the people; and he so easily mingles so
close with the community. It’s something that a European leader would not do
because in Europe there is a certain gentleman’s gap between the leader and the
led. African Leaders really mix completely with the people—not all, but most—
while to a European it is almost embarrassing. This ability to mix is positive
because it is a complete demolition of the ego and one’s sense of superiority:
Nelson Mandela par excellence and President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone
as well. In Africa, you are the servant of the people and not the other way around
(Themistocles, interview).
Forgiveness. Several participants spoke of forgiveness as an important
trait of leadership in Africa. When we had war, the winning leadership would
naturally do away with the others, but Nelson Mandela taught the world the way
of higher consciousness to all of mankind, and that is the capacity to forgive. He
was restricted, detained for more than a quarter of a century, and after all that he
had the magnanimity to say to the people of South Africa to learn to live together
and start a new page. That is the contribution he made. While this might not be an
African leadership trait per se, we can assume that it is a trait that emerged in
Africa for the benefit of the world. If you look from a historical perspective, you
can see that other great leaders had this trait—Lincoln had this trait as well.
Certain traits in leadership are just universal and we must accept that (Turay,
One participant spoke of this quality of forgiveness as essential and
African, but something that has been eroded by recent history in Africa.
The Africa of my youth, the Africa I knew, the Africa that I remember,
was not this violent Africa. Yes, there was repression, brutal repression,
like in South Africa and elsewhere. Yes, there were conflicts. But on the
whole, the Africa of my youth was tolerant, it was conciliatory, it was
forgiving. (Annan, interview)
Most Africans are aware of this gentle spirit that used to govern the continent, yet
today we cannot always see it prevailing. What happened? Where did this spirit
go? These are the best attributes of Africa, and they are not a relic of the past—
they have the power to define our future. We see the power of tolerance and
reconciliation not only in remarkable individuals like Nelson Mandela, or nations
like South Africa, but in Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—nations
reclaimed from the ashes of violence (Annan, interview).
Work ethic. One participant named a commitment to hard work as
something that many African leaders have and something that is needed for the
people; as this came up in response to the question about qualities of African
versus Western leaders, it seems likely that this participant identified work ethics
as a Western leadership quality. What leaders in Africa can offer their
communities and also highlight in their own behavior is “work ethics.” Many in
our communities believe in religion or in witchcraft as the means to reach the
desired results in their lives, forgetting that the shortest way to get results is
simple hard work and dedication. This is something that our leaders could offer
the communities and also demonstrate to the people (Aidoo, interview; Thorpe,
interview; Turay, interview).
A certain kind of bearing. Participants described a number of qualities of
African leaders that together describe a leader’s overall bearing, their effect. Great
leaders are very discerning (Gabianu, interview). African leaders have some kind
of air of nobility about them that is often recognized as the reflection of the
wisdom they hold within (Ouedraogo, interview).
Calmness was identified as a trait of African leadership, extending even to
leaders more commonly conceived of as fighters. The good leaders, those
recognized as such, have a certain sense of calm and assurance in the way that
they are, in their being, in the way they carry themselves, and in the way they
interact with others. It is not an assurance that is arrogant, but rather the very
gentle presence of a quiet force. So, they are by default individuals who are able
to arbitrate, moderate, and mediate among the community—people of peace who
inspire harmony and serenity (Ouedraogo, interview).
This participant felt that the “fighting” leaders of Africa have been
typecast, rather than seen holistically in their context; she supported his point with
personal experience of several such leader’s effects. When we speak of the
leaders of “post-independence,” for example, in the context of political leaders
such as Lumumba, Nkrumah, and Sankara, we refer to a particular leadership.
While these men were recognized as leaders, they were also “fighters”
(combatants) because they were involved in a struggle for a cause, be it the
redistribution of wealth to bridge the gap of poverty within their country or the
fight for national autonomy and sovereignty. They had to manifest their
leadership through the use of violence because at the time they were confronted
by a period where they had to affirm an African leadership in the face of another
kind of leadership that was equally violent (Ouedraogo, interview). Yet as much
as these leaders had the public image of fighters, rebels, and violent individuals,
they were in fact very calm and very down to earth.
When you work with such leaders or meet with them in their offices, out
of the public eye, they were men with obvious compassion and serenity.
They were courteous people with such amiability and kindness. It is just
that the way they express their outrage, about the situation in which their
respective countries are, might often come out in the form of anger. The
anger is directly linked to the outrage and the dedication that such leaders
might have in serving their communities.
These men had all the characteristics of an African leadership, as
we discussed earlier, but their leadership manifested itself through a
setting of violence because the era they lived in did not leave them much
It is unfortunate that often these men remained misunderstood by
the public and the world. No one really took time to see beyond the
surface to witness the values, the principles and the eagerness they had to
bring positive change for their people. There is a tendency to veil all of
these attributes that they have and rather put forth the violence they often
enacted; yet, this very violence was a reflection of the deep seated anger
they felt about the situations of injustice, poverty and indignity their
peoples and their nation were subjected to. Their violence was in reaction
of the realities they faced at the time. (Ouedraogo, interview)
This effect extends to the warm way African leaders receive guests from
other countries, a warmness that one participant identified as an essential aspect
of African leadership. There is undeniable hospitality in African cultures in
comparison to many other cultures of the world; this culture of hospitality is more
often than not reflected in the way leaders in Africa behave towards others. It is a
certain way of being warm and kind, hospitable and welcoming, especially in
receiving guests from others countries that seems to be almost a trademark of
African leaders. It is a lot more than protocol and diplomacy; it is a genuine sense
of welcoming someone (Ouedraogo, interview; Themistocles, interview).
The capacity to transform. One participant identified a key capacity that
African leaders have to adopt and learn from outside. It is the capacity to make
paradigms evolve, to transform a situation. We have to change paradigm in order
to create a new future for the continent. Yet, in general, African communities are
so anchored in their current paradigms that it is hard to make them move. It is
then all subject to the leaders to exercise the capacity to invoke a paradigm
change (Gueye, interview).
What Our Leaders Should Learn From Others
In response to this question, participants engaged in a dialogue with
Western ideas, critiquing Africa and West both, and offering some things African
leaders might benefit from adopting from outside, and others that the outside
world might benefit from adopting from Africa.
Rethinking Africa from a communal perspective. One participant offered a
vision of global politics played from a communal focus such as African societies
encourage. At times we have to recognize that it is a choice to misunderstand the
other; it is part of the game of the battle and that is the problem. It is almost better
not to understand when winning is all we care for; instead of thinking and
accepting that we are in a world where each one brings his or her contribution, we
tend to believe that we are in a world that is mono-polar, where one dominates the
other. Imagine if Africa was not seen as a continent to conquer, but rather as a
continent, period, with its resources, its wealth, and its personality, and also with
its own contribution to the destiny of the world. What if Africa were able to offer
its share to the evolution of the global society, civilizations, and lives? Then we
would not be experiencing and witnessing these attitudes and realities of
submission, domination, conquest, exploitation, stifling, and scrambling of this
Africa. So, instead of positively supporting each other and growing together, we
find that we are rather creating a reality that brings harm to ourselves and each
other (Ouedraogo, interview).
This offering of African approaches to life and leadership was named as
particularly valuable as the world works to address the crises of the 21st century.
In a world where value is placed only on the individual and not the collective, in a
world where societies are scrambling to reassert human and family values, in a
world where little attention is given to matters of the soul and spirit—maybe our
leaders have something to give the world because these are all issues that we
know, given the lives we have had, the traditions we uphold, and the upbringing
we have benefited from. Humanity needs us to bring our contribution to recreate a
balance of life and living that may have slipped away in the process of running
toward development and industrialization (Ouedraogo, interview).
Critical evaluations of democracy for Africa. Participants’ discussions of
democracy reflected an underlying experience of democracy being held up to
participants as a gold standard, something Africa should work to implement.
Participants offered back a critical evaluation of democracy, as it has developed in
the West, applied to an African context.
One participant felt that democracy is used as the yardstick to determine
whether an African leader is a “good” leader, and offered an historical evaluation
of the inappropriateness of that standard. Nowadays, good leadership is judged by
whether or not a country is run in a politically democratic fashion, but it might be
unfair to apply the same measure of success to African leaders as we have for
Western leaders (Themistocles, interview).
This is an unfair question because compared to the European world that
has a two thousand year history of democracy, which now is the standard
by which we judge all leaders, and all governments, and all forms of
leadership. Europe has had time to experiment with democracy for two
thousand years and America was born out a revolution against tyranny,
oligarchy and against monarchical rule. If you look at the history of Africa
in terms of democratic concept, it’s a new concept.
If you look at tribal societies within Africa before the onset of
democracy, it was an authoritarian society with the Chief ruling over his
people, with his own powers, which were always unquestioned.
So, democracy coming into Africa is a fairly new development; so
you don’t expect complete success in the beginning. Even the old
countries that had democracy for years, for two thousand years, like
Greece, fell into dictatorship only 30 years ago; Greece has never had a
smooth history of democracy. It is only now in recent years that Greece
has returned back to democracy. Here is the mother of all democracies not
having a perfect record of democracy rule. Why [do] we therefore put the
burden on Africa that we should expect a perfect record? We can’t. It’s
going to take a long time and it is still taking a long time for Europe.
But if I am forced to answer it, then I would say that in the last 50
years of democracy, compared to the two thousand years of European
democracy, I would say that we might have to rephrase the question to:
“How has the African leader expressed his leadership in a way that is
different from the European?” (Themistocles, interview)
Another participant spoke of adapting democracy to Africa, and felt that it
might be best to pursue a stronger form of government until certain basic needs
were met, and then expand to a more participatory democracy. Although this may
not be popular on the global stage, many believe that in order to transform a
society, you need a strong government to create the discipline to move things
forward. At a later stage, once we have welfare, food, education, health, and so
on, then the people will also ask for the freedom of expression and participatory
means. Since the goal of leadership is to really get our people out of poverty, in
the case of Africa, there might be a trade-off between the level of democracy we
have and the level of development we are pursuing. At a later stage of
development, then, you can have the luxury of what Western society calls
“democratic institutions.” Nowadays donor countries and Western experts
encourage and at times oblige African leaders to have participatory democracies,
but maybe this is not what is needed at this current stage of development (Turay,
Another participant spoke of the need to adopt several key aspects of
democracy from outside Africa: acceptance of opposition and separation of
ethnicity and religion from the practice of government. African leaders have to
realize that there is always opposition and that the existence of opposition is a
sign of a healthy democracy. Opposition is always there and it is the right of the
people to be in opposition if they want; but even opposition should have good
people. Democracy is about competitions, hard work, and freedom. In addition,
we need leaders who understand that ethnic and religious wars are neither part of
democracy nor of society on the way to prosperity. Freedom does not have a
religion; religion should be completely out of leadership and governance (Samara,
A number of participants brought up the issue of ethnic-based government
as an impediment to good governance and democracy. Ethnocentric governments
present a continued threat to peace and stability. While the issue of ethnic-based
structures and conflicts might most be known for what happened in Rwanda, it is
unfortunately not limited to Rwanda and is a phenomenon present in several other
African nations (Aidoo, interview; Ouedraogo, interview; Thorpe, interview). The
issue of genocide brings an understanding of the danger of ethnocentric
governance. What has happened in Rwanda is not something particular to that
small country, but is something that many other countries in Africa who insist on
ethnic divisions and ethnic mapping might bring onto themselves (Haile-Mariam,
interview; Ouedraogo, interview; Thorpe, interview).
Value of examining countries of success. One participant suggested
examining the leadership of countries inside and outside Africa where significant
transformation has taken place, for inspiration and for a framework to evaluate
African leaders. In terms of considering how the actions of African leaders have
contributed to the current situation in Africa, recognizing the effects of the Cold
War, we can look at Botswana, Malaysia, and Singapore, look at what those
leaders have done, and contrast it with what our leaders have done or are doing
(Turay, interview). For example, one of the key attributes of those countries is the
leaders clear vision of where he wants to take the country and his ability to choose
the right kind of people to take this vision and make it happen. Such significant
transformation does not happen overnight; it’s a continuous process (Turay,
interview), which is why the leadership quality has to be a quality present not
only in one individual leader but in the collective.
Critical evaluations of consensus decision-making. Two participants felt
that consensus decision-making is holding African leaders back, and wanted to
see African leaders adopt a more decisive, faster model of decision-making.
African leaders need to be more decisive and have better planning and
strategizing competences; decisions should be taken not based on emotions,
consensus, and approval of the community, but based on factual thinking
processes. For example, some of our regional organizations are acting from an
emotive angle instead of being factually decisive. This is something we can learn,
a more rational approach as opposed to one that is emotional (Mwamba,
interview). African leaders are good at making plans and conceptualizing
initiatives, but are often challenged by the implementation process; instead of
looking for consensus and seeking approval from the community, African leaders
might be better off focusing on results. The search for compromise, listening, and
exchange—the desire for consensus among all stakeholders—is great but it has its
limits. Specifically, consensus inhibits the achievement of results in a timely
manner; overall, a results-based approach is missing because we may have given
too much importance to this exchange and search for consensus (Mayaki,
Leadership qualities African leaders can learn from others. Participants
identified a number of leadership qualities that African leaders might benefit from
adopting from other contexts: self-sacrifice, working with other leaders, and the
value of peace. For democracy to have a chance, in African nations or anywhere
in the world, we need to have good leaders who are self-sacrificing and who are
freedom lovers (Samara, interview). There should be a harmonization among
leaders in Africa; we should have leaders in every country who sympathize with
the development and who can coordinate with each other. They have to work
hard. It’s not an easy job (Samara, interview). We have to have leaders that value
peace (Samara, interview).
The value of encouraging free thinking. One participant suggested having
a society that values free minds and free thinkers might influence the emergence
of leaders with similar values who are free of ego and devoted to the progress,
growth, and development of their communities, before they think of their own
personal development (Samara, interview). This evokes the assumption that some
non-African contexts, likely Western contexts, offer examples of societies that
value free thinking.
Commitment to human rights. One participant named a commitment to
human rights in response to the question of what African leaders might adopt
from outside the region. Today in Africa, we have just a few leaders who are truly
devoted to human rights and justices—many are busy just ensuring their stay in
power. What we need right now on the continent are leaders with the commitment
to ensure the basic human rights of the community and who abide by a universal
moral code (Haile-Mariam, interview).
The ability to be assertive and self-confident on the world stage. Several
participants discussed the need for African leaders to find ways to be taken
seriously by their global counterparts. One participant suggested that African
leaders might change their work in terms of how they behave and relate on the
world stage. It might be good to have a bit more “arrogance” about our capacities:
in Africa it seems that the greater the leader, the greater that person’s modesty and
humility, which is often misunderstood by the rest of the world. It is time to shed
a bit of that humility and assert our roles fully. We have to say to ourselves: “I am
a leader, my community has confidence in me, I have an audience and I know I
can make the right choices” (Ouedraogo, interview).
Another discussed how African leadership contributions are not generally
recognized as achievements according to the rubrics used in the rest of the world.
Leadership is often only recognized by the publications that one has produced;
unfortunately, Africans have not produced or published sufficiently to gain
recognition. And when one has not published, when one has not obtained a
number of degrees or been appointed as the head of an organization, then that
person is not at all recognized as a leader—it is as if you are nothing.
This global dependence on degrees and publications for legitimacy was
named as problematic, and the participant discussed the need to find global
legitimacy but by means congruent with African ways. Such thinking is
unfortunate because leadership is not only a factor of degrees, publications, or
appointments—there are other foundations for leadership, means of gaining
recognition, and forces that can feed our capacities to lead. It is our responsibility
as Africans to find these other foundations and other means of acknowledging our
leadership, to allow us to assume our positions on the global development scene.
Other leaders from other regions have been forged with such awareness, whereas
on our side in Africa, we have not taken that into consideration (Ouedraogo,
The value of risk-taking. Several participants discussed the need for
African leaders to engage in risk-taking, which is not necessarily supported by
African societal norms. Many African leaders are reluctant to assume their role, at
times due to modesty but also sometimes due to fear—there is a lot of fear of
standing out from the whole. The fear of losing the support and endorsement of
the community and society at times cripples men and women from taking the
roles of leaders. Our leaders are at times too cautious; we are afraid of losing the
support and endorsement of the community, because should that happen we might
end up reduced to nothing, to a nonbeing. Yet, we must find it in ourselves to
dare, more and more, because even as we dare we might be pleasantly surprised
that the community is still behind us. Our leaders do not dare enough, be they
leaders in the public sector or the civil society—we must dare, regardless of what
is at stake. Our leaders may not yet have crossed the line of “daring more”
(Gabianu, interview; Mayaki, interview; Ouedraogo, interview; Sexwale,
interview; Thorpe, interview).
What might seem lacking among African leaders is the capacity to take
risk; most leaders are risk-averse (Gabianu, interview).
We can see our inclination to be reluctant to take risk even the way we
treat our children. When the child runs, we say, “Don’t run, you will hurt
yourself”; when the child tries to climb a tree, we say, “Please come down
before you break your head.” We stop the innate drive to find out, to learn
and discover right from an early age. We kill the initiative with the “don’t
do it.” We need to learn from others to let go of this behavior. (Gabianu,
Not being able to take risks is hampering our capacity to innovate, to try new
things, and to push the boundaries of our realities (Gabianu, interview).
The value of connecting to Africa’s history and knowledge from ancient
times. One participant spoke eloquently of Africans taking an example from other
regions and connecting to African history and knowledge. Leaders from Western
societies and other world societies come with a certain deep-seated endowment of
their history and the wealth of knowledge from their society, as it has
accumulated through time. They have the whole history and trajectory of their
countries and continents. In Africa, we may have lost this cumulative endowment;
we may have lost the values that we have inherited through the centuries, and the
traditions of our elders. They have been dismantled by others and we, too, have
contributed to the dismantling of them. We might even have come to believe that
our history starts at independence, but that is false (Ouedraogo, interview).
This connection to history was offered as a source of strength for African
leaders, a means of feeling like strong equals on the global stage rather than
neophytes. We, Africans, did not start existing only when we learned modern
education and learned to write and read; we come from a lineage that dates back
centuries, and it is the recognition of this fact that will give us the confidence, the
strength, and the courage to confront the current realities that our continent is
subjected to.
I come from such a lineage, and this gives me the strength to level with
and sit across [from] any other leader of the world, with assurance,
confidence, and determination that empowers me to fulfill the agenda I
have for my people. (Ouedraogo, interview)
We are part of a people, of a society and community with roots that are very
deep—our tradition has a sense of caring for one another and sharing with one
another, as well as a tradition of work discipline. This realization of the lineage
we have, and the history and culture we come from is what could give us,
Africans, an inherent ability to assert our leadership in relation to global partners
and counterparts (Ouedraogo, interview). After all, Africa is the cradle of
humanity, but we seem not to remember that as much as we should. This truth is
powerful. It is amazing. And it is up to us to leverage this spirit in a way that
benefits our communities today (Mwamba, interview; Ouedraogo, interview).
Connection to history was also offered as a means of shifting the image of
Africans in their own minds as well as for non-African peoples. Africa’s people
have resilience and endurance, proven through centuries of surviving difficulties.
I agree. I share Madiba’s belief—and his faith—that we can find the
strength we need within ourselves, as Africans. Such strength as we have,
and such wisdom—these are the legacies of Nelson Mandela. Let us strive
to be worthy of his example—as we strive to create a future worthy of our
children. (Annan, 2007)
Today you can go to any village on the continent and you will find people who
survive despite the fact that they have close to nothing to live on; we can also look
at this as the innate capacity of the communities to survive. We have to shift the
way the world thinks of us Africans and our communities, and we must shift that
even in our subconscious—we are a strong community with a history and with
capacity. If African leaders and African communities were, as is often said,
Madiba is another name used in South Africa for Nelson Mandela.
without capacity, we would never have survived all the trauma and difficulties we
have faced through the times (Ouedraogo, interview).
One participant also discussed the shadow side of reconnecting to African
history, and defined that shadow as the need to take time to heal from the wounds
of recent history. Africa is still not through with the traumas suffered, whether
slavery or colonization—these have been ruptures in our history, and we did not
take time to mend the ruptures. Ruptures have existed in all societies, but unlike
in Africa, most other societies have taken the time to mend the breakage and recreate a new and strengthened community. We must heal; we must assume our
responsibility in putting the pieces back together (Ouedraogo, interview). The
word shadow might evoke some ambiguity, as it is often used to describe the
shadow and light sides of human personality; in this case, shadow refers partly to
that but also speaks of the dark side of African history—the part of history that
society might not be willing to look at, acknowledge, or recognize. Ouedraogo
was discussing the fact that it might be difficult to pave the way toward progress
unless leaders are willing to shed light on this dark side. It might be necessary for
leaders to acknowledge the painful past so that the society and the people in the
community are able to do the same.
The need for institutions. Several participants discussed the value of
formal institutions such as those in other regions. African leaders and
communities might need to give value to building institutions around what they
do well (Gabianu, interview).
We do the things and we are happy we have done it, and nothing more
happens with it. We lose a lot of institutional memory. One thing we
should have done in Ghana is: when we were very good at the process of
economic recovery and structural adjustment programs, we should have
built institutions around it so that other people can also come and learn
here. There should have been an institute for recovery: How did you do it?
What worked? What did not work? But we have let it all dissipate because
we are not good are building institutions to keep collective memory.
(Gabianu, interview)
Another quality that must be learned among many of Africa’s leaders is
the capacity to respect the formal institutions and ensure that these institutions
operate in a rather detached way, moving beyond the personalization of power.
“Sometimes we get to believe that we are indispensable and build personal
chiefdoms that can lead to abuse of power” (Sawyer, interview).
Long-term future thinking. Three participants identified a need for African
leaders to adopt long-term future thinking. One participant described how lack of
vision limited the actions of leaders after independence, but also discussed how
holding a vision that is too far ahead may be dangerous. Pre-colonial leaders had
the vision to get our people out of colonial bondage, but did they have the vision
to develop the country afterwards? Nkrumah had the vision—now that we have
independence the next war is neo-colonialism. But what happened to him? He
was thinking too far ahead from his colleagues. He felt that unless we can work
on the economic independence then, it’s all back to neo-colonialism (Turay,
Leaders were described as failing to work toward a future beyond their
own lifetime. What’s missing in Africa is that leaders on the continent are not
willing or are not able to live in the future (Gueye, interview). What’s missing is
Africans taking the stand and devoting their efforts to a future that they might not
see (Turay, interview). It seems that we are short-term oriented, so having a longterm perspective and creating a future just to create a future for the next
generation is missing. This might be the reason why we witness so many civil
wars and conflicts, why we witness so many heads of state who want to overstay
their mandates and why we have people like President Mugabe, who might have
been a respected elder not even a decade ago, but who today is abusing his stay.
Can we say that such a leader is concerned for the future? It is unlikely that he is
(Gueye, interview).
One good example of the capacity to implement a vision was presented
through the case of Singapore and how the leadership there turned the country
around. Sierra Leone and Singapore had their independence at the same time:
Singapore had no resources at all; Sierra Leone, on the other hand, had more
resources than any country could wish for. Today, Sierra Leone is still in poverty
while Singapore is part of the first world. The success of Singapore is directly
linked to the leaders’ vision and capacity to execute the vision; they put the
country first (Turay, interview).
Open competition for leadership. Two participants discussed the need for
African leaders and societies to adopt the concept of open competition for
leadership. Something we can learn or adopt from other societies is the fact that in
many societies anybody can become a leader (Aidoo, interview). The idea of
leadership is not based on just one person; you need a set of persons to move the
thing forward. You also have to have succession within that set of people, so that
when someone falls, there is someone else within who can take the lead. The
business of leadership is not hereditary or confined to one family. There needs to
be a relative competition, where communities can choose their leaders based on
their attributes. People should be able to say, “This guy can take us out from this
mess more than that one” (Aidoo, interview; Turay, interview).
One participant discussed the particular value in opening leadership across
demographic categories. You don’t have to belong to a special ethnic group or be
royalty; you can be a man or a woman—everyone can get his or her fair chance to
leadership. In Africa we have only had one woman elected as President, while
many other nations outside of Africa have had several women take the lead.
People are not even limited by their physical health—even men and women with
disabilities have taken on leadership. We need to open up our systems and learn
from other societies the way to offer all people the possibility to become leaders
(Aidoo, interview).
The benefits of time-limited leadership. Two participants discussed the
need for African leaders to conform to time-limited terms of power. In most other
nations, leadership is time-bound; Leaders do not engage in all sorts of
manipulations to hang on to power (Aidoo, interview). African leaders have to
accept the terms and conditions of their mandates and leave their positions in due
time (Banya, interview). Often, in fact, it is the leaders’ ability to move on when
their time is up that heightens their legacy (Aidoo, interview).
Transparency at the governmental level. Three participants discussed the
need for African leaders to adopt policies of transparency to public scrutiny.
African leadership may be in crisis and leadership ethics may have fled: when we
look at the political scene across the continent, it is not rare to find corruption,
violence, treason, and mistreating one another. It is not very common to see such
behaviors in other parts of the world, but it seems that in Africa, unethical
behavior among people at leadership levels has become sadly common (Tine,
interview). There is a need for more transparency and there is a lot more
accountability that could be established to support development efforts (Thorpe,
interview). Leadership capacity can be facilitated by having more integrity and
accountability to the community (Haile-Mariam, interview).
Neither From Africa, Nor From Other Regions: Leadership Without Borders
A number of participants disagreed with the categories of “African
leaders” and “leaders from other regions,” and presented a reasonable argument
that we can only talk about leaders, period. The following excerpt from the
interview with Tokyo Sexwale illustrates this argument:
I don’t believe in the concept of leaders from Africa or African leaders.
You can only talk about World leaders. Africa is only one component of
the global world. I don’t think people say, “what do you think of
leadership in Europe or in Latin America?” Sometimes we use the
continent because it has suffered so much. It was compartmentalized; it
was isolated. We even isolate ourselves when we think of African leaders.
We have to see leaders in Africa as part of the global debate on
leadership….Let’s not confine ourselves to the continent because that will
deny us the opportunity and the right to speak about leadership globally.
Let’s talk about Leaders in Africa also being part of the global leadership
context. (Sexwale, interview)
Mr. Turay also warned against referring to “African leaders,” as such connotation
reduces them and limits them only to the issues of the continent. When talking
about African leadership, we should be talking of just leadership.
Like Mr. Sexwale, Mr. Turay argued for universal concepts of leadership,
but did allow for one distinction in terms of categorizing African leaders. The
qualities you find in leadership are universal: leaders emerge when societies are in
crisis or going through rapid change and certain individuals stand out. We need to
examine the concept of leadership and then see that the traits are common to
leaders in general independent from their national or cultural origin. The traits we
speak of have universal applicability. However, there is one distinction that would
be fair to make and that is to distinguish pre-independence and post-independence
leaders in Africa (Turay, interview).
The Leadership Role of African Regional Institutions
Assessments of the Success or Failure of Regional Institutions
Participants fell into three camps regarding the leadership of regional
institutions: those who see these organizations as very useful to progress
(Gabianu, interview; Mayaki, interview; Samara, interview), those who see them
as ineffective and futile (Gueye, interview; Ouedraogo, interview; N’Dour,
interview; Turay, interview), and those who feel the idea of regional institutions is
one that might work in time but might need many more years to show results
(Mwamba, interview; Themistocles, interview).
One participant spoke of regional institutions as failed and named the
weakness of member nations as the cause. Regional organizations are not the
place where we should look for leadership—they are powerless in terms of
finance, moral leadership. If the constituent parts are weak, then the whole is
weak. I would go back to the national entities; once they are strong, they can build
strong regional entities (Turay, interview).
Another participant felt that the African Union had failed, or was perhaps
unobtainable, but spoke guardedly of the potential for regional institutions.
Regional union such as the East African Union, Southern African Union, and
West African nations is a lot more likely to happen effectively. The issue plaguing
African nations is the issue of economic development; how much these bodies can
contribute to the economic development of their members is an open question. On
the other hand in terms of military unity, it can help: for example, the Nigerian
Peace Troops that assisted Sierra Leone in the pacification helping Sierra Leone
end the civil war. Such regional bodies might prove to be very helpful in
politically unstable situations and act as a policeman. At the same time, right now,
the world is witnessing how the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) is not able to interfere with the Zimbabwe case. So the question really
remains open as to the effectiveness of these organizations in supporting and
driving development on the continent (Themistocles, interview).
Leaders as the Decisive Factor in the Success of Regional Institutions
Six participants discussed the impact of leaders on the success of Africa’s
regional institutions. One participant spoke of leaders’ tendency to choose not to
act and then put the blame for non-action onto others.
I just want African leadership to face “Mount Truth.” There is a lot of
denying of facts that we do. Other people help us deny it even more.
African leaders should just face facts and say: these are the problems we
have and these are the ways we think we can deal with it. Blaming people
for what has gone wrong isn’t taking us very far…if you keep doing
something, and it’s not producing results, why do you continue on that
path? I see Africa doing that. At the end of the day, we don’t produce
results. (Gabianu, interview)
The greatest challenge to the African Union is the willingness of African leaders
to give up their sovereignty and their authority. African leaders at this stage and in
our contemporary history talk about African Union, but are not there to be
counted when it comes to doing it; rather, they perpetually continue to put the
blame on others when it comes to discussing the challenges that such regional
organizations face (Gabianu, interview; Gueye, interview; Ouedraogo, interview;
N’Dour, interview).
Another participant discussed the role of leaders in creating strong
positions for regional institutions. We need more bold leaders to transform these
organizations to live up to their values so they can play their very important role
in development and in helping leaders. In the context of SADC and in the context
of Zimbabwe, you have a clear case where President Mugabe has overstayed and
has rigged elections, and the role of SADC would have been that the leaders
meeting as SADC should have come up with a very clear position: if you are part
of us, then you have to toe this particular line in terms of governance. But the
leaders of SADC mostly stayed quiet, other than the leaders of Zambia and
Botswana. A more united front from SADC would have expedited and
transformed the situation in Zimbabwe much earlier. The same goes with the AU,
even though we are using Zimbabwe as an example; we can assume that any
country that operates outside proper good governance lines should be stopped.
The role of these organizations could potentially be very important, if only they
can live up to the values which they themselves are supposed to have (Mwamba,
Participants named leaders’ reluctance to relinquish power to regional
institutions as a significant obstacle to the success of those institutions. Currently
the challenge we have with regional integration and regional development efforts
is that our leaders are not willing to give up their hold on their territories—each of
them wants to be the King. It is their selfishness that is keeping us back, their
unwillingness to relinquish their individual privileges (Gueye, interview; N'Dour,
interview). They might not have understood that a collective, long-term vision
might benefit the greater whole (Gueye, interview). If the individual leaders
cannot let go of the past and work toward a common future that benefits all, then
the regional bodies will also not work (Gueye, interview). Many of these
organizations are powerless shells because to harmonize something as large as
Africa, each country would have to give in and let go of a certain power and
sovereignty so that decision can be more final. We have countries who give too
much power to political leaders; these leaders do not want to give that up, and one
day be something like a Governor as opposed to being a Head of State. Our
countries are small countries and as such they hold on to their sovereignty and
cannot make space for the Africa union (N’Dour, interview).
Former President Sawyer (interview) identified the problem that these
organizations are too frequently left supported by European bodies that then
proceed to influence the agenda very seriously. It is therefore important to ensure
that these organizations rely more on Africa-based expertise and approaches,
which would also support an inherent understanding of the issues at hand.
The Role of Regional Institutions in Africa’s Global Relationships
Several participants spoke of their hope regarding the importance of
Africa’s regional institutions in developing a voice for Africa on the global stage.
These organizations should be a platform to negotiate in the name of the nations
and with the international bodies, but we have not yet seen the results that we
need because we are still working in the paradigm that Africa needs aid (Gueye,
interview; Aidoo, interview). Regional organizations can play a great leadership
role in positioning Africa, because the rest of the world sees the continent as one,
and this can be put to our advantage. The best of our leaders have always
recognized the value of the pan-African perspective (Aidoo, interview).
Similarly, one participant spoke of the relationship between the African
Union and regional institutions. The regional bodies can be the means to support
regional integration and also be the mouth that speaks for the African Union (AU)
and bring the AU’s policy down to the regional policy (Thorpe, interview).
The Need for Leaders to Create a Plan for Africa’s Relationship to Other Regions
One participant offered the example of Al Capone to highlight the key role
of leaders in creating and implementing a plan for Africa’s relationship to other
regions of the world.
Here is something that [the] American Mafia Boss, Al Capone, said which I
find interesting: To succeed you needs three things: (1) a gun (which is
understandable for a Mafia person), (2) a smile (which is also useful), and
(3) a plan (which is interesting). He said that sometimes you will have to
give up one. If ever you must give up one, then give up your gun. If you
must give up yet another one, then drop the smile but never let go of your
You will notice that our leaders, in Africa, have more often than
not used the smile when dealing with those that tried to dominate us, the
predators. The plan has not been very clear. We did not expect that they
would enslave us, that they would colonize us; we had no plan. Part of the
plan is that whenever you are in a situation, you can very quickly regroup
and think through. This is the challenge of leadership. A group strategic
leader would be able to say: “we are trapped; we need to regroup and think
of a plan to get out of the situation, out of the trap.” Of course we have had
leaders with great plans; many of the anti-colonial fighters had great plans.
But the point I am trying to make is that if we ask today: what is the African
plan vis-a-vis China, for example.
The role of leadership in Africa today is one that hinges heavily on
our leaders being able to provide the direction, the inspiration, the vision for
planning, for strategizing as to how Africa will deal with the rest of the
world and how it can maneuver its way out of the ongoing financial
meltdown, how we create jobs for our young people who go to Europe on
canoes, and how we can turn the African world around. That Al Capone
plan is missing. We do have a lot of smiles; you see our leaders smiling, but
there is not a clear plan. For example, the Chinese are very clear about what
they want from Africa: they want natural resources. They have their plan
worked out—we need our plan in order to engage them. (Aidoo, interview)
In the case of Africa, Al Capone’s “gun” is the resources the continent has: We
have not yet been able to use “the gun” (our resources) to get what we want for
our people. It’s about taking a stand and having the ability to draw the line in
terms of what nations of the developed world can and cannot do in Africa (Aidoo,
Two participants discussed the need for planning and strategizing. In
terms of leaders in Africa, we need a lot more leadership for planning and
strategizing (Aidoo, interview). One of the ways we can judge successful
leadership in Africa today is by the extent to which the leaders have enough
vision and inspiration to develop the plans and effective strategies we need to
develop Africa. If that is not there, then the leaders are just occupying a post,
traveling and attending international meetings, and so on. African leaders in
today’s world need to spend a lot more time envisioning what future they can help
create. Part of this vision should include giving center stage to women and young
people, who can bring two things for the communities: first, they can bring
energy; second, they can bring creativity and innovation (Aidoo, interview).
The Benefits of Integration
Participants named integration, either regional or across the continent, as a
potential solution to a number of Africa’s problems.
Development challenges.
I am convinced of three things. (1) The division of Africa the way it has
been done so far, is an obstacle to development. It brought us considerable
burdens. (2) The only way to remove this burden is to favor integration.
(3) My conviction is that we will have a hard time reaching development
objectives only through national programs; for political reasons, and the
social configuration; for economic reasons given the sizes of our
countries; and also for political reasons because these reduced areas call
for political systems that are not always and not enough democratic. I am
convinced that Africa will only start developing better when the continent
starts being more integrated.
And we can see that such regional organizations are ahead of the
game in relations to the countries. For example, we can see that in the case
of governance and that occurrence of coup d’états, the African Union
comes very fast to take measures where our countries react not as fast. For
example, ECOWAS…has a regional agricultural policy that is absolutely
ahead of that of the country level. I believe it is these organizations that
will pull the continent towards development, by offering model, tools, and
structures. (Mayaki, interview)
Nation states taken individually will not have impact, but if they regroup on
various bases (economic, social, etc.) around regional organization, they will be
able to succeed. These organizations should be a place for reflection on how
Africa has to be responsible for her development (N’Dour, interview).
Lack of infrastructure. One participant spoke of the challenge presented
by lack of infrastructure and the possible solution represented by regional
organizations. The challenge of infrastructure is so crucial, and it is the quality of
leadership of the regional mechanisms can play a key role on this issue (Aidoo,
Lack of social networks. Two participants spoke of the importance of
social networks, and the role of regional institutions in supporting such networks.
Regional institutions can serve as platforms of social network linking nations
across the continent (Themistocles, interview). We have to look at how we can
put in place social networks across the continent to help us navigate through these
very complicated waters and tides that we find ourselves in as a people (Aidoo,
Progress toward a better future. One participant named integration as a
manifestation of leaders’ ability to let go of the past and move toward a vision for
a better future. Much of the leadership capacity and contribution, both from an
individual or institutional perspective, is defined by our capacity to let go of the
past, let go of the present, in favor of creating a future. It is our ability and
willingness to make space for such a future even though we might not know how
it will be or how it will unfold. This is the issue. Leadership is a risky business—
we have to jump into the unknown and the uncertainty for the sake of obliging
opportunities that we feel are out there. It seems that we in Africa are busy trying
to manage the future or even better yet, trying to extend the present into the
future, with just a little improvement. That is not the kind of leadership that this
continent needs (Gueye, interview).
Challenges for Regional Organizations
Political boundaries. The boundaries on the map of Africa were named as
particular impediments to moving forward. Letting go of the past is, for example,
about waking up and deciding to do away with borders; to decide not to have
frontiers anymore; no more Senegal, no more Liberia, no more Ethiopia (Gueye,
interview). Africa is really more than the sum of its parts, more than its 53
countries. The idea that we construct Africa developing individual nation’s
success stories one at a time is flawed, because the integrity of the continent is so
important both at the conceptual level and at the practical level. If Africa is going
to position itself strategically on the global market, we really need to aggregate all
the pieces that spread out throughout the continent and think regionally (Aidoo,
Diversity. The diversity of the African continent, within each country and
from country to country, was named as a challenge for regional institutions. While
there is no doubt that Africa is a diverse continent with a range of cultures,
traditions, and peoples, the issue of diversity was problematized when colonial
powers divided up the continent in ways that suited them (in terms of resources
and access to resources) rather than in terms of existing communities.
Regional organizations have given it a good try, and are trying to get
things moving; we have to consider the diversity we have within each country and
try to appreciate how much more diversity there might be within a region. In the
Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, where there is a
common language shared among the countries (Swahili or English), things seem
to be moving faster than in the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS) region where there isn’t a common language and the working
languages include French, English, or national languages (Thorpe, interview).
Many believe that African Union as a total union is unlikely because there is just
too much cultural diversity. You have certain African countries who don’t feel
African, like the Arab states—the only time they identify with Africa might be at
times of football (Themistocles, interview).
Consensus orientation. One participant identified the practice of
consensus as inhibiting the forward movement of regional organizations in Africa.
I think [these organizations] are moving forward because when we look at
Latin America, Africa has political integration mechanisms a lot more
advanced than those in Latin America. We have a Security and Peace
Council; we try to make regional plans in relation to infrastructure. The
mindsets of our leaders are a lot more about integration than the leaders of
Latin America.
What is stopping them a bit is that we are thinking too much in
terms of quotas of countries, which comes against the promotion of merit.
We try to satisfy everyone, but at the same time this is a sort of a brake in
the process. (Mayaki, interview)
The Greatest Challenges of African Leaders
The main challenge mentioned in almost all the interviews is the issue of
corruption; corruption is not necessarily associated only with or directly to the
leaders, but is seen as a chronic impediment to the entire system in place.
During my interview, with Gashe Azmi Samara, he explained to me how a
lot of the work he conducted had been made difficult by the questionable integrity
of some of the civil servants who were put in office to service the liberation
fighters. Corruption did not just appear in our time now, but was there for decades
among some officials of the public sector and among some civil servants of
international organizations. However, there is also an equally strong number of
individuals with integrity within these same public service and international
organization structures that fought against corruption. The determination he had
witnessed among Africa’s greatest icons and how these icons were in truth very
humble individuals with vision that surpassed their own lives and person—this is
what kept him inspired and moving forward despite the many obstacles on his
path (Samara, interview).
In speaking about his early career days, Samara shared the following:
Money corrupts people. In the early days when I just took up my post in
Tanzania, some colleagues came to me and said, “Either you bend or you
break. Either you follow us or you are finished by us.” I insisted to say, “I
came here to do a job, to help these people, the fighters before I sell
myself.” Because of unfortunate corruption among some officials, money
was not reaching the freedom fighters. So I promised the leaders that I will
work hard to ensure that they get their allocation in full; no one was going
to mishandle what was their due. This is why I had a hard time with the
others who were corrupt.
I had the help of Nyerere; he was a good man. Mwalimu is how
they used to call him, it means teacher in Swahili and refers to his
profession before he took up politics. I was lucky that as much as there
were corrupt men that tried to pressure me into corruption, there were
more men that stood by me and supported me fully so that I could do my
work to the best of my ability. (Samara, interview)
One participant identified Africa’s economic situation as partly
responsible for corruption. The issue of corruption has not improved from the
1960s, and it might be that it has worsened through the years. Somehow you
know that if you have money you can bypass certain bureaucratic avenues that
you could not bypass in other countries. It’s tragic, and it is also understandable
when you see the wages that people get in Africa; the average sub-Saharan
country does not offer wages commensurate with the responsibilities of leadership
(Themistocles, interview).
As a corollary to corruption, one participant discussed the challenge greed
represents for most leaders. It is greed that makes many heads of states and
elected officials overstay their mandate. It is greed that might cloud the thinking
of many leaders and rob them of the opportunity to focus on their legacy (Gueye,
interview), as opposed to focusing on the material gain they can accumulate
Another participant spoke of the relationship between corruption and
Africa’s dependence on foreign aid. As the greatest challenge in Africa,
corruption contributes heavily to the drainage of African capital to banks in the
Northern States to the tune of about 40 billion U.S. dollars a year, according to the
IMF, a substantial portion of the public aid Africa receives. We had thought that
with the democratizations of the states in Africa, this corruption would slowly
disappear, but instead it is becoming part of the system, one of the biggest
challenges because it takes away resources from other interest such as education,
health and infrastructure. If we did not have all of the embezzlement and
corruption, we might not really need aid (Mayaki, interview).
Two participants spoke very strongly of the need to change Africa’s
relationship to foreign aid. This idea that in order for Africa to develop we need
aid is extremely problematic: There is no country in the history of economics that
managed to develop only because of aid. So, when we want to build a hospital, for
example, instead of asking “Who can help us to build this?”, we can ask “What
can we do ourselves first?” This is a mindset that has to change. For example, the
$25 billion worth of food items that is imported to Africa each year represents the
challenge that Africa has to learn to feed itself. If we bring in this much, this
means we are paying this much—if we spent this amount on developing
agricultures it would be the best way of combating poverty because the majority
of our population lives in rural areas and from agriculture (Mayaki, interview).
Another participant spoke of the role of leaders in ending Africa’s
dependence on aid. Aid is one of the challenges for African development and the
quality of the leadership on the continent. We have to stop aid—this is the richest
continent in the world in terms of resources. Instead of looking at donors, we
should be looking at finding partners with an interest and a stake in interacting
with Africa and African leadership, relationships that value development (Gueye,
interview). We need a leadership that will let go of the past, one that will look into
new ways of conducting business, and one that has a clear aim to the future we
want. That is the kind of leadership that the continent needs.
One participant spoke eloquently of the challenge of stability for society.
Other challenges come in the form of our ability to sustain a stable society: If we
have that, people are secure and feel secure enough to live and not fight for
survival; they go away from fighting each other. This is a critical stage that our
development has to reach (Turay, interview).
Critical Evaluations of Democracy for Africa, above, presented
participants’ evaluation of Western democracy as suitable for Africa. As a
corollary to that discussion, this section presents how participants framed
democracy as a challenge for African leaders.
A number of participants discussed the challenge that democracy
represents for African leaders. Two discussed the gap between types of
democracies as it is practiced in other regions and as it is implemented in Africa.
One core challenge is that of democracy and good governance; democracy is new
in Africa, so we don’t expect perfection in the next fifty years (Themistocles,
Look at democracy and democratization on this continent. All the leaders
said: yes, we are all going to become democratically elected, but give us
the aid. Then after elections, most elected leaders start[ed] manipulating
the constitutions, chang[ing] the constitutions in ways that will allow them
to stay more and longer in office. It seems we don’t even know the
meaning of democracy—we have tropicalized it. Ten, twenty years down
the line, we will be talking about “democracy in an African way.” That is
nonsense. (Gueye, interview)
Two participants discussed the gap between the daily experience of the
people and the democratic systems that have been implemented from the top
down. The democratic transitions we have had in Africa are still at the top policy
level and not at the ground level; of course we have elections and elected
officials, parliaments and electoral commission, but in terms of the involvement
of citizens, young people, and the community, we still have a long way to go. The
process of bottom-up democratization remains a big challenge. If we turn this
around, internally, these leaders will be anchored and rooted. The context of
democracy in Africa is that the process of democracy and leadership will be
challenged unless we are building democratic institutions on the basis of what
ordinary persons are doing on a day-to-day basis, in a way that can relate to the
lives of these ordinary people (Aidoo, interview). We have to examine the ways
to close the gap between those at the top that lead our countries and those at the
ground that represent the majority of our people. The leaders would have to start
from where the people are, rather than starting with where they want to take the
people. Good examples of such strategies are found in the work of Julius Nyerere
in Tanzania and also Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso (Aidoo, interview).
Ethnic Divisions
Two participants named ethnic divisions as a challenge for African
leaders. Instead of focusing on our differences, it would be best if we would focus
on becoming builders of communities; unfortunately, our societies focus too
much on their ethnocentricity from a negative perspective. For example, in Sierra
Leone, a country of about 5 million inhabitants, there are 16 tribes and ethnicities.
It then is the responsibility of the leader to bring the diversity of the nation into a
national one-ness, into a whole, into a together-ness—this is one challenge of
African leaders that European leaders do not face. Because of such issues, even
elections are biased on the basis of ethnicity (Thorpe, interview). At the core of
the mythology of leadership in Africa is the Pan-Africanism idea—the idea that
it’s not the color of the skin; it’s not even the continent or the land as such, but the
people of this land, wherever they are. Because our struggles are the same, the
systems that keep us down are the same, and therefore we need to connect. Yet, it
might be that there is more fragmentation now in comparison to what we had
forty or fifty years ago (Aidoo, interview).
Nurturance of the Next Generation
One participant spoke of the challenge of nurturing the next generation,
and the next generation of leaders in particular. Most leaders in Africa today were
born in colonial Africa and benefited from the bounty of independence: free
education, scholarships, health, and so on. Now the challenge that such men and
women carry is the responsibility to prepare the next generation to develop the
capacity to deal with the challenges that their era will pose (Aidoo, interview).
Relationships With International Peers
One participant spoke of the challenge of crafting an equal relationship
with global peers, and the need to educate African people regarding that
challenge. True leaders face the challenge of relating to their international peers in
a way that helps their people. The history between Africa and the rest of the
world, especially the northern countries of the world, makes the relationship
unequal. It is not easy for an African Head of State or leader to engage with the
big powers, the countries with strong financial resources, strong industries and
economies, and push an agenda in the interest of the people. This is a huge
challenge that is often not appreciated and often unexplained to the people
(Aidoo, interview).
Lack of a Plan or a Firm Position
One participant spoke of the challenge of taking and holding a strong
position. What’s holding us back is the fact that we don’t have a stand—neither as
individuals nor as a collective (Gueye, interview).
Reflection: Can Great Leaders Fail?
All participants agreed that great leaders can fail, and that much can be
learned from examining the reasons for failure. There is no one that is infallible;
failure is as much a part of our lives as is success, as is the existence of
opportunities and obstacles. What distinguishes leaders—and great leaders—is
the way they handle both failure and success (Haile-Mariam, interview).
One participant spoke of the difference successful leadership can make in
the lives of an entire nation. Lee Kwan Yu of Singapore transformed an entire
nation in the course of 25 years, taking a country with absolutely no natural
resources and transforming it into one of the wealthiest nations of the world. In
1961, both Sierra Leone and Singapore gained independence, and at that time, it
seemed more likely that Sierra Leone would leap into progress and economic
growth given its riches and natural resources. Today, however, Sierra Leone ranks
among the last countries on the human development index, while Singapore ranks
among the top nations. What happened? A lot might be due to the vision of the
respective Leaders these two nations had (Turay, interview).
Reasons for Failure
A few participants identified two possible reasons for a great leader to fail:
first, the leader may be eliminated (one way or another) before they complete
their mission; second, the leader may not manage to mobilize the support to
implement their vision (Aidoo, interview; Mwamba, interview; Ouedraogo,
Lessons to Learn From Failure
Participants identified a number of lessons to learn from failure. Fear must
be thrown out the window; the more we gather knowledge and information about
what we are afraid of, the easier it is to deal with. We must accept mistakes, learn
from them, and move on (Aidoo, interview). We cannot be upset because of
failure, as much as it would be foolish to be over excited because of success; we
have to learn to take both with stride and mindfulness because our success should
be to benefit our people, and our failures are only a chance to do it again so that
next time we do things better (Haile-Mariam, interview).
Leaders’ Personal Stories and Experiences
By the time the interviews reached questions related to the personal lives
of the participants, a few challenges came up. I was often running out of time, and
the time that was left did not give me enough room to engage in the conversation
about personal lives in a way that would make both the participants and myself
comfortable. Therefore, the data in this section are somewhat thin.
Sources of Personal Inspiration and Leadership
All participants had a desire to be in service of their community, their
nation, or a cause for Africa. One participant spoke at length of the influence of
her family, particularly her mother, on her decision to pursue a life of service
through leadership.
We may not always be aware of the factors that have influenced us in
becoming leaders. During a training at the United Nations about
Leadership, and as we discussed the factors that may have influenced us in
becoming leaders or in serving in the public sector, I was surprised to
discover that it was not the influence of my father, as I had always
thought, but that of my mother that has led me into my work. My father
had been a politician, long-time involved in the work of the diplomatic
world. I always thought I was following his lead, yet through the work
[we] did during this training, I found out that it was in fact the influence of
my mother that led me to become who I am today.
My mother, contrary to my father, had not been in school. She was
not educated in the classical way. Yet she was a woman of strong
character and it is her influence on me that has predisposed me to be
concerned of [for] the welfare of the community and those around me, to
be ready to serve others and take responsibility. (Ouedraogo, interview)
This participant elaborated that education should not be considered a marker of
leadership competency, because their character and the values they absorbed from
their family are far more important. It is not possible to say that the quality of our
leadership competencies is related to the level of our education. It is not the
number of degrees, the number of credentials that make someone a leader—it is
what is in the person’s heart and what has been instilled in the person that forges
and makes that person potentially a leader (Ouedraogo, interview).
Two participants described how opportunities to more fully experience the
daily lives of the people inspired them to follow a life of service. Ouedraogo
spoke of the time she spent working as a sociologist in the heart of the rural areas
of Burkina Faso as one of the moments that marked her life and brought her a
deeper understanding of what is expected of men and women working in
development. It is this time that gave her, also, the opportunity to truly be aware
of the responsibilities we all have toward the final beneficiaries we work for.
It [working in rural Burkina Faso] influenced my life because for me it
became capital that all economic and human development initiative[s]
could have sense only if the initiatives were anchored in the true reality of
the population the programs aim to change. (Ouedraogo, interview)
A true leader is one who is concerned about the welfare of the community she
serves rather than being concerned about herself; rather than trying to gain
promotions and better position oneself for a selfish purpose, one sees how such a
promotion or better position can allow one to serve the communities even better
and at a greater, more impactful level (Ouedraogo, interview). Josephine
Ouedraogo has held highly responsible posts and appointments both in the public
sector as well as in the international/multilateral aid and development sector,
following a trajectory of service to the communities.
Gueye described how his work as a doctor exposed him to the need for
change and inspired him to want to be part of that change.
Seeing the life around me and witnessing the injustice is what led me to
get engaged in the public sector in service of the communities at large. I
want people to live a better life and what I had seen was not good enough
for me. That is why I am where I am today, doing what I do for the
communities at all levels and across the continent. As a physician, I have
seen people dying, and I think they should not have died. I wanted to
change this and because I wanted to change things, I had to do something
and that led me to take a stand. (Gueye, interview)
One participant described how a stranger gave him words of wisdom that
changed his direction in life. Dr. Aidoo’s path and moment of deep inspiration
came to him as he was finishing his PhD. Until then, he had tried to be a priest
and that had not worked; at the same time, he had been very moved and touched
by the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and had been following it closely.
One day, he was attending an anti-apartheid demonstration in New York City
when he approached a man, a South African activist, and told this man he wanted
to join the ANC and be part of the struggle for a free South Africa. The South
African man was older and wise. He told Dr. Aidoo:
We don’t need dead heroes. What we need are young people, role models
like you who have achieved something to show our young people that they
too can achieve, they don’t have to destroy. Dying for the cause is
important but we want people alive for the cause. (Aidoo, interview)
This moment and these words stayed with Dr. Aidoo, who then went to Tanzania
to teach at the University in Dar Es Salam where he learned a lot more about the
South African struggle (Aidoo, interview).
A second turning point for this participant occurred when he realized new
ways to contribute to change. His experience in Tanzania brought new insights
about being in service to the communities across the continent by working
through philanthropy, mobilizing resources and availing these resources for the
people who had a plan and a vision about how African could be tomorrow
(Aidoo, interview).
I learned that I did not have to be a priest, a revolutionary, or a rebel or
soldier. I could still be of service peacefully and work pacifically by
helping people achieve their vision by working to provide them resources,
financial and non-financial, intellectual, educational and other resources.
(Aidoo, interview)
Sources of Resilience, Energy, and Determination
One participant spoke of the strength he finds in choosing to help shape
change, in deciding to direct change since some kind of change is inevitable.
“One can influence, one can help shape and that’s what keeps me going” (Aidoo,
interview). Change is inevitable and we have a choice whether we want to be part
of it or not be part of it, whether we want to be recipients of change or agents of
change. We can help shape and make the change that is coming more beneficial to
everyone and to the sustainability of humanity and all living beings of the Earth
and the universe. If we focus only on the inevitability of change, we might fall in
fatalism—the motivation is the recognition that the human will is very vital in the
kind of change that happens. We have the power to stimulate change, we can
shape the kind of change that happens, and we can work to make it more
beneficial to the community. For example, in ten years from now, we know that
the Internet could be in every single village in Africa, subject to how we work
today and how willing we are to make this change happen. Such a change would
radically alter the face of education and communication within Africa and with
the rest of the world. Such a change would also help close the gap between
policy-makers and the grassroots in Africa—a move toward stability, democracy,
and human rights (Aidoo, interview).
Along similar lines, another participant spoke of how focusing on
possibilities sustains his work. Possibilities are what kept me going; I think a
better future is out there, so I can work toward it. Based on my stand,
commitment, and my work, I am convinced I can make it (Gueye, interview).
The Leaders’ Personal Challenges and Lessons Learned
Dr. Aidoo was the only participant who responded to this question. He
named three personal challenges and lessons learned: staying connected to the
people we lead, going slowly, and being willing to relinquish control of change.
Regarding staying connected to the people, he described one basic challenge that
we face as humans who want to make a difference in the world, as opposed to
“what can I get from the world.” For those who tend to focus more on how to
service, the biggest challenge is making sure that we remain in tune with the
environment, with the people we try to help, and with ourselves. Regarding going
slowly, he stated that the challenge is in making sure that we are not going too
fast and that we remain humble enough to listen to others.
In terms of willingness to relinquish control of change, Dr. Aidoo
suggested that leaders remain a resource as opposed to wanting to be always the
one driving the change that we think must happen. The challenge is to learn to
constantly step back to make room for the new generations to express their vision
(Aidoo, interview).
Finally, another challenge with leadership at times is that we tend to think
that the leader has all the answers and has the vision, when in fact the leader is
just someone who is driven and standing on the shoulders of those he or she leads.
Leaders don’t always have the answers. They might have the vision but not the
tactics and the strategy. Leaders can see the big picture but they need others to
manifest the vision (Aidoo, interview). This is the challenge of being there to lead
while we are also there to listen and make room for other to express the strategies
and tactics to achieve the vision. As the Chinese Premier Wu once said: “Strategy
without tactics is the longest road to victory; and tactics without strategy is the
shortest way to defeat” (Aidoo, interview).
In summary, the challenge might be connecting with ourselves and those
we work with so that the work is shared, the vision is shared, and the
responsibility is shared.
The Role Models, Teachers, and Mentors of the Leaders
One participant named his grandmother as his role model and teacher.
I grew up very close to my grandmother. She was a hunter. I still don’t
know if there are many women hunters. As you know grandmothers in the
world and especially in Africa are those who give meaning to all the good
things we have. She gave meaning to my life. To me, and most of the
community, she was the epitome of wisdom, courage, and a person that
was connected to the Universe that still amazes me. Her point was always
about preserving, being at service, and helping people. This is what led me
to wanting to be a priest and a teacher. But ultimately, I was seeking to do
good; I was seeking to support transformation in Africa. (Aidoo,
The same participant also spoke of the influence a particular teacher had
as a mentor for him. Ben Magubane, a South African anthropologist and
sociologist with whom Aidoo did his PhD, was the person who drew Aidoo to the
1983 political rally in New York against apartheid. Magubane was the
quintessential committed, progressive scholar who believed that action meant
more than words and that you could be part of the change that comes; he spent his
entire life writing and acting for the end of Apartheid.
Several participants spoke of the influence particular writers had on their
development as leaders. Although they never met, Dr. Aidoo was most influenced
spiritually by Camilo Torres, a Columbian Catholic priest who took up the
struggle on the side of the peasantry—the father of liberation for Columbian
people. Aidoo referred to Torres as a guiding star.
Several participants spoke of the other leaders who served as role models
for him; they named the writings and ideologies of leaders like Marcus Garvey,
Kwame Nkrumah, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Jean-Paul Sartre, without
forgetting Nelson Mandela. These are the men and the leaders who have shaped
not only the way their ways of thinking personally, but the way entire generations
think today (Amoako, interview; Gabianu, interview; Ouedraogo, interview;
Turay, interview).
Only Nelson Mandela could tell the President of the United States of
America, at the time Bill Clinton, that we should respect Fidel Castro of
Cuba and Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. Only a leader like Nelson Mandela
could afford to say such truth. (Turay, interview)
The common thread among all those whom Dr. Aidoo referred to as role
models is the idea that you can make change happen for the benefit of everyone. It
is knowing that change is possible and that we can each play a role in it that
allows people like Aidoo to keep going (Aidoo, interview).
Looking into the Future, Passing on Messages of Wisdom and Guidance
One participant spoke of the value of learning from past mistakes.
We have come a long way and we have evolved. Fifty years from now, I
will be able to say that we have evolved as human beings, we are not
killing each other, we have a new generation of leaders who are detached
enough to serve. We have also learned from our mistakes. We have
learned a lot based on the past mistakes and we are able to build a new
future. Something is bound to happen in Africa. The new generation of
Africa will have to arise and decide and say: Okay, this is the new
direction we are taking. I hope that I will be able to appreciate how much
progress we have made. (Gueye, interview)
A few participants warned leaders to detach their focus from their own
personal survival. Most of the attitudes and behaviors of leaders are related to
their own desires for survival and to maintain their privileges; if leaders can have
detachment from their own survival, then they may be able to do something else,
something better. I would love to let go of my car and my house, but I can’t,
because those things allow me to secure my life. The survival mindset, the not-
enough mindset, the scarcity mindset—this is what keeps our political leaders
where they are and robs them of the opportunity to create a new future to benefit
the collective or the masses. I have not yet seen that kind of detached leadership
on this continent (Aidoo, interview; Gueye, interview; N’Dour, interview).
Two participants spoke of future leaders as those who listen to their people
and maintain connection with their people. These future leaders will be loved by
their people and will be listening to their people (Aidoo, interview). Political
leadership that can truly be leverage for change must be inclusive, let go of the
past, and listen to everyone—including those who oppose us. It’s about getting
into power, yet being able to remain grounded and in touch with the communities,
able to create frameworks that support human rights, civil rights, and freedom. It
is about creating systems that are suitable for emergence (Gueye, interview).
One participant spoke of a future Africa as taking greater advantage of
diversity, from different perspectives.
In 100 years there will be more women leaders, many women Presidents,
and much younger people in office Africa will be more cosmopolitan:
There will be more of the young children that we see today who are born
from parents from this or that country, who traveled and were raised in
many countries…these are the children who will be leaders in 100 years.
These are the global citizens I see leading Africa. …
Hopefully a hundred years from now, Africans would have come
together, and that is probably the reason why we would have survived; our
differences and our diversity will be an asset as opposed to being a
liability. We have been bonding very well, but now we have also learned
to bridge and connect with each other—and I would take time to recognize
that and encourage them to continue on the path. (Aidoo, interview)
This participant also spoke of Africa’s relationship to the world from
different future perspectives. These leaders will not be only African Leaders but
will be leaders for humanity. There will be global citizens and the message to
them will be:
Now that we have changed humanity, we need to change the Earth. We
have shown that humanity can rise as one and live together; now is the
time to give something back to the Earth and do more preservation work
and broaden the human family to include all living beings. Animal rights,
plant rights are as important as human rights and the Earth belongs to all
that live in it. It’s a tough message, but it’s a message we need to pass on.
(Aidoo, interview)
He continued to discuss a future in which Africa shares her unique skills and
capabilities with the world.
If I had to speak to leaders in 100 years from now…I would speak to them
about what Africa has to offer the world and humanity. Africans have
come so far and such a long and challenging way that there is something
we can share with the world about how human beings can survive, how
humanity can survive. If Africa has survived in the next 100 years, I think
we will have a message for the rest of the world. (Aidoo, interview)
Finally, Dr. Aidoo spoke of a holistic approach to development that
includes spirituality, culture, and society.
Our evolution and that of our communities is more than the material
evolution (the food, the clothing, the housing, etc.). We have to give due
attention to the spiritual, the cultural, the social evolution, and also the
evolution of the soul of Africa. Development is not just about food and life
and death; it’s between the two. It’s about having our basic needs but also
being able to address our social and spiritual lives in a way that would
give substance to the time we spend on this Earth between life and death.
(Aidoo, interview)
Speaking to the Young Leaders of Today: What Would You Say?
Don’t give up, humanity can be saved, we can make change happen for
everyone, and we can all come out of the current economic and social
challenges we face. There is no reason why there should be beggars on
the street, why we can’t all achieve good things for all of us. It’s about the
human urgency and that it is all in our hands. We might not be able to say
that God’s work is done, but we can come close and say that we have it
close in our hands. It’s not entirely left to God anymore, God has endowed
us, has given us the tools, the wisdom and the urgency. We have choices.
We can make decisions and make things happen—the sky is the limit.
(Aidoo, interview)
One participant highlighted that in order for Africa as a continent to reach
its potential and join the rest of the world on the global stage, in addition to the
efforts made in development, some more efforts will have to be made to change
some traditions.
When I go to my village, I asked why can’t we have one room and keep
all the things that deal with chieftainship, and school children can learn
from that. They don’t understand that children have to learn and have to be
in front row to learn more. Often at ceremonies the first seats are given to
adults, children in the back. We have to undo this. If we want good leaders
in the future, we should start teaching the children now. We should be
teaching children and let them see everything. (Gabianu, interview)
This chapter presents my findings and offers a discussion relating my
findings to the literature reviewed. Before we move to the discussion of the
findings, it is important to present the limitations of this study and how the
expected results may have been slightly different than what I expected to achieve.
Limitations of the Study
The first major limitation of this study is in terms of the process as well as
the scope and depth of the Literature Review, due to the circumstance of limited
Internet connectivity and limited access to full library facilities (as mentioned in
Chapter 2 above). Regarding the process of the literature review, this study was
fully completed while I was based in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a post-conflict
nation, with many challenges in terms of limited electric power (e.g., having to
use the generator each time I work on my computer), Internet (e.g., extremely
slow Internet making it difficult to browse and find the necessary articles,
journals, etc.), connectivity, library access (e.g., either not having any access at all
or being confronted with paying a substantial amount of money to access journals,
articles, and publications).
Given these circumstances, I have done my best—and in a way, there is a
lesson to be learned from this experience of trying to complete research with such
limited resources. As much as development practitioners, policy-makers,
international agencies, and aid organizations might talk about development in
Africa, at times, this development (or lack of development) is best seen at the
individual level. At the individual level, a person can experience exactly what it
means not to have the basic facilities in which to work.
Regarding the scope and breadth of the literature review, there are a
number of issues to mention. First, material written specifically about African
leadership was not as easily accessible as material written on leadership (meaning
Western leadership discourse). In fact, I found that the amount of research and
scholarly work on Western leadership is overwhelming; therefore, I chose not to
engage in it for this study for fear of losing my focus on African leadership. While
most of the material on leadership was Western-culture-centric, I found that the
integral approach to leadership recognizes the collective aspect of leadership and
is thus closer to the African concept of leadership. Integral leadership represents
the whole including the leader, the led, the context and systems in which
leadership is exercised, and the behaviors and external aspects of the leader’s
internal values and attitudes. Therefore, integral leadership is included in this
The second, unexpected limitation of this study was the many interview
cancelations or postponement of appointments I experienced. I set out to study
African leadership from the perspective of former Heads of States and senior
leaders in the context of African development. At the proposal stage, I had reason
to believe that I would be able to secure appointments and travel to all of the
participants I wanted to interview. It turned out that many appointments were
either canceled or unduly postponed (even after I had traveled to the various
countries where the interviews were supposed to take place). In hindsight, I
realize that appointments may have been canceled not necessarily for logistic
purposes; some participants may have been uncomfortable discussing the issue of
leadership, given that politics and leadership are such precarious territory in many
African countries.
Lastly, in relation to the interviews, another limitation is that for the
participants I managed to interview, the stories collected came through illustrating
the practice and concept of leadership more so than illustrating how African
leadership and African development might be related. The role of leadership in
the context of African development did not come through as tangibly as
expected—it was more of an implicit assumption that leadership competence
would favor economic and human development in Africa.
Organization of the Chapter
With these limitations in mind, the following discussion presents the
stories and the experiences of my journey. The journey of this research has been,
for me, enriching at all levels: personal, spiritual, and intellectually. It has been a
long intensive and challenging process—insightful, transforming, humbling, and
inspiring. However, I realize at this point that the greater test might be yet to
come: The greater test might be in finding my capacity to analyze, interpret, and
bring forth that which I have learned in a way that others may also draw meaning
and possibly experience comparable transformation.
This is the chaper in which I consolidate, integrate, and bring together the
essence of that which I have learned. It goes without saying that this chapter is
very subjective and biased, as it reflects my perspectives and take on the material.
This chapter is about how I have understood the concept of leadership in Africa,
how I have learned from the literature review as well as from my participants,
how I have been transformed, and how I have drawn meaning from all the
encounters, interviews, and discussions.
In line with what I have learned, the discussion below is presented in two
parts. Part 1 connects the findings to the literature review, and Part 2 shares my
insights from a personal perspective.
Part 1: Analysis of Findings in Line With the Literature Review
In this section I present my analysis as it relates to the material reviewed
in the literature review. The discussion covers (a) lessons learned, (b) the meaning
of leadership in the African context, (c) the basic principles of African leadership,
(d) Ubuntu, (e) a brief consideration of Western versus African leadership
discourse, (f) African leadership from an integral perspective, (g) the meaning and
implication of visionary leadership in and for Africa, (h) effective versus poor
leadership in the African context, and (h) the opportunities effective leadership
holds for Africa.
Lessons Learned
One of the challenges as we look at leadership in Africa (and in the world
for that matter) is in finding a way to emerge leaders in a sustainable, durable,
predictable, and constructive way. The emergence of leaders should not be just
left to chance and random occurrence. Our understandings of the way our systems
function are crucial in addressing this issue of sustaining the quality of leadership.
One possible strategy to address this challenge might be to draw the parallels and
see what current Senior and Elder Leaders say about leadership, and how they see
the “making” of leaders. My intention is to bring what I have found about
leadership, the understanding I drew, and the discussion that took place to the
greater audience of African development practitioners, to the leaders, and to the
society at large as a contribution to engage ourselves, our communities, and our
societies to be more mindful of the opportunities that arise to groom and prepare
tomorrow’s leaders.
Throughout the discussions, conversations and interviews, as well as
throughout the entire process, there have been several opportunities for learning,
insight, and a deeper understanding of leadership as a concept. In addition, there
have been opportunities to deepen my understanding of our individual purpose in
life and how this purpose might be an indicator of the kind of leader we might
come to be. For example, in my interview with Mr. Ahmed Kathrada, I learned
how the level of our commitment to a cause or our conviction about a cause can
go as far as losing our lives. At the same time, in times of testing like that
experienced by Mr. Kathrada and his ANC colleagues during their time in prison
or in exile, the level of commitment can also allow us to survive the hardest trials.
The same applies to the story of Dr. Mayaki, who throughout his early life had to
witness the trials of his father (detained for over fifteen years) in the worst
possible condition. Dr. Mayaki’s commitment to inherit the cause of his father—
democracy, justice, and human rights in Niger and for the people of Niger—that
allowed him to not only survive the detention of his father, but also excel in his
life as a student, a professional, and an African leader.
There have also been several opportunities to deepen my understanding
and experiences with Organic Inquiry. There are things that have happened in my
research and fieldwork that can only have been the work of Spirit in guiding me
to find the answers for the questions I hold. Organic Inquiry is based on the
partnership with Spirit; to me, it has been an inquiry method that has demanded
surrender. If we talk about partnership with Spirit, we have to be ready to believe
that which can only be seen through the heart and the soul—it is not possible to
see Spirit with the naked eye. However, for those who are ready to believe, and
maybe even for the skeptics, the work of Spirit can manifest out of the subtle
realm of reality and emerge in the gross realm.
I have seen the tangible result of my partnership with Spirit in the context
of this dissertation when in the midst of the process I was haunted by anxiety and
fear of not finding my participants. Several times, I have taken a leap of faith to
travel to places (without necessarily have the means to travel), and once in place, I
have found myself confronted with cancelation. One good example is the time I
was in South Africa in July 2009. Although we had worked hard to secure
appointments many weeks before, when I arrived in Johannesburg, I was faced
with literally very little arranged. I had 10 days maximum to find participants
from scratch—10 days later, as I sat on the plane to fly back home, I realized that
by some miracle I had managed to see and interview the most senior leaders of
the country. It was nothing short of a miracle and the work of Spirit. To top it all,
I had even by some coincidence been in Mr. Mandela’s home on July 18, 2009,
for the celebration of his 91st birthday.
Such is the work of Spirit. Such is the alchemy of Organic Inquiry. It is
not about what I can do as an individual, but rather how willing I am to surrender
to that which my eyes cannot see—but my heart and soul know to trust. It’s about
faith. It’s about trust, and mostly, at least in this journey of mine, about complete
In line with the essence of the research on leadership, many times I have
had the chance to learn things in an unexpected way. A good example was my
interview with Mr. Ramaphosa, in which we had had a great conversation about
many things including our personal lives, challenges, aspirations, issue of
development, family, and so on, but did not cover the interview questions. I
remember thinking that I had wasted my chance to interview him, but in fact, the
conversation we had was an organic interview where I was no longer the
investigator but we had both become co-researchers (Curry & Wells, 2003, p. 96).
The unexpected learning, an “Aha” moment came when, as he saw me off, he
said, “Now that we know each other, we can work together.” I call this an “Aha”
moment not only for what I learned from Mr. Ramaphosa’s statement, but also
because I realized the work of Spirit through Organic Inquiry. One of the essential
aspects of leadership is a person’s ability to relate and establish relatedness with
others. Without relationship, no matter how brilliant a person, their performance
might not make miracles happen.
With these insights described above and many more discussed later,
bestowed on me by Spirit, I trust I have intuitively learned skills, principles, and
ways to further understand the role of leadership in taking Africa out of its current
The Meaning of Leadership in the African Context
Given the richness of the data, volumes could be written about the
meaning of leadership in the African context; in this section, I focus on the points
that most impacted me and from which I drew lessons. When we take a systems
perspective on the meaning of leadership in the African context, the focus
becomes two-pronged. On one hand, there is the issue of leadership, and on the
other the issue of the context—and that context being African. The analysis then
can be described as exploring the intersection of these two issues, as shown in
Figure 2.
The meaning of leadership in the African context takes into consideration
the current situation of Africa from an aggregate or meta-level, and adds to this
the basic tenets of African leadership. In the African context, as Ouedraogo
(interview) mentioned, the term leader might not translate directly into most (if
not) all African languages. The idea of leader, however, is associated with a
Location of
this discussion
Issue of
Issue of
Figure 2. My Perception of the Meaning of Leadership in the African Context.
Author’s image.
position of authority assigned by the community or the society; for example, it
can be associated with mother, father, older sister, older brother, teacher, director,
boss, and so on. This distinction might not be an obvious one, but it is one that
can help us understand the hospitable and caring nature discussed above.
In a normal situation (i.e., not in a situation of war, conflict, or other
disturbances), most African communities would expect the person in the role of
authority to be the one who offers direction and guidance, can settle disputes, and
sets the standards of behavior expected from all members of the group (whether
that group is a family, a community, an organization, or a nation). The literature
and the interviews both support this argument, especially in speaking about the
freedom fighters and pre-independence leaders.
After independence, it appears that this balance was lost. A lot of the
leaders who took on positions of authority post-independence behaved in ways
foreign to traditional African ways, and many leaders became self-serving,
violent, and destructive.
Based on the research, my opinion is that these post-colonial leaders may
not have been elected by their people but rather placed by foreign powers,
supported by donors or former colonial masters (for their own self-serving
interests). This may have been a tragic interference in the systems and traditions
that were established and had worked for centuries.
Williams (2002, cited in Malunga, 2009) speaks of an interesting
traditional ritual to bring new kings into power, from the Bafut Kingdom in
Cameroon. In the Bafut tradition, the community only installed a King after the
candidate had been presented to the people for a “stoning ceremony.” If the
candidate was approved and wanted by the people, the stones were harmless
pebbles, but if the candidate was not desired, then the stones were large rocks and
thrown to maim, chase off, and at times kill the incumbent. If the candidate
survived the ceremony, there was little chance for dethronement, as the system
had checks and balances to ensure that the King or the Queen did not defy
accountability (p. 4). This issue of accountability to the people is something that
may have been lost.
During the interview with Justice Mokgoro, she pointed to how we now
speak about how many democratic elections are taking place and report that as
progress. Yet, the people still think that for democracy their role stops at showing
up at the voting polls—they forget that their role must continue in holding their
elected leaders accountable.
Going back to the concept of leaders in Africa being constructed as those
individuals who guide and support their community, keep their doors open for
consultation, and remain in a position of service to others, the findings suggest
that true leaders in Africa are very accessible and remain in service to those who
seek their support. My experience with Mr. Kofi Annan, as well as all of my
participants, proves this point. At the time I had the interview with Mr. Annan, he
had just retired from his position as UN Secretary General. When I went with my
father to meet him in Geneva, Switzerland, it did not take him a minute to jump
back to Geneva of the 1960s and reminisce with my father about their old college
days. He then turned to me very naturally and said, “Yene, this meeting is about
your work—what can I do for you?” As we spoke at length about my work, he
was genuinely encouraging and shared his thoughts on the topic. It is the sincerity
and the humanity that we find in leaders of his caliber that allow us, the
community, to follow, trust, and stand tall for our common convictions. At the
end of the interview, Mr. Annan said to me, “How old are you now?” I felt like a
small child and blurted out “Forty.” “You have done so much in your short life;
keep up the good work,” he replied with a kind smile. “Thank you, Mr. Annan,” I
replied and continued on to say, “Thank you so much very much—thanks to you,
I got to spend three full days with my father all to myself.” That was not what I
had planned to say, but it just came out. I stared at my father and back at Mr.
Annan, and after some moment they both broke out laughing.
Hours later when I was sitting on the train returning to Brussels, I did not
feel as though I had had a visit with one of the most important people in the
world, but felt that I had just had a visit with an old friend of my father’s. It’s
hard to find the words to explain how this feels, but it is this feeling of
accessibility and service that participants described as defining African leaders.
The Principles of African Leadership
African leadership is based on the collective rather than the individual
perspective. The ways of leadership are passed on from generation to generation
through various means, such as youth learning by doing under the tutelage of
elders; rituals; ceremonies; and various teachings within the community. While
different communities across Africa might have different traditions, there is a
basic commonality that most African traditions share in terms of leadership. In
this section I present the three principles of African leadership that the data
suggests are foundational: learning comes from elders; leaders are in service of
others; and leaders are connected to Spirit, ancestors, and future generations.
First, it is the implicit rule that learning is passed on from elders to the
next generation. African elders are the collective memory and knowledge-bank.
In contrast to Western and European settings where an elder person’s contribution
may not be as valued, in Africa, the older a person is the more respect and value
they have within the community. They are cared for, and the community around
them listens even more actively than before, because everyone knows that the
elders hold the wisdom.
Second, a leader is there to serve the community and ensure the
community’s welfare. In traditional settings of the pre-independence times,
leaders knew this well and upheld the responsibility their people bestowed on
them. It is true that a number of post-independence leaders have, as Maathai
(2009) says, not lived up to the expectations of their people and instead have
abused their positions of authority. This is not the norm, however, and as the
participants described, we can remember the principle of African leadership as
being one dedicated to serving the community first for the good of the greater
Third, African leadership takes into consideration the role of Spirit and
maintains the relations with the ancestors. Nothing is disconnected. African
traditions and most Africans are conscious of the eternal line connecting the living
with those who have passed on and those who are still to come. There is
continuity. This continuity is, at times, what holds the people of Africa
accountable to their actions, because all actions are witnessed by Spirit and by the
ancestors; our actions today will also be a measure of how those who are still to
come might judge our work and the legacy we leave.
… Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people
through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for
interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you
embrace others. You are generous, compassionate. If the world had more
ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap
between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what
is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just
as a mother or father helps their children. This is God's dream. (Tutu,
2004, para. 7)
From all the available definitions of Ubuntu, Archbishop Tutu’s (quoted
above) stands out for me. Ubuntu is our collective self. It is the reason we care
and the reason we remain together. Ubuntu is there in most African countries, if
not all; though it may have a different name, it is there.
Ubuntu is what allows the youth to respect the elders. It is what makes
leaders care for their community. It is what motivates elders to teach the young. It
is the silent hymn that sets the rhythm of our lives. In my own personal life,
Ubuntu is there and has always been there. While I was doing this research it was
there the whole time. In addition to the partnership with Spirit through Organic
Inquiry, I found the courage and the faith to aim at finding and interviewing all of
my participants from the following. Because I knew my inquiry was genuine and
heartfelt, because I knew my inquiry was not only for completing a degree but
also for closing a loop in my life and for learning what I need to learn in order to
continue serving, because I knew the leaders I aimed to find would somehow
know this truth about what I set out to do—I felt encouraged to start a journey
even though I had no resources, no back-up plan, and nothing to take along for the
journey. This, too, is Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is not far from Organic Inquiry. In a way Ubuntu also allows
space for partnership with Spirit. Ubuntu is something inside that humbles us to
the divinity of life, and something that fills us with courage and hope even when
all seems to fail.
It is relationship. It is fellowship. It is accountability. It is the resilience of
each of us, through the resilience of the collective. Ubuntu is the glue that keeps
the community together. This view of Ubuntu might be seen as contradictory to
how the media portrays Africa to the rest of the world (armed conflicts, poverty,
suffering due to displacement, hunger, genocide, etc.), but I argue that there is no
contradiction. The media reality is nothing that is natural to the landscape of
Africa. The wars, the armed conflicts, the genocides, the ethnic divisions—all of
that has been brought in by modern days and through the greed of leaders (not
always chosen by their people).
The following quote from the speech of Mr. Kofi Annan about the
reaction of Mr. Mandela to ethnic rivalry illustrates the above point well:
The world has seen how deeply he believes in freedom, human dignity,
and the right of the individual to fulfill his or her dream. And in our work
together, I have been privileged to see how determined he can be in
pursuit of those ideals. I have seen him in tough negotiations like those in
Burundi, where he was trying to get the warring factions to put down their
guns and make peace. When he saw what was going on around him, he
said, “You men make me ashamed to be African.”
A withering indictment from someone who makes us all proud to
be African.
You can imagine the force of these words. Or perhaps you
cannot. It was an extraordinarily powerful moment. And it certainly had
its intended effect.
On certain points—certain principles—Nelson Mandela cannot be
moved. (Annan, 2007, para. 12–15)
This reaction of Mr. Mandela was, in my opinion, based in Ubuntu. It is not
possible to entertain thoughts of hatred or war with Ubuntu, because the very
essence of Ubuntu is that the individual exists because of others around him/her.
Western Versus African Leadership Discourse
As discussed in the literature review, there are a number of differences
between Western/U.S. leadership philosophy and African leadership philosophy.
The cosmology, the social context, and the cultural framework are some of the
main factors that define the differences (Vervliet, 2009). While Western
cosmology favors the individual outlook, African cosmology focuses on the
collective (Malunga, 2009). In terms of social and cultural context, the Western
social value unit is often related to the individual while the African context is
more communal (Malunga, 2009).
These differences influence the way of
leadership between the Western and African worldviews. Western leadership,
although technically and procedurally correct, works from the head only; whereas
African leadership is more of a whole body, whole spirit practice (April, n.d.).
The impact of the above distinctions emerges as the era of globalizations
brings people together from various worldviews and cultures, in work
environments, through the private sector, or in any other interaction. Only
African leaders and individuals who understand and are aware of the differences
and also the similarities between the two discourses (African and Western) are in
a position to initiate effective collaboration and cooperation.
African Leadership From the Perspective of the Integral Approach
The “We” space, in the lower left quadrant paradigm (Wilber, 2006,
p. 224), represents the interior of a group or community. This is where group
values, culture, worldviews, traditions, and so on can be found for the particular
group. In this understanding, there is a further distinction to be made: We can
look at this “We” space from within it or from the outside. “Here is a
wonderfully simple way to think of the difference of the inside and the outside of
an interior…The outside is what it looks like, and the inside is how it feels”
(p. 154). African leadership is anchored in this “We” space.
From the perspective of spiral dynamics or the levels of development, it
appears African leadership and tradition might be located in the initial communal
stage also referred to as the kin spirit/purple or magenta (Wilber, 2006) stage;
however, I do not believe that this label tells the whole story. Spiral Dynamics
and Wilber’s levels of consciousness classification might identify the center of
gravity of a society or community, but might not make distinctions between the
lines of development within the stage. For example, in my experience the purple
or magenta levels might refer to communities that are still tribal or at the very
beginning of consciousness. However, there are communities that emphasize
group identity and in which the members of the community exist because of the
others in the community, and yet the community is not at an elementary stage of
The difference between these two examples might be the lines of
development within the stages of consciousness. In my own experience and
personal family life, I am part of a matriarchy: Our family has been led by my
grandmother, Lady Almaz-Haile Mariam. For an outsider coming into the system
of this family, it might not be easy to see the different levels of operation. On the
outside, the family community (100+ individuals in a large, old-fashioned
compound) might seem to be at a magenta/purple stage, and in many ways it is.
However, when one looks closely, the way the system is organized is very
intricate and subtle to the point that only those within it or those allowed in it can
see the subtleties.
Within one society, the level of consciousness of the various members
dictates what and how they might understand what the leaders have to say; hence,
it is the leaders’ capacity to respond to these distinctions in consciousness that
makes them resonate with the community. It is interesting to note that if such a
distinction can exist within the parameters of one society, then it must be yet more
so when we speak of an entire continent or even the world.
In terms of African leadership, the focus has been so much on the
community that often the situation does not permit us to support the emergence of
leaders as individuals. It might be worth considering how we can remain
communal, and at the same time start to support the emergence of leaders as
individuals in service of the whole. This change would allow African leadership
to move from being “We”-centered to being “We”-and-“I” centered; in my
opinion, this is also part of what Ubuntu calls for.
At the onset of this discussion, I briefly mentioned that one of my aims in
this research is to explore way to bring transformation and suggested
transformation might emerge over the long run, when change that occurs in the
moment is integrated into the current reality to create a “new” reality. (Reality 1
+ Change 1= Reality 2; sustaining Reality 2 is the field in which transformation
might occur.) In terms of leadership in Africa and our capacity to bring
transformation in order to emerge leaders able, equipped, and committed to the
development of the continent—for this, we might need to look to the “We” space.
We might want to start by understanding what our “We” looks like now, clearly
sensing how it feels. Based on this understanding, we would have the opportunity
to envision how we might want this “We” to look and feel. This vision might
allow us to take the necessary measures in the “I” and “It” space in order to
facilitate the emergence of new “We” space conducive to creating the ground for
the kind of leadership needed for African development.
The integral approach might allow us to articulate the subtle and often
intangible aspects of leadership, of African culture, and even of human nature to a
certain extent—in order to have a clear understanding of the dynamics and
territories at hand. It might also be a diagnostic tool that can shed light on the
blind spots we may have, both as individuals and also as a collective.
In the process of my research, the integral approach has allowed me to
look at things differently. It has allowed me to ask questions such as: What is it
that we are not doing that is holding us back from creating the kind of leadership
we need? What is it that we might need to know or look at, that we may not even
be aware that we need to look at?
The Meaning and Implication of Visionary Leadership for Africa
Visionary leaders do more than just imagine beautiful dreams for the
people—they also have insight into what may result should the community
engage a certain dangerous path. When Haile-Mariam (interview) stood against
the issuance of identity cards in Ethiopia stating the ethnicity of the holder, no one
understood her anger. “It starts with the ID card and will end up like Rwanda,”
she said to me. Haile-Mariam was not too far from the truth: As soon as the ID
cards were issued, there was increased animosity among various ethnicities within
To me, a visionary leader is one who might have the ability to almost
prophesy about the future implications of a specific action today. Following such
a leader is not easy; as Amoako (interview) argued, it is the ability of the leader to
get people behind his/her idea that lead to achieving goals and vision.
In Ethiopia, there is a saying to refer to shallow speech— “above the
neck”—the expression refers to the opposite of authenticity. The literature and the
interviews confirmed that vision must not be an “above the neck” issue—it must
come from the heart.
Leaders who are able to speak from the heart are often those who are
moved by a vision that they have inherited, established, or dreamed of. These are
leaders who can move with conviction and courage to see the vision through.
When Mr. Sexwale spoke of courage in his interview, he meant that courage is all
that remains for the true leader when all other leadership attributes fall to the side.
And in times of testing, courage is sustained by the fire, life, and fuel that
continue to sustain the vision of the leader and his/her followers.
Effective Leadership Versus Poor Leadership in the Context of Africa
There was much material on effective leadership and also on poor
leadership, as discussed in the literature review. What I did not find in the
literature review but became apparent through the research and the discussion
with my participants is that at times the greatest leaders, such as Sankara,
Lumumba, and even Nkrumah to a certain extent, may not have been as effective
in accomplishing their goals not because they were poor leaders but because they
may have lacked insight, patience, and strategy.
One aspect of effective leadership can thus be defined as the ability of the
leaders to operate from their individual level of consciousness while at the same
time connecting to the community in a language that the community can relate to
and understand. In other words, effective leadership hinges on the leader’s ability
to express their vision. As Mr. Amoako said, unless the leader can get the people
behind her, she might not succeed no matter how great the vision (interview).
Effective leadership is also subject to the context in which leadership is
exercised. The ability of the leader to make appropriate distinctions regarding the
context of operation might define the level of effectiveness of his leadership
competences. In the integral language, this might be referred to as the leader’s
ability to work up and down the Spiral or up and down the levels of consciousness
depending on the work at hand or the audience at hand (Beck & Cowen, 1996).
Effective Leadership and Development Opportunities for Africa
In the context of African development, effective leadership might emerge
as African leaders operate in a proactive way as some of the participants have
stated. Rather than extinguishing fires and addressing this or that crisis, leaders
might consciously work toward a particular future, goal, or vision (Gueye,
interview). This might often result in addressing the complexities at hand with a
much higher level of thinking than the thinking that created the problem. One
good example on this was the telecommunication system in Africa—instead of
working on establishing land lines throughout the various countries and regions,
communities just went wireless. This allowed the countries to bypass the issue of
costly land lines and gave millions of Africans who lived away from land lines
access to communication. Now, business is often conducted with remote areas
using mobile phones, new financial transactions have started to move money, and
mobile phones are even helping democracy-building by giving a new edge to
keeping elections free and fair.
Part 2: Insights and Analysis of Findings From a Personal Perspective
In Part 2, I discuss insights and analysis from a personal perspective,
organized as follows: (a) insights from Elder leaders to the next generation
leaders;,(b) particular areas bringing deeper understanding about leadership and
Africa, (c) selected stories of leadership, and (d) a re-viewing and re-defining of
leadership in Africa in terms of the stories that touched me the most.
Insights from Elder Leaders to the Next Generation Leaders
According to these 20 participants, the principles of leadership do not
change over time—the only thing that changes is the context in which leadership
is exercised. As the issues that our Elder leaders faced might differ from those
that the next generation of leaders will face, it is the responsibility of the next
generation leaders to look back at the environment in which the Elders operated—
to examine, study, and learn the issues that the Elders dealt with—and to commit
effort to understanding the leadership strategies and principles used by the Elders.
In my case, I remember a time during the Ethiopian Communist Regime
when my grandmother was denounced to the authorities as being in possession of
firearms, by one of the men she employed. The usual fate of such a situation was
immediate execution. But, in her case, the authorities knew her personality and
character, and felt obliged to tip her off and even offer to incarcerate or possibly
do away with the man. The response of my grandmother was to thank the
authorities for their concerns for her welfare, and also to plead with them not to
harm the man who had denounced her. Later on this man was incarcerated for
another offense, and she ensured that he got his daily meals delivered in prison.
Eventually when he was released, she hired him back and he continued to be part
of the members of her household and community.
I asked her about her reaction, about why she had been so kind to him
when he was out to have her possibly executed. She said the following to me:
No one but the Divine Creator has the right to judge, to take the life of
another, or to collaborate in the victimization of another. Our duty is to
serve all those that cross our path, in good times, in hard times, in times of
good fortune as well as in times of flawed and spiritually dissonant
For a long time, I remained puzzled by her capacity to forgive, and not only to
forgive, but to go out of her way to serve.
Today I understand. I understand what she was doing. I understand the
insights from which she was acting. I understand.
As I write these words, the day is about to dawn. The neighborhood is still
very quiet save for the crickets outside, the sound of my keyboard, the humming
of the air conditioner unit, and the subtle music in the background. At times I can
also hear the sound of the generator that has been running all night. Today is the
80th day since my grandmother passed. In Ethiopian tradition, it is also a day of
honoring the Spirit of the one who has crossed over. As I look back on the
research I did for this dissertation, the interviews I had, the people I met, the
leaders I talked to, the effort I exerted to find a message for the next generation
leaders—I find that I am at peace because the insight from the Elders is very
The insight from the Elders applies not only to leadership but also to the
art of living as an overarching expression of leadership. I had thought that I would
have a list of insights, but I do not. What I have to offer as a message comes as
I am because we are. In you, I see me. In us, Spirit is reflected. And our
power and leadership can only be measured by the good we create and generate
around us. In order to create this good, in order to create and generate this welfare
around us, we need to first create it within ourselves; it is only then that we can
serve and serve at the highest level. Leadership is not about being rough. It is not
about being strict. It is not about being hectic. It is about being calm. It is about
finding the silence within, to invoke Spirit, to call in all our Elders and be guided
by them so as to best serve in favor of everyone’s welfare.
We cannot be selfless unless we have been to a place of absolute inner
peace and love. When we are in that space of peace and love, we have nothing to
prove, nothing to fight, nothing to resist—we only have a path to follow and a
journey to continue.
In the same way that I understand why my grandmother forgave the man
who was out to have her executed, I feel the power of the Spirit, now and here,
that has empowered many more men and women around the world and through
history to forgive and transform a hostile environment to one that is suited to host
the preciousness of each living being on this earth.
Leadership is our ability to transform self and bring others to also
transform. It is our ability to be alchemists for our communities and for our world.
It is our ability to surrender and release the ego so that the true Self emerges.
Leadership is a function of us remaining in our truth and being able to share this
truth in a way that is in service to all.
What I inherently understand today is the continuity of time. Even though
we might be inclined to think that life and death define our stay on this Earth, I
have realized today that life and death only define the physical world and that in
the spiritual world, we remain one into eternity. In this way, I am reassured that
the next generation leaders can always invoke and call on the Elder leaders of all
times and be able to receive direct guidance, wisdom, and insight applicable to
each situation that arises.
Leadership is about peace. It is about smoothing out the edges of potential
erratic energies that cloud our world, in order to give way to clarity and harmony.
All human beings want clarity and harmony; the leadership challenge is in leading
others to see the way to reach it.
Particular Areas Bringing Deeper Understanding About Leadership and Africa
There might not be something called “African leadership.” Leadership is
leadership, no matter where or when; the distinction we must remain mindful of is
that while leadership may be universal, the key is our ability to contextualize and
adapt the way we exercise leadership in a way that is appropriate to the cultural,
environmental, economic, and traditional circumstances. It is our ability to
understand the community in which we work, our ability to sense its language, its
values, and its needs that will allow us to rise above the constraints we might face
and use our presence to transform the reality for greater good.
In the past, the closeness among African generations had allowed wisdom
to be transferred easily and naturally. Today, the mobility of our communities
might impinge on our ability to sit together and share the traditions, the
knowledge, the wisdom, and the missions for our communities. Yet, while it
might appear that there is a gap forming, the findings suggest that there is a way
or a possibility to maintain the continuity of passing on wisdom and passing on
the flame of leadership in our modern times. The cycle of wisdom transfer starts
with the willingness of the leaders of the time to pass on knowledge while they
are still around (meaning alive and well), continues with the next generation of
leaders being open to learn, and might end with the ability and courage of the next
generation to pick up the flame and continue the journey. It is a cycle that could
possibly perpetuate itself as long as there is willingness to learn, willingness to
share, and responsibility to carry on.
The interaction between the senior leaders and the next-generation leaders
should ideally start in the time when the senior leaders are active and working, to
be followed later by a time when the next-generation leaders, groomed and
educated, will be able to join the senior leaders on the path. Eventually, as the
senior leaders phase into retirement, these next-generation leaders will have been
gently brought into the system and hence can take up their responsibility to carry
on the work that has been started by their elders.
It is not often possible to work with Elder leaders so closely as to learn
from them, which is why a lot will ride on these Elder leaders writing and
documenting their journeys, so that their experience can be available not only for
those who live within their time, but also for those who come years later. As
discussed above, oral transmission is more traditional, meaning that it happens
when we are sitting together or just being together. But with modern life obliging
many to work and live far away from their homes, the opportunity to be together
in a non-rushed and calm atmosphere might be rare. Therefore, there might be a
need for elders to write or record their thoughts in audio or video. As of this
writing, my experience shows that this approach is not yet popular. In fact, the
value of it may not be recognized. Thus, many who might be ready to tell their
stories may not know how to do so. There is an opportunity for members of the
community who have the knowledge or the interest in such recording or archiving
of wisdom to facilitate the process for the elders.
In my own life, I begged my grandmother many, many times to let me
come and stay by her for a month or more, and conduct a process to record her
history, her family’s history, and her message to us her children and to the
community. She never agreed. She never really said no, but she would never say
yes either. So when I speak of recording the oral wisdom I say this from a place
not of theory, but an authentic place where I feel regret for not having insisted. I
know I have missed an opportunity to capture a great story. I have missed the
chance to record part of history. While I know I have missed this opportunity, I
am committed not to miss more, and I intend to work on finding a method that
can be widely shared and will allow us to record stories from Elders.
Today it is rightly said that when a griot (elder) dies, it is as if a library has
burned down to the ground. The griots (elders) symbolize how all human
ancestry goes back to some place, and some time, where there was no
writing. Then, the memories and the mouths of ancient elders was the only
way that early history of mankind got passed on. (Alex Haley, quoted by
Stewart, 2004, p. 299)
Sharing Selected Stories of Leadership
There are three stories I would like to share. The first story that I want to
share briefly is the story of South Africa. When we speak of leadership, Africa,
justice, human rights, and freedom, I can only think how lucky I have been to hear
the South African story from the very people who defined the fate of South Africa
as we know it today, from its tragic state of apartheid. Back in the late 1930s
when the African National Congress (ANC) formed, its Freedom Charter began
with “a free South Africa for all.” The ANC was committed to lead a fight against
apartheid in order to have freedom for all in South Africa. They did not focus only
on one racial group. I find it incredible that at a time of racial segregation around
the world, colonization, and war, the leaders of the ANC stood for such ideals.
The ideals they stood for were not conceivable at the time, yet they still went
ahead with their convictions. And it is their vision established almost eighty years
ago that has earned the world the exemplary democracy of South Africa.
The second story is about the idea that leadership is a Divine gift. As
Archbishop Mwamba explained to me in his interview, we are prisoners of our
gift until we find a way to deepen our knowledge about it and exercise it. Spirit
will continue to nudge us to pick up a certain book, to talk to a certain person, to
engage in certain activities, and all of this leads us to unfold the path that has been
predestined for us. The presence of Spirit is much closer than we think and finds
its expression in all the work that we do, as long as we do the work with sincerity
and authenticity. In such case, the whole universe conspires to create serendipities
on our path.
The issue of African leadership is one that has puzzled me for as long as I
can remember, and as I complete this research I realize that my true engagement
with the issue has just started. As much as I have found answers to my initial
inquiry, I must gracefully admit that I might have even more questions now than I
did at the beginning. I also know, however, that through the emergence of the new
questions and inquiries, I have opened the path to deepen my research and further
commit to being a messenger to the next generation leaders. My role might not be
to lead, but it might be to continuously write and research so as to inform,
challenge, probe, and convey findings to the greater audience.
The third story is about the idea of trusting the path. All throughout the
research, and even throughout the entire doctoral program, I had no guarantee
about how things would unfold. I did not have the means to control the situation,
and so I chose to surrender to the unknown instead of attempting to meddle with
the process. The result was that time and time again, situations turned out better
than I could have ever expected; this is only because when we involve Spirit in
our work, Spirit orchestrates what needs to happen to best serve our purpose.
What I have learned is that leadership is about active surrender and about
being compassionately demanding. Leadership is round, it is inclusive, and it is
gentle. What I have learned is that the more gentle the leadership, the more
powerful it is. The more inclusive it is, the more influential it becomes, and the
more we surrender to the process (including the process of living), the more Spirit
brings us in direct connection with occurrences that seem impossible at the human
level. One such occurrence happened this past July 2009, during my visit to South
Africa, when I found myself at Nelson Mandela’s house on the day of his 91st
birthday. I have no explanation for this occurrence other than it being gift from
Spirit. From this gift of sharing physical space with some of the giants of Africa
and the world, I gained a sense of both individual humility and pride in the
achievement of the collective. There is a deep sense of reverence for the moment
and a definite awareness of the infinite potential we each have in our hands, only
subject to our conviction and our courage to pursue the desires of our soul.
Re-Viewing and Re-Defining Leadership in Africa:
Reflecting on the Stories That Touched Me the Most
It is not easy to choose just one story as the one that affected me the most.
What I can say, rather, is that all the stories have transformed me in one way or
another. In fact, it is not only the stories but also the way in which the interviews
manifested that has affected me. From the time I started this research, I have been
on an emerging journey. There were no guarantees as to which leaders I would be
able to interview. There were no guarantees as to securing the resources needed to
go through with the interviews and related travels. There was just nothing
guaranteed, other than my commitment to address my inquiry; my conviction that
there were messages that I needed to collect from the Elder leaders and pass on to
a greater audience; and my faith that somehow the partnership with Spirit would
truly show me the way.
While I entered the space of the inquiry looking to quench my own thirst
for understanding and knowledge, I received a lot more than knowledge. I
received an anointment from the Elder leaders and their blessing to continue my
work of bringing the stories out. I received a chance to look into myself and
explore my mindset, reconnect with a deeper self, and integrate what I have
learned through this life as well as through this research in order to re-emerge
with a transformed way of looking at the world. I have expanded my boundaries. I
have expanded my horizon, and I have expanded my heart to be able to receive
the many gems of wisdom and insights and be able to apply these insights in real
life in order to bring positive transformation.
In my interview with Mr. Tokyo Sexwale, which lasted only a few
minutes, he said something that struck me—he does not believe in the concept of
African leaders. “There are only world leaders,” he said. He further explained that
constraining the leaders in Africa to only the continent by calling them African
leaders takes away our opportunity and our right to be part of the global debate on
leadership. His statement opened up a blind spot in me. I was instantly able to see
all the opportunities and the rights that would be missed by being isolated to the
borders of Africa.
It is our ability to stay anchored in Africa while we also reach out to the
world that will give us the opportunity to share the wisdom we have, bring the
insights from our Elder leaders to the rest of the global community, and receive
constructive input from others so that we can deepen our own knowledge base.
Mme Ouedraogo (interview) spoke of the need for leaders in Africa to reconnect
to the lineages we come from. Others wear their lineages as a mantle entitling
them to speak their truth and to stand with their convictions; so we, too, must
wear the mantle of our traditions, our history, the wisdom we have inherited, and
the common responsibility we carry in order to speak our truth and stand for our
conviction with an unwavering and dedicated spirit.
Mr. Ahmed Kathrada (interview) said that leadership emerges out of
crisis. It is in time of crisis that those inclined to lead emerge very naturally to
move their communities from the current situation to the desired destination.
When I spoke with Mr. Kathrada he was 80 years old, yet looked no older than
60. It would be hard to tell that this gentle, tall, and handsome man had suffered
what he did on Robben Island along with all the other anti-Apartheid activists.
After the conversation I had with him, he told me about the books he had written.
I bought and read his memoirs while I was on the island of Ko Samui, Thailand.
Reading the last page of the book and closing the book, I had to close myself
down for days to just reflect and absorb what I learned from the stories he told in
his memoirs. I read the stories of the struggle for freedom; read about the lives
that were affected; read about the aspirations of those who stood for liberty and
equal rights; read about the heavy price that so many paid for their convictions;
and read about the times when “non-whites” had almost no right to exist and yet a
handful of black, white, colored, and Asian men and women refused to be
subjected to such treatment. The resistance they organized resulted almost a
century later in the creation of a new democratic nation where all people of all
colors and ethnic backgrounds could live under one national flag. I find myself on
my knees in awe in the face of human resilience and the flavor of courage.
Through my interviews with various leaders in South Africa, I have had
the chance to get an up close and personal introduction to the history of South
Africa. When the continent is torn apart by ethnic wars and armed conflicts, when
we have witnessed so many acts of genocide on the basis of ethnicity, here is a
country that has reclaimed itself from the grips of Apartheid and has managed to
create a “rainbow” nation.
Maybe it takes another level of consciousness to realize that togetherness
is better than division. Maybe South Africans had suffered too much as a people
and hence were ready to evolve into another sphere of existence. Maybe it was all
that and a combination of the kind of leaders they had to bring them together.
Maybe it is many possibilities, but one thing is true—South Africa is an example
for not only Africa to follow but for the world to follow. Where there was
division, they have brought unity; where there was hatred, they have brought
forgiveness; and where there was racism, they have brought true tolerance.
My own country, Ethiopia, is one that suffers from ethnic divisions. How
ashamed I am at times about how short-sighted we are being in accepting the
divisions that are being imposed on us. The divisions rob us of so many
opportunities and possibilities for growth. It is unfortunate. I can only pray that I
might be able to contribute, in one way or another, to changing the mindset of
division through telling the stories of the enlightened leaders such as Mr.
Kathrada and others whom I was blessed to interview.
It is not possible to put into words what an interview with a person like
Mr. Kathrada ignites. It is truly only a glimpse into what commitment and
perseverance, courage, and selfless dedication can achieve in terms of human
transformation. What I found amazing through my interview with Mr. Kathrada is
that it is one thing to read about historical events, and it is quite another to have
those same events told to you by someone who was there and who played a key
role in the unfolding of history. While I recognize the gift that this has been, I also
feel a sense of responsibility to re-tell that which has been told me, to all others
who are ready to listen.
There is another personal story that has marked me. As I prepared to
interview Justice Mokgoro in her office at the Constitutional Courts of South
Africa in Pretoria, there was something very auspicious and deeply moving about
conducting the interview in her office and in this particular historical building. As
I spent 15-20 minutes flowing with tears and trying to speak about how the pain
of being uprooted is devastating so many lives and communities, I was sitting in a
building that was rebuilt using the same bricks that had housed one of the most
brutal courts in South Africa. When I consider that it is through resilience,
leadership, and forgiveness that South Africans managed to transform their
country; when I consider we could sit and talk in this office because so many men
and women had stood strong and sacrificed their lives for the freedom; when I
consider that it is hope and faith in humanity and change that sustained so many
of the anti-apartheid fighters; I can only sit in awe and gratitude. The interview
with Justice Mokgoro was a deeply moving interview for me. I hope the
transformation I felt inside is reflected through the discussion of the findings.
As much as we are all responsible to listen to the stories around us, it is
also the responsibility of the storyteller to tell the story in a way that will be
heard. I have many ideas about how to tell these stories so that they are heard by
and touch the lives of as many people as possible. I am also witnessing a definite
change in the way I do things, and instead of rushing forward just to produce
something, I find myself more settled and ready to reflect as long as it takes for
the right way to emerge. I have faith that in the same way Spirit has been my
partner in the journey of this inquiry, Spirit will continue to partner with me so
that I can pass on the message in the best possible way.
Sometimes it takes a leader’s departure from this world in order for us to
truly gauge their contribution. On September 27, 2009, Lady Almaz HaileMariam passed on. Within days, all the children, grandchildren, cousins, relatives,
and family friends all flew back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to bid farewell and
attend the ceremony of her send-off. What I found amazing is the number of men
and women who showed up because she had touched their lives. Outside the
family per se, there must have been four thousand or more people who came to
pay their respects. At the reading of her eulogy, she was named “Warrior of
Peace, Warrior of Change.”
She had a very subtle leadership style. Yet the gentleness of her leadership
did not distract her from achieving important landmarks at the national level.
Compassion, love, and tolerance are leadership traits as much as courage,
discipline, and perseverance. Through the leadership of Lady Almaz HaileMariam I have learned the true meaning of humility and modesty and at the same
time the value of decisiveness and clarity of mind. Outside the fact that Lady
Almaz Haile-Mariam is my life mentor, teacher, friend, and soul-mate, she has
offered me a way to truly inherit—through stories, conversations, and
fellowships—what she has inherited from her Elders.
While I was heartbroken to receive the dreaded call announcing that she
had left, I feel that through this dissertation and subsequent writing on leadership
matters, I have been given a chance to finally bring out that which I have learned
from her and finally show her the result of the time, teaching, and life direction
she bestowed on me. She always said that our leadership capacity will naturally
flow as we work on getting our heart aligned with the work of Spirit, and as long
as we remain conscious that there is one God, one Divine being that sees through
our hearts and thoughts.
It is her sense of justice that amazes me. I have seen her throughout my
life, in good times and in bad times, able to decipher right from wrong today
while also keeping an eye on the long-term impacts, the far horizon, and the
greater community’s welfare. It is a way she had to see and do things that was
very integrated. For the sake of this research my interview with her was formal,
yet I want to make it clear that the lessons I have learned from her come from a
lifetime, not just from the hour or two that I spent questioning her about
leadership for this project.
Mwamba (interview) spoke about leadership and said that leadership is a
journey and a capacity acquired through years of reflection, mentoring, and
action. “You cannot expect to learn about leadership in a two-week training
course,” he said. Rightfully so—I truly realize that my work on leadership has just
started with my dissertation. There will be many more years of reflection and
learning for me to truly deepen my understanding. My challenge will be in my
capacity to express what I learn and reflect on in a way that will be received by a
broader audience. Whether through articles or books to be written, lectures, or
speaking events, the challenge will be to keep all the stories that have touched me
fresh in my mind and be able to speak of “Why the stories touch me” and “How
they touch me” in an uncomplicated and simple language.
Brief Analysis of the Findings From an Integral Perspective
As discussed in Chapter 2, the integral perspective is one way to have a
comprehensive picture of the reality at hand; in this section, I present some of the
points from the findings using the four quadrants. I limit this brief discussion to
elaborating on the four quadrants and do not analyze the findings using AQAL’s
lines, levels, types, states, and stages.
In Figure 3, the internal values, attitudes, and characters of a leader (as
described by the participants) are presented in the upper left quadrant. These
personal and individual attitudes and values include the leader’s commitment,
Stand for justice and human rights.
Touching the lives of other and bringing comfort to them;
leading by example;
Not being limited to the current reality in devising actions,
programs, and strategies
Not taking life so seriously and having the ability to laugh &
maintain humor, especially in tough times;
Working and living with clarity of the cause one stands for;
Connecting and relating to others whatever their situation might
Assuming the role of leader with a deep understanding of local
culture and shared values;
Maintaining open communication with a focus on listening
actively and consciously;
Maintaining alignment with the common task;
Maintaining oneself anchored in the present and having creative
tension between the current reality (present) and opportunities
and possibilities ahead (future);
Social influence;
Communication Skills;
Inspiring transformation in others;
Skilled in creating consensus and enrolling others to come on
Standing in the face of adversity selflessly;
Being strong while remaining gentle and humorous;
Role of leader is one of a guide, a friend, a father or mother
Standing up for a cause and taking actions to fight for the cause.
Have a good spirit;
Absolute resilience;
Mindful courage, compassion
Selflessness, empathy for others;
Vision steeped in local context but broad in
Holistic perspective of the extent and scope of
reality at hand;
Ability to think beyond current times into the
future while remaining conscious of the past
and the lessons learned;
Solid conviction and commitment to a cause
and the courage to stay committed to the cause;
Value peace, respect others, accountability,
Deep inner calmness;
Warm and hospitable;
Welcoming to others and guests;
Understanding others;
Knowing the value of and practicing active
Remaining mindful of Spirit, hence the ability
to forgive and love others;
Good character;
Belief in humanity and possibilities.
Objective, measurable and tangible individual actions, behaviors, ways of being,
ways of thinking. In this case, this refers to what the leader does. It reflects the
way the leader translates his/her internal values into visible actions/behavior
Subjective individual space reflecting the individual values, attitudes,
responsibility, commitment of a leader. This subjective space is difficult to gauge
unless one can hear the stories, the message and vision of the leader.
Subjective collective space reflecting the collective values, attitudes,
norms, culture, and worldviews of a community, society or nation
(whatever the “We” represents. In this case, it would refer to the
society as a whole, possibly scaling up to national even regional
values and shared cultures.
Author’s image.
Figure 3. Research Findings Represented on the Four-Quadrant Map. Four-Quadrant map developed by Ken Wilber (2000, 2006);
Leading collectively;
Consensus Decision-Building;
Creating necessary structures to put forgiveness
and reconciliation when needed;
Regional institutions such as: African Union,
SADC, etc. can negotiate in the name of their
member countries – great potential for collective
Pan-African perspective and ground for regional
Leaders collectively look for strategies to have
common vision for the region and find means to
have a common voice vis-à-vis the rest of the
Collective thinking and action would lead to
regional or continent wide integration of policies
which would address challenges of Africa such
as lack of infrastructure, inter-Africa trade,
regional social networks, synergising of
resources, etc.
Regional structures would encourage consensus
building among African states and allow states
to speak with one voice; which would give them
more weight and allow them a stronger
negotiation advantage
Collective concern for others as foundation for
African leadership;
Willingness to serve for the welfare of the
Leaders in position to serve the community
instead of self-centered service;
Society sees leaders as a father or mother figure.
This might not always be apparent at the
national level, but it often the case at all other
levels of society;
Awareness of societal needs brings the leader to
focus on servant leadership;
Most leaders understand that their role is not to
exert power over their people but rather to focus
on understanding, serving, and sharing their
lives with the people;
Accessibility to all regardless of their social
Capacity to forgive;
Ubuntu: Caring for one another and knowing
that one exists only because of others;
Interdependence for the welfare of the whole;
Role of leader perceived as a guide, friend,
mother or father figure
Objective, tangible and measurable collective reality. This space
represents the systems and structures that would exist within various
societies or countries. It is how the society organizes itself (or not) to
translate its norms and values into structures that would allow those
internal collective worldviews and norms to manifest.
courage, servitude, and so on. Participants named precise actions and behaviors
that follow from such values and attitudes, and those actions are presented in the
upper right quadrant, which represents actions and behaviors that are visible,
measureable, and tangible. These are the actions through which the society at
large often gauges the leader’s competences and capacities to move the
It is important to notice whether there is consistency or discrepancy
between the values the leader claims and his or her actions, and the integral lens
allows us to assess that relationship. Leaders such as late President Sankara of
Burkina Faso and late President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania are great examples of
individuals who had the internal values of courage, humility, and servitude, and
who were able to live up to the values they held, as shown in their actions. Late
President Sankara asked all his high-level government officials to live a life with
a level of modesty equal to that of the people of Burkina Faso, and he lived what
he preached and acted on the values and attitudes he asked of the people. Of
course, Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela is the epitome and
embodiment of a direct relation between internal values and external behavior
reflecting his internal values in his actions.
On the other hand, a number of African leaders speak of having certain
values, but act in ways that are completely inconsistent with the values they
claim. How many times have we seen leaders who claim they stand for
democracy and good governance but who turn around and try to change their
national constitution to extend their term in office? How many times have we
witnessed leaders who claim to value peace and stability for their people and then
turn to harassment, abuse of human rights, and fear-mongering in order to keep
the population in check?
In contemporary African reality, this positive relationship between internal
values and external actions is not always visible among leaders; often there are
leaders who claim to have the values depicted in the upper left quadrant, yet their
actions are far from matching. As discussed in Chapter 2, the poor leadership
associated with most African leaders might be a reflection of this discrepancy
between the values they claim and the actions they show in reality. Nowadays in
Africa, when we speak of political leaders or those elected or appointed to official
government positions, it is unfortunately rare to find leaders who care more for
the whole than they do for themselves; it is rare to find leaders who are accessible
to the people; and it is rare to find leaders who remain humble and are ready to
listen to their people to understand their needs. Instead, the goal seems to be
staying in power for as long as possible.
Given this, I can say that the values and actions I have found through this
research do not refer the norm among leaders but rather reflect the reality of
leaders of another caliber. I was fortunate to have access to such different leaders.
The leaders I have interviewed might unfortunately represent the minority rather
than the majority of African leaders; they represent the leaders who still care
about the whole.
I suggest that the attitudes and values of the individual leaders are the
main influence on the collective values and attitudes of a society, which leads us
to the lower quadrants where we speak of collective values and how these
collective values translate into the systems and structures the society creates to
uphold the societal culture. The lower left quadrant offers insight on the values of
a group, community, or society—collective values and attitudes. These collective
values reflect in the lower right quadrant in terms of how knowledge is imparted,
how rules and regulations are implemented, and how people within that society
relate to one another. In order to better understand these lower left quadrant
variables and gain insight into the collective practices, it is important to reflect on
the influence of the lower right quadrant variables representing the choices and
development path followed by the collective. As they spoke of what might be
unique about Africa, participants made reference to existing collective values
such as respect for tradition, respect for one another, respect for the whole
collective, and the choice to abide by the norms of the society.
In order to examine whether such values are part of the African reality or
whether they are practiced, we might have to examine the systems, structures,
policies, and development programs in place. This would allow us to check
whether there is coherence between what communities claim to value and the
systems they put (or do not put) in place to sustain the values claimed. For
example, in Rwanda under the leadership of President Kagame, it is no longer
acceptable to refer to the ethnicity of an individual. This is a reflection of his
commitment to rebuild his country. Based on his attitudes and commitment to
reconstruct and reconcile the people of the nation after the brutal genocide of
1994, he has imparted this attitude to the society and created structures and
systems to allow this culture to be institutionalized. The lower left quadrant
might also be about lessons learned and the collective memory as a ground to
perpetuate the values of the society and support these values through the systems
(lower left quadrant) of the society.
On the other hand, in many countries in which the society or collective
claims to value freedom of speech and democratic governance (lower left
quadrant values), we often see journalists detained indefinitely (no freedom of
speech). We see members of opposition political parties harassed, arrested, and at
times eliminated (no democracy practiced in reality). In such cases it is obvious
that the claimed values of freedom of speech and democratic governance are, in
fact, not the true values. However, it is important to note that the collective values
claimed by the society might not necessarily be in line with those of the
government bodies in office.
While the lower left quadrant space brings insights into the internal values
of a society, the lower right quadrant brings insights about the policies that leaders
and decision-makers enact, ideally to mirror these values. Technically, the
systems established would be expected to reflect the collective values, but this
does not always happen. An interesting example might be leaders and societies
that claim to stand for human rights, but who in fact might have their own
subjective definition of human rights. In the case of the protection of women and
children’s rights, most governments and societies affirm that they do not tolerate
abuse of women and children, yet few are the societies that have structures to
ensure the protection of women. There are not that many safe houses where
women can gain shelter from their abusive husbands. In the case of children,
there is very little a child can do or very few if any places to call for help when
being abused.
As much as the internal values of the collective cannot be measured or
tangibly grasped, what allows us to truly assess whether the values claimed by the
society are genuine is the variable in the lower right quadrant. In an ideal world,
the commitment of the collective to its norms and shared values would be in line
with the systems and structures that support those values. Another interesting
example of when such systems are not visible in the lower right quadrant might be
when in the name of democracy and good governance, some African nations run
so-called democratic elections. Ballots and voting polls are set up, communities
are rallied—everything is done to make it look like the elections are free and fair.
Yet communities in the rural areas, where members might be not be literate, only
have access to information on the candidates’s ethnicity, rather than the ideology
the candidate upholds and the intended work such candidates hope to accomplish.
The concept of Ubuntu discussed in Chapter 2 is a concept of “I am,
because we are,” in which the individual exists because of the other members of
the community and the community itself. What I noticed, however, is that while
Ubuntu might exist among a number of individuals and societies, it might be in
the process of eroding. The following incident was significant in leading me to
this insight.
As I was wrapping up the writing of this dissertation one weekend, I drove
down from my house heading to the beach with my children and husband (in
Freetown, Sierra Leone). As the country’s beaches are world-renowned and there
isn’t much else to do for entertainment, many people head to the beaches on the
weekend. It is not unusual to find small children making roadblocks with a string
to stop cars and ask for a toll fee. Some people give them money; others drive
through scolding the children. On this particular day, I came to a roadblock, but
this time, it was not children—it was grown men. It was not a string but a long
and strong piece of wood that blocked the road. I asked the men to remove the
piece of wood. They made the sign of money, rubbing their thumbs and index
fingers together. “For what?” I asked. “We go make the road,” one of them
replied. “I will give you money when I see that the repairs were done,” I retorted.
The man got agitated. He started threatening. He became aggressive and started
blurting out insults. I asked him to come closer and said the following:
This is a sovereign country with rule of law. You cannot make a roadblock
and ask people to pay. You are not working for the road authority, so you
have no right to do this. There are laws in this nation.”
“The law is you and me,” he shouted back. As I realized that this man was not
going to hear me unless I spoke in the language of his reality and worldview, I
picked up my cell phone and told him I would call the right person for him to
understand that he cannot take the law into his own hands, saying, “Fine, le wi go
tok to somebody dat go le u no da law!” He lifted the roadblock and we drove
This is just one incident. It could be taken as minor, but it is not minor.
How many more such men roam the nation or even the continent for that matter?
Is the “we” space breaking down? Do we have means to address it as a society?
Are we even aware that the “we” is breaking down? Did this “we” really exist as a
widespread phenomenon or is it rather a utopian and romanticized reality?
Interestingly enough, in my country of Ethiopia, the “we” emerges forcefully and
tangibly in times of war. Whenever the nation has been threatened by invasion or
whenever the nations’ leaders (in all the regimes we have had) deem that the
country’s security is being challenged, there is immediate mobilization of troops.
What I found incredible is how the entire nation usually stands together and
supports the government in engaging in whatever actions it wants to take. There
might be a sense of a militant spirit that emerges in times of war; possibly, it
might be this militant “we” that has kept a country like Ethiopia free of
colonization and allowed it to maintain its sovereignty throughout history.
The advantage of the integral lens is its capacity to show us the entire
territory and have a comprehensive look at “what is so” in our reality; it is like an
acid test that can be used to establish a snapshot of reality with depth and scope.
The discussion of applying the integral lens on the subject of African leadership,
on any topic for that matter, is one that can take a lifetime to elaborate. For now,
I limited my discussion to briefly showing the relationship between the individual
leader’s internal values and her or his behaviors. I considered how these
individual values and behaviors might subsequently be reflected in the collective
culture’s values and the collective systems set up to sustain the collective culture
and values.
Insights about the points of leverage for change or opportunities for
transformation emerge as we become aware of discrepancies or incoherence
between the variables of the four quadrants. Although it would take further
substantial research to examine the topic of African leadership using the integral
lens, for now, I end this brief analysis with some of the realizations I had as I
mapped the input of my participants on the topic.
The first main realization confirms that the participants to this research are
leaders who are still governing their lives and defining their purpose in life in
service for others and in favor of the welfare of the whole, rather than for
themselves alone. I realize that my participants’ outlook, worldviews, values, and
behaviors might not be the norm across the board—we might use these
participants as the examples that we should follow as Africans. Subsequently, it
might be worth exploring ways to encourage and motivate men and women in
Africa to emulate such leaders. In order for this to happen, it might take various
kinds of actions including more publications and more exchange and dialogue
within the continent and among the leaders of the continent as well as ways to
showcase leaders such as my participants to the general public in order to foster or
bring back the kind of values and behaviors my participants have.
The second realizations is that while Ubuntu is very much a signature
African concept reflecting the hospitability, the communal life, and the collective
perspective of most African societies, it might also be a concept that is breaking
down. It is true that in general most people in Africa are hospitable and continue
to live a communal life. However, it is important to reflect on how far this
hospitality goes and how much the communal life is really governing the ways of
African living. Furthermore, in terms of leadership, the question might be about
how much this communal life or sense of community can be leveraged to bring
transformation and change of systems in favor of the welfare of the greater
community, nation, and eventually, even the continent.
The third realization is that there are not enough systems and structures to
uphold the collective values we claim to have as Africans. The responsibility to
create such structures and systems falls on African men and women committed to
the growth and development of this continent. We are not to point fingers at
governments or donor agencies—we might have to look within first. We might
have to reflect on our own values and how these individual values can influence,
positively or negatively, the collective values we claim. We might have to
explore how we can each bring in what we know and what we have in order to
create systems, structures, and policies that uphold both our individual and
collective values. We have to start by asking ourselves, at a very personal level,
questions such as: What am I doing about it? How am I contributing or how might
I contribute in the creation of such systems? The change we want starts with the
change we are willing to make in our own lives and the convictions we are willing
to stand for.
Lastly, an overall realization is that through the four quadrants we might
be able to see the overarching reality of the continent as a whole, as well as have
the possibility to use the quadrants to examine various levels of the community
reality at the regional, national, societal, community, and even family levels.
Given resources and time, using the integral lens to make a thorough analysis of
the reality on the continent in the context of development and leadership might
allow leaders to have insights on the individual and collective blind spots we
have. This would allow us to bring to light the discrepancies and the
incoherencies that in my opinion might be the key to unlocking many of the
challenges African nations confront.
Conclusion of the Analysis Discussion
Throughout the entire process of writing, arranging for, and conducting
interviews and throughout all the ups and downs of the journey, I experienced a
growing sense of connectedness with my roots, with the issues pertinent to not
only Africa but also to humanity. Most of all, I felt a growing sense of
connectedness to those who have worked, led, fought, lived, and died for the
world we have inherited today.
I suggest that this sense of connectedness is not unique to me. I think it is
human, a feeling that defines our nature as human beings. If the leaders in this
study took the time to talk to me and offer their experience and stories, their
choice might be in line with this human nature that favors connectedness. As
human beings we might want to share and possibly pass on our experiences so
that we leave behind something for others. We leave behind a legacy. We leave
behind our footprints and a record of our deeds. It might be for the sake of
posterity. We want to leave behind a part of ourselves, a seed that will continue to
grow long after we are gone.
I started out the journey of this research with the following questions:
What is unique about Africa and Africans that requires a different way of
leadership for transformative change? Subquestions developing from this main
question include the following. What traditional wisdom exists among Elders that
would be appropriate to contemporary models of leadership? What means of
knowledge transmission could be created to repair the transmission gap?
Africa is unique in so many ways that it is difficult to sum up its
uniqueness in a short paragraph. I do not claim the following as a comprehensive
description of how Africa is unique, but I can say that Africa is unique in its
diversity. This diversity translates in so many languages, so many cultures and
traditions, and so many ways communities organize themselves into societies.
Beyond the diversity, there is a common denominator that cuts across most
African societies and nations, and that is the way Africa is more about
community. African societies are not based on the individual per se but rather on
the collective. It is the norms and the values of the collectives that drive the way
systems and structures are set up. In the same way as family units are led and
under the guidance of an Elder, I suggest that the greater communities also look
for the guidance and leadership of an Elder. I am implying that while under
modern democratic rule, leaders are elected through election process, the society
looks to these leaders for guidance and leadership to ensure the welfare of the
whole. The challenge often arises when elected officials and leaders break away
from such expectations and pursue their own personal agenda as opposed to
fostering the interest of the whole.
The traditional wisdom existing among Elders has been presented
throughout this dissertation and more precisely in the discussion of the findings
through the integral lens. This traditional wisdom includes, among other things,
willingness to listen (including talking less and listening more) and remain
accessible, the ability to put others before oneself, and the ability to understand
issues in a comprehensive way and genuinely care for the welfare of the entire
In my opinion, there are no obstacles to including and integrating this
traditional wisdom into contemporary models of leadership and the ways our
communities and societies are governed. The only possible obstacle might be the
leader’s ability to put self-interest aside and put the interest of the whole in the
forefront of all decisions, policies, and actions to be taken.
Throughout this dissertation I have implied that there might be a gap in the
transmission of knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next, with one
of the main reasons being that oral transmission is more prevalent in Africa but
opportunities for oral transmission of wisdom between generations of leaders are
few. We need to learn to put things in writing and we must learn the habit of
documenting our processes, our experiences, our stories, and our dreams to enable
future generation to continue the work. If lessons learned, experiences, and
stories are not written, I can say that we are robbing our children and their
children of a ground to start from and continue building on. There are so many
ways of documenting, whether it is through publication (of articles, books, etc.) or
production of film, audio, or other multimedia products.
However, as we encourage ourselves to write and document, we must in
parallel encourage everyone to read and continuously inquire and reflect on the
state of our communities, and on what can be done to alleviate some of the
challenges we are confronted with. We have to encourage innovation and
creativity. When a society is more communal, it is normal that individuals might
look for approval from the collective in order to undertake actions. This has to
change—we must encourage self-initiative.
An interesting example of this need is an incident that occurred during a
Management and Leadership Training I gave in Sierra Leone. Anytime I give a
training, I often start by not only setting rules for the training, but also by
establishing a Penalty Index (PI) and a Redemption Index (RI). So, for example,
for anyone who comes late the rule is that they get 4 PI times the number of
minutes they are late. If someone is having bilateral discussions during the
session, they get 50 PI. On the other hand, if someone wants to redeem some
points, they can ask for RI opportunities. A nice song or a good joke earn 10 RI.
(If the joke is not funny, I double their PI.) Participants are also allowed to
subcontract someone else so sing or tell a joke for them.
During one of the training sessions, I realized that one participant was
being subcontracted constantly to sing. The young man had a beautiful voice. It
gave me the idea that I could possibly work with him in secret to write and record
a song speaking of gender-based violence and sending the message that such
violence is wrong.
After weeks of working, this young man sent me the song by email. It
was past 1:00 AM. The song was so touching and genuine that it brought tears
and made me weep. I arranged for this young man to travel from the provinces to
Freetown where the training was taking place. We made copies for everyone to
have, and as a surprise we brought him into the room singing, as I blasted my CD
player with the recorded song. Most participants were so excited that some stood
up and started singing along, and others ran for tissues to catch their tears. At the
end, we clapped for this young man who was no more than 25 years of age.
Then one participant shouted back and started dismantling the energy.
Speaking loudly and in a very unfriendly way, he condemned the song for
speaking of women only and not addressing the rights of men nor the abuse men
go through. This killed our energy. The young man stood in the middle of the
room together with me and for a moment I lost all hope.
This is an example of why people might not take self-initiative. One can
work hard, and then when it is time to show the work, there are many who may
knock it down instead of using more gentle and constructive ways to ask for
I tried to explain to this participant that the way of communication has to
start with a heart of appreciation first. I am not sure whether he received my
message. The main point here through this story is that in order to encourage selfinitiative, leaders and Elders must stress the need to listen first, to give people a
chance first before we bombard them with criticism and drain the motivation from
their hearts and minds.
Many studies have pointed to leadership being one of the main
determinants of progress in the development of African nations (Khoza, 2009;
Johnson-Sirlealf, 2006; Maathai, 2009). As discussed in Background and Context
above, poor and inadequate leadership is one of the main factors associated with
the lagging development in Africa (Maathai, 2009). Unless the quality of
leadership changes substantively from poor and ineffective to visionary and
effective, most African nations might very well regress to a catastrophic economic
and human development levels in the next fifty years. It is crucial that African
nations, and African peoples for that matter, find a way of supporting the
emergence of African leaders who are conscious, aware, well informed and well
equipped to deal with the ever changing complexities at hand. Now, more than
ever, Africa needs leaders—at all levels, but more especially at the policy level—
who have vision and commitment, are exceptionally competent and yet
compassionate, and have integrity, courage, resilience, and humility.
Transformation for Africa Through Leadership
In his speech at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, Kofi Annan (2007)
said that “lasting peace requires more than the absence of war—or the continued
presence of peacekeepers. Peace will endure only when it is accompanied by
economic and social development—the second pillar of an African Renaissance”
(para. 38). The question follows as to what current and future leaders would have
to do, be, and become in order to establish not only peace but also economic and
human development across the continent.
Our understanding of the circumstances, dynamics, and issues that
influence the grooming of young people into leaders might best be understood by
looking into the lives of the senior leaders of today, investigating what dynamics
played out in their lives, and how these dynamics may have brought these
individuals to assume and exercise leadership. Undoubtedly, the challenge of
leadership has a score of core causes and a range of influencing factors; however,
the findings of this research offer an opportunity to open an organic conversation
about the state of leadership on the continent and bring stakeholders together
through various forums to discuss ways to collectively work on developing
leadership at all levels and on creating structures, systems, and frameworks to
nurture the emergence of a new kind of leadership.
It is apparent to me that the kind of leadership we need as African
communities, nations, and peoples is leadership that starts first with the heart.
Leaders who can understand the issues on the ground from a human perspective,
and are not caught up or lost in economic models and technicalities, will be the
ones to find the strategies, solutions, innovations, and courage to transform the
current reality into one that serves the interest of the people first.
While there might always be debate as to whether leaders are born or
made, the interviews with the participants and the many conversations I have had
with men and women throughout the process of this research lead me to say that
while some individuals might be naturally inclined to leadership, every individual
holds the potential of leadership given the opportunity and context. Leaders are
often born out of crisis (Amoako, interview; Kathrada, interview; Mayaki,
interview; Mokgoro, interview; Ouedraogo, interview; Thorpe, interview; Turay,
interview). Short of crisis, leaders might also be born out of a combination of
vision or opportunity.
This does not take away from the fact that some individuals might be
gifted with the competence, with the spirit and the way of leadership. Every
person’s lines of development vary; as much as someone can be gifted in (for
example) music or art, some individuals might be gifted in the lines of
development that are conducive to leadership. So, although we cannot limit
ourselves to saying that leaders are either born or made, it is good to remain aware
that some individuals might be more inclined or gifted to leadership than others.
And given the opportunity, the vision or a crisis at hand, it is these kinds of
individuals who will come forward to guide their group, community, or nation.
In this research, I personally found inspiration through the stories
participants shared with me. I found inspiration through the meetings I had with
these Elder statesmen/women and these senior leaders. I found inspiration to
believe that change is possible for Africa. It is possible to change our current
reality of challenged economic and human development into a transformed reality
of growth, peace, stability, and opportunity. I found this inspiration from the
challenges, obstacles, and testing times the participants lived through and
My hope is that this research inspires many more men and women, of all
ages, both in Africa and around the world, to stand up and be counted. My hope
is that this research can convey the magic of the stories I have been offered in a
way that is as rich, as moving, and as motivating as I have received it. It is
through recording and documenting the leadership experiences of the great
leaders of our times that we can ensure the knowledge is passed on to generation
to come; I hope I have done so through the analysis, findings and stories herein
One way I am hoping to bring this research to a very practical level is to
produce a multimedia product in which all of the interviews conducted are woven
together to tell “the story of leadership in Africa.” This multimedia product would
be a conduit for the stories to be heard and viewed by as many people as possible
from the community level to the policy level. Through this multimedia product, I
hope to truly launch an active discussion about leadership at all levels. This
product would be complemented by a book summarizing the leadership traits of
the participants and expanding further on the lessons to be learned from their
respective experiences.
Considerations of New Research to Follow
Many research projects could possibly follow this one. In this section I
present those that are most pertinent, in my opinion.
First, it might be useful to examine the possible distinctions or boundaries
between African leadership versus leadership in Africa. When I started this
research, my aim was to find out about African leadership. Now, at the end of the
research, I find that the issue might not be African leadership per se, but rather
leadership in the African context. And even within this distinction, there may be
further distinctions to be made. A thought for new research is to look at the same
kind of questions but address leaders worldwide, to investigate the possibility of
universal principles of leadership.
A second avenue would be to pursue youth perspectives on African
leadership. This would essentially invert this research and study the perceptions of
African youth about leadership, and attempt to establish whether or not the next
generation is engaged in leadership. If they are not, it would be useful to examine
what the alternatives are.
A third approach would be to explore new strategies for working through
African challenges. How do we each contribute? How do we find ways to keep
moving forward despite the challenges and trials that await us along our journey?
What is it that will keep us together and allow us to build upon the work of one
another in order to benefit from our collective achievements? Such questions and
issues might be fruitful avenues of exploration in the pursuit of change for Africa.
Fourth, expand the integral discussion by exploring distinctions for
leadership based on stages of development. The current integral approach, Spiral
Dynamics (Beck & Cowen, 1996), and Wilber’s level of development matrix
(Wilber, 2006) might not allow us to make distinctions within stages of
development. African traditions are more communal, collective, and possibly
have a societal center of gravity that might revolve around purple or magenta.
Thus, future researchers might consider whether there are various distinctions that
could be made within these stages to differentiate how some communities might
in fact be at this level in some ways and also at much higher levels of
development in other ways.
Fifth, the value of Ubuntu would be enhanced through research,
particularly in terms of Ubuntu as an integral African approach. A substantial
amount of what is written about Ubuntu points to the fact that it might actually
reflect high levels of consciousness in African traditions. Is this the case? How
could we examine, document, and illustrate Ubuntu using the integral approach?
In line with this, would it be possible to use the integral approach to shed light on
the dilemma of if “Ubuntu: I am because we are” is really the prevailing African
way, how can we then explain the recurrent incidents of violence, war, and
conflict? If “I am” because “we are,” wouldn’t this imply that harming another
would be the equivalent of harming me?
Sixth, much of Africa’s history is intertwined with the colonial past. One
conversation I had brought me to an inquiry I had never thought of before.
Assuming we look at colonization as the time European nations started the
scramble for Africa (after the famous Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 where
European nations carved up the continent among themselves), it would be
interesting to explore what may have been missing in Africa and African
communities or early nations that allowed the continent to be colonized? Why
was it not Africa colonizing Europe?
Lastly, it might be valuable to explore the variable that would define good
leadership and those that may result in poor leadership in the context of Africa.
Given the traditional, cultural, and socioeconomic situations, what is good
leadership? What is poor leadership and what are the variables that might allow
leaders to avoid the pitfalls of poor leadership and remain on the path of great
leadership? How could we apply the integral approach to have a better
understanding of these different variables and impacts?
The findings of this study are very rich; undoubtedly, additional research
ideas will occur to me (and hopefully, to others) for years to come. I foresee many
more years of work on the topic of leadership, Africa, and integral approaches to
both leadership and African development.
Reflection and Way Forward
I would like to quote Mr. Kofi Annan (2007) to reflect on the way
… there can be no denying the magnitude of African needs—and no
minimizing the stakes for us all. How much longer can the wealthiest
nations derive great benefits from globalization while billions of their
fellow human beings remain in abject poverty? Is that sustainable? Is it
morally defensible? If all lives have equal worth, should all not have the
chance to live, work, and prosper? (para. 44)
The interviews shared this commonality: All the participants were willing
to sit with me and give me the time, as best they could, to help me fulfill my
mission. They were world leaders, with all the privileges that we might imagine
come with such a status, yet all of them took me in like a daughter or a sister
(depending on the generation). They spoke to me not because I had any status or
connections, but because they were generous enough to share their time with me.
This is the gentle Africa, the Africa that is compassionate, encouraging, and
supportive of all those who stand to do something useful and beneficial for
We have a responsibility as Africans. We have a responsibility as human
beings to see to it that those around us have decent living conditions. However,
working toward that goal is not always about a project or a program led by a
government or an international organization—it is also about our willingness to
be counted as agents of change, agents of ethics and morality, and agents of
Some might misunderstand the concept of leadership: Leadership is not
about being seen in front, but about rolling up our sleeves and being willing to
join others to do the work that is called for. Leadership is not about being in front
and having others carry the burden of the task, but rather about being willing to
carry the burden ourselves and knowing how to share the burden in a way that
will allow the collective to assume responsibility and contribute to progress for
the good of the greater whole. Leadership is not about talking, but rather about
listening, first and foremost, and being able to express ourselves in ways that are
constructive and proactive. Leadership is not a position or some intangible
concept; it is rather a way of being, a way of doing, a way of being counted, a
way of standing for our passion and convictions, and a way to create more welfare
and more good while aiming for more excellence around us.
The greatest leaders of all have a loving, humane, humble, and concerned
heart. The greatest leaders of all have empathy for others, with ultimate patience
and tolerance—such leaders can compassionately demand results because their
demands come from a place of love and positive intentions.
It might be that true leadership is a spiritual experience. It is not about us
per se and our gross way of existence, which might often be tied to ego. It might
be linked to our capacity to see the continuity of time and our awareness to know
that our time is nothing but a fraction on this line of continuity. Leadership
emerges as we become conscious of the impermanence of life. It comes best when
we realize that the time we have to act and work is not forever, but is set in a
finite line, in one lifetime. This offers us the gift of humility and modesty in our
way of being; it allows us to laugh and cry regardless of who might be around. It
is our capacity to laugh and see humor in the things around us, yet at the same
time appreciate the gravity of the circumstances that puts the spring in our walk
and the sparkle in our eyes. And interestingly, others respond to this lightness in
our being and to the sparkles in our eyes, and they are willing to listen, to come
along and stand together. This is leadership.
It does not matter where someone is—if one has leadership competencies,
those competencies will emerge. In a way, what makes the distinction between the
various leaders in the world is not their competence, but their ability to adapt and
contextualize their skills to fit the environment in which they work. Even within
the same country or the same community, one might have to apply different
variations of one’s leadership skills. Because, after all, the leader must be heard,
understood, and able to enroll others in the desired direction.
In 2007, during an interview with Lady Almaz Haile-Mariam, a group of
leadership consultants from Seattle, Washington asked her the following question:
“Do you think it is appropriate for whites to come and teach leadership to
Africans?” She responded to them in this manner:
The question is not about the color of the skin, but the openness of the
spirit to those you want to impart your knowledge with; and it is also
about your intentions in the process of imparting this very knowledge.
(Haile Mariam, interview)
This is a good illustration of the consciousness that leaders need to have in order
to exercise their competencies. We have to be beyond the concern of race, color,
ethnicity, and all other possible categorizations. The main issue is to be heard, to
have such an understanding of the audience that one can adapt and contextualize
the message in order to be understood.
Many who have traveled to African countries have witnessed the stark
contrasts that exist in the lives of the population. There are those who struggle
with life in utter poverty, devoid of all kinds of basics that any human being
should have a right to; there are those who live in utter luxury, often far more than
anyone in the Western world could imagine.
It might not be hard to believe that the resources, the means, and the
possibilities exist to truly progress development in most African nations. It is also
a reality that there is enough manpower to do the work—what then could possibly
hold African nations back from catching up with the rest of the world?
Nothing prevents us, other than our willingness to stand and be counted;
nothing prevents us, other than our willingness to take the first step—
personally—and not wait for the next person to do so. Nothing prevents us, other
than our capacity to shed the doubts that might contract and reduce our dreams.
It is about time we roll up our sleeves and get involved at all levels. It’s
about time we take responsibility for the future of our communities and make a
commitment to truly assume our leadership in our field of expertise for the sake of
the greater good.
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Chair: Joanne Gozawa, PhD
Joanne Gozawa received her Ph.D. in Integral Studies with a concentration
in Learning and Change in Human Systems from CIIS in 2000. She has taught at
CIIS (organic inquiry), the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, and at Presidio
World College. Her experiences in transformative learning and sensitivity to
cultural differences have focused her practice on evoking a field that is inclusive
and nonjudgmental, a field of mutuality that gives groups of diverse participants
the safety in which to question their deep assumptions. She has applied her
approach to classes in transformative learning and to organizations interested in
transforming conflict into collaboration. She hopes to broaden the theoretical
ground of transformative learning with her work.
CIIS Committee Member: Constance A. Jones, PhD
Constance A. Jones received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Emory
University and was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at the Center for the Study
of New Religious Movements of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley,
California. Beginning with her doctoral dissertation on the caste system in India,
she has pursued a life-long interest in the cultures and religions of the East,
including the adoption of Eastern beliefs and practices into Western systems of
Connie has served on the faculties of a number of graduate programs of
religion, is the recipient of several fellowships including the Ford Foundation, and
was a teacher and researcher as a Fulbright scholar in India. She serves on the
Board of Directors of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa
Barbara, California. And for the last 13 years, Connie has been a member of a
multidisciplinary team of scholars that investigates new religious movements
around the world. This research analyses the dissemination of Eastern thought in
the West through religious movements with Hindu and Buddhist roots.
For the last six years, Connie has been a member of an international team
of scholars working with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing
researching “The Future of Religion in China.” Following four visits to mainland
China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan, the team will publish a multi-disciplinary
volume with analyses of religion and culture in traditional Chinese culture areas.
External Committee Member: Russ Volckmann, PhD, MBC
Currently serving on two dissertation committees for Fielding Graduate
Institute and one for the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Russ
Volckmann’s publications in recent years have been focused on leadership and
change, including articles in The Journal of Organizational Change Management
and Leadership Review. Russ offers exceptionally broad-based theoretical and
conceptual approaches with practical implementations for organizational and
individual change programs. His wide range of practical experience with
organization change includes: organization redesign, culture change, long-range
and strategic planning, and assessment.
Russ’ PhD is from U.C. Berkeley. He has taught in several universities
and has over twenty years of experience in consulting to the design, development,
and implementation of project management organizations, executive roles in
project management, project start-up, project planning and control, project
management methods, project team building, managing conflicts related to
projects, project assessment, training in project management and leadership,
coaching project managers, and project innovations. He has also been an
executive coach for over ten years.
External Reader: Clive Neel, FCA
Clive Neel grew up in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) in the 1950s
and 1960s, the grandson of one of the first white farmers there. Later on, he lived
and worked in the UK and The Gambia, and for the past 15 years, has lived in
Sierra Leone. This upbringing greatly informs Clive’s perspective on the situation
in Africa today and the potential solutions for it.
I have been privileged to experience an idyllic life growing up in one of
the most beautiful countries that I can imagine, and I have been privileged
to live for 11 years in the midst of one of Africa’s most brutal wars. I have
seen through the eyes of a child what has already been achieved in terms
of infrastructural development and I have witnessed and felt as an adult
the torment, the rage, despair, hope and frustration that sits in the hearts of
African people. (personal communication, March 13, 2008)
In his professional life, Clive has spent his working years as a Chartered
Accountant, first in the UK then in different parts of Africa, and during those
years he developed an increasing desire to be instrumental somehow in bringing
about fundamental change in the African continent. Clive has observed a
stagnation here, a situation where “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, and
sees this dissertation project as a significant step toward the changing of attitudes
that will bring about a shift. In his own words:
I think that the research for the dissertation might allow us to discover and
record the wisdom that is known but has never been written down. This is
of course the universal wisdom and I think that Yene herself has an easy
access to this and will find beautiful ways of putting it into words. This
wisdom can then be applied to redesigning the systems currently in place
and can become the basis for future decision-making. What excites me is
the possibility that the research will provide a tool for the developed world
both to see with fresh eyes what lies beyond the superficial configurations
that make up Africa, and to reassess their own attitudes towards
governance and leadership. (personal communication, March 13, 2008)
Clive has been writing, reflecting, and working on the need to reinvent leadership
for Africa since the mid-1990s.
Table 1
Geographical Locations of Interviewees
Dr. Trevor Mwamba
Mrs. Josephine Ouedraogo
Lady Almaz Haile Mariam
Dr. Akwasi Aidoo
Mr. Kofi Annan
Mr. KY Amoako
Mrs. Sena Gabianu
Dr. Amos Sawyer
Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki
Sierra Leone
Dr. Moustapha Guaye
Mr. Youssou N’Dour
Dr. Christiana Thorpe
South Africa
Mr. Abdul Rahman Turay
Reverend Dr. Themistocles
Justice Yvonne Mokgoro
Mr. Ahmed Kathrada
Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa
Mr. Azmi Samara
Mr. Tokyo Sexwale
President Dr. Kaunda
Herein is the basic letter of solicitation I sent to the elders in an effort to
secure an interview, as well as the letter of confirmation sent once the interview
was arranged.
Formal Letter of Solicitation
Date: Freetown, (insert date)
From: Yene H. K. Assegid
[contact information withheld for privacy]
Attention: H.E. (insert name), or Mr./Mrs./Dr. (insert name)
Office of (insert)
Address (street)
Address (city/state/country)
Request for an appointment for an Interview on African Leadership
Dear (title/name, or name or what I usually call this person – if it is one I know),
Let me start by thanking you for the time you take to read this letter. As I have
informed you (phone/email/introduction/reference to person who introduced), I
am in the final stages of my dissertation research on the topic of African
Leadership and the wisdom our elders have to share with us on the matter. I come
to you as the elder you are to me and all of Africa, to ask for your insights, your
experiences, and your vision “for” Africa and “about” African Leadership. I come
to you, not so much as a researcher or a PhD candidate, but as a daughter seeking
stories of leadership, stories of wisdom, and insights from elders.
I am writing to you, to ask if you would be kind enough to allow me some time to
meet with you and interview you about African Leadership. The interview is
centered and anchored around your personal thoughts and experiences, in what
you have encountered in your own leadership—the successes and the challenges
you faced, and how you might want to share what you have learned with those
aspiring to work for Africa, with those African men and women working on
development issues throughout the continent, and with future leaders who might
not yet be in leadership positions. The inquiry is about visiting the past and
envisioning the future, so that we can strategically position ourselves to manifest
the future we hope to build.
I modestly call on you, because your experience in leadership is significant and an
asset to all of us. I count you among my role models, among those I aspire to
follow, and most of all for the journey you have traveled to reach where you are. I
hope that through this interview, you will share with me your thoughts on the
matter and how you foresee the future of the continent in relation to economic
development, social welfare, stability, and peace—and how the leadership
capacities of the men and women of this continent might be influencing the
unfolding of events.
I would be very grateful if you would advise me whether your schedule in the
next months would allow you to spend 2-3 hours of time for the purpose of this
interview. Currently my home is in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I will travel to
wherever will be convenient for your schedule. For your perusal, I have attached
the abstract of my dissertation and the map of the sources of wisdom that will
guide my research.
Thank you infinitely for your time and consideration. I very much look forward to
hearing back from you (or your office). Until then, I wish you well.
With gratitude,
Yene H. K. Assegid
Source of Stories of Wisdom
Formal Letter of Confirmation
Date: Freetown, (insert date)
From: Yene H. K. Assegid
[contact information withheld for privacy]
Attention: H.E. (insert name), or Mr./Mrs./Dr. (insert name)
Office of (insert)
Address (street)
Address (city/state/country)
Thank you for your reply and appointment for an interview
Dear (title/name, or name or what I usually call this person – if it is one I know).
Thank you infinitely for your kind reply and your generous allowance for time for
an interview. I am very grateful, honored, and excited about my visit and the
subsequent interview you have made time for.
As per your letter (email) or (email from their office), I will be at your office
(home) at (time/date). I will travel to (location) on the (date) and hope to spend 3
days in your country (or location). Should there be further details needed for the
interview I will communicate with (name) in your office.
I look forward to meeting you (seeing you again). Again, I am so grateful for this
upcoming meeting—I can’t thank you enough.
With gratitude,
Date [---]
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Interview Background and Guiding Questions
In the context of my Doctoral Dissertation, aimed at looking at the wisdom within
African Leadership from the perspective of Senior African Leaders and Heads of
States, the following interview is one of the key components allowing me to
deepen my understanding of the concept of Leadership in Africa; and collect the
stories and the insights to add to our collective knowledge of African Leadership
and wisdom within.
I started my doctoral Studies in 2004 at the California Institute of Integral Studies
(CIIS) in San Francisco, California, within the school of Transformative Inquiry.
The main motivation to engage in studies about leadership, transformation, human
systems and the issue of change in society results from my direct life experiences.
I had to leave my country, Ethiopia, at the age of 7-8 years old, to live in Europe.
The reason for my emigration from my native country was the political unrest,
armed conflict, revolution and insecurities we faced in the mid-seventies when
His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie was overturned and a communist regime
took over the government. Since the time I left my home and landed in Europe in
the mid-seventies, I have wanted to understand the core issues underlying
economic and human development challenges facing most of the nations in
Africa. The question is: where do we start? There is such a complex and interrelated maze of issues to deal with, that it is almost discouraging to try and find
solutions. However, in the face of the complex realities of most of our African
nations; I am convinced that if there might be one key to opening up the way
forward, that key would be the key of Leadership.
It is true that there is a wide range of definitions that can be assigned to the
concept of Leadership; it is also true that depending on our individual
worldviews, cultures, experiences and lives we may define leadership differently.
However, if we are to truly understand what role leadership has to play for
advancing the African development agenda; and we can find ways to transfer
knowledge about leadership from one generation to the next then we might
increase our chances of building a better future across the continent. In this
research, I intend to go to the elders in Africa (our senior leaders) to ask and
receive from them their perspective of the meaning of leadership in the African
context and how current/future leaders might leverage the guidance from the
senior leaders to best apply their energy and effort in moving the development
agenda forward.
It is with the above in mind, that I intend to come to your office in search of your
perspectives, your insights and the wisdom that you may be able to share with me;
and in the sharing, allow me to share what I have learned from you with the
greater audience of African men, women and children and peoples of the world.
I come to you as a researcher; I come to you as a messenger and I come to you as
an apprentice committed to listen, learn and pass on to others the gems of the
subtle knowledge of leadership. The Abstract attached to this document offers a
more detailed outlook on the design of the research, on the methodologies and
results sought.
Guiding Interview Questions
General Questions on Leadership in Africa:
1.1. What makes a leader? In your experience, what factors, circumstances
and environments would most influence the process of grooming young
people in becoming leaders in their community, society and the world?
Would you consider these factors be universal or rather specific to a) the
African context and/or b) your National Context?
1.2. What individual qualities might be seen among African Leaders that
might not always be apparent among leaders from other cultures and
traditions? By the same token, what leadership qualities might Africans
leaders learn from leaders of other cultures /traditions and use to enrich
their leadership capacities?
1.3. Knowing the economic and human development challenges faced by
most of the African nations, how do you see the impact and role of the
leadership capacities of African Leaders, at the country and regional
level, in moving the Development Agenda forward? In this context, how
do you see the leadership role of the African Union (AU) and other such
regional institutions?
1.4. From your perspective and experience, what would you consider are the
greatest challenges for the African Leader in terms of exercising their
leadership in favor of growth, development and creating a better future
for the communities across the continent? What are the opportunities, if
any at all?
Personal Questions on the sources of your inspiration and leadership:
2.1. Would you please share with me stories of the incidents, events or
landmarks in your life that have influenced and inspired you, the most, in
becoming the leader that you are today? Were there some key turning
points in your life, where you realized that you wanted to go into public
service, and if so what were some of these events? How did these events
influence your life and what were the lessons you drew from those
2.2. If we could stand on the line of time today, and you reflect back to the
past years of your life, the past years of our ancestors and history; then
you look forward to the horizons of the future that holds the unknown, the
potentials, and possibilities; and you could take a moment to be in this
space; what would you say inspires you to move on, move forward? What
are the core guiding principles that have guided you in your leadership, as
a parent, as a professional, and as the African Leader?
2.3. What were some of your greatest challenges? How have you dealt with it;
learned from it and if you had to do it all over again, would you have
done things differently? In the context of your own challenges as a leader
and testing times that you may have gone through, would you have any
thoughts to share about dealing with possible failure, possible success,
and uncertainties?
2.4. If you had to speak about the individuals in your life that were your role
models, teachers and guides; and speak about those individuals who have
inspired you in reaching this stage of your life, who would they be and
which qualities have they bestowed on you that you would like future
leaders to also have?
2.5. If we would look forward 50 or 100 years, and if you could speak at an
assembly or a plenary attended by the African Leaders of that future era,
what guiding words would you say to them? What would you pass on to
them as wisdom, insight and guidance to take the continent forward?
How might you warn them, encourage them and inspire them to do their
Table 2
List of Leaders Interviewed, in Order of Completion
Nationality /
President Dr. Kaunda
Former Head of State,
July 2006,
October 2006,
July 2009
Mr. Azmi Samara
Senior Civil Servant of the
United Nations (from the
mid-1950s on)
January 2007
Mr. Kofi Annan
Former United Nations
Secretary General
July 2007
Mrs. Josephine
Former Minister of Social
Affairs in Thomas Sankara’s
Former Deputy UnderSecretary of the United
Nations Economic
Commission for Africa;
Current Secretary General of
ENDA Tier Monde
March 2009
Dr. Moustapha
Senior United Nations Civil
March 2009
Dr. Akwasi Aidoo
Philanthropist and Senior
Development Activist
March 2009
Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki
Former Prime Minister of
Niger, Former Transitional
Government Head of Niger;
current CEO of NEPAD
Mrs. Sena Gabianu
Former World Bank official
and former Public Sector
Civil Servant in Ghana
April 2009
Lady Almaz Haile
Spiritual Leader/
National Sage
April 2009
Reverend Dr.
Sierra Leone
Spiritual Leader
April 2009
Mr. Youssou N’Dour
World famous musician
May 2009
Nationality /
Dr. Christiana Thorpe
Sierra Leone
Former Minister of
Education; Current Head of
the Sierra Leone National
Election Commission
Mr. Abdul Rahman
Sierra Leone
Former Governor of the Bank
Sierra Leone;
Current Principal Advisor to
the President of Sierra Leone
Mr. Tokyo Sexwale
South Africa
South African Businessman,
Former politician and antiapartheid activist. Current
Minister of Human Settlement.
July 2009
Justice Yvonne
South Africa
Supreme court judge
July 2009
Mr. Ahmed Kathrada
South Africa
Senior ANC official, former
Minister under President
Nelson Mandela’s
July 2009
Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa
South Africa
ANC official, Private Sector
July 2009
Dr. Trevor Mwamba
Archbishop of Botswana
Dr. Amos Sawyer
Former President of Liberia
October 2009
Mr. KY Amoako
Former Undersecretary
General of the United Nations
Economic Commission for
March 2010
May 2009
May 2009
It was not always simple to write a brief biography of the Elder Leaders I
interviewed because some have a leadership that is traditionally recognized, while
others have political recognition, and still others have academic recognition of
their leadership roles. Therefore, I chose to describe the leaders in the way that I
came to see them as leaders. Table 1 presents a list of the final participants, their
nationality or country of origin, their position and or professions, and dates of
interview(s). I realize that it would have been interesting to have a summary of
variables such as age, education, sector or line of work, ethnicity, and so on;
unfortunately I am not in a position to gather that information due to time
Mr. Azmi Samara
Azmi was born to in 1922 in Omdurman, Sudan. Son of the
national poet Azmi Samara, he graduated with honors in science and mathematics
in the early 1940s from the Gordon Memorial College, now known as the
University of Khartoum. He joined the Sudan Defense Force and fought against
the Italians in Tobruk (Libya). Gashe Azmi emigrated to Ethiopia in the late
1940s and worked in education, eventually joining the Organization of African
Gashe is a term used in Amharic (the language in Ethiopia) to refer to someone
older, someone that is loved and respected. It is comparable to “Uncle” in the
English language. For women, the term Etiye is used, comparable to “Aunt” or
“Auntie” in English.
Union. In recent years, he has served as Director of the Sudanese American
Foundation for Education. All of us who had the chance to know him were
heartbroken to learn that he passed on, on the first of January 2008. I feel so
blessed to have had the chance to have a formal interview with him, and in fact,
the recording I have might be one of the few, if not the only, recordings of his
voice as he discusses matters of Africa.
H.E. Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, First President of Zambia
In July 2006, I met with President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. At that time, I had
not yet completed my dissertation proposal but I knew that he would be one of the
participants I would aim to have, so I went forward and interviewed him about
African Leadership. Although, as with Gashe Azmi, I did not have the questions I
later used for most of the participants, I trusted that the qualitative questions I
asked would provide material to include in the findings.
Zambia is among the few countries in Africa that has never had any
conflicts with its neighbors. There is something about Zambia that emanates
peace and stability; a lot of this peace has to do with the nature and character of
the nation’s first President, Dr. Kaunda. In his capacity as Head of State of an
independent young Zambia, President Kaunda played a key role in the antiapartheid movement. He offered unparalleled support to all the activists, and in
fact Lusaka served as a base for the leadership-in-exile of the African National
Congress (ANC). President Kaunda was so supportive of my research that he
invited me to join him to meet “his retired friends” as he liked to call them.
Basically, he took me as part of his delegation to attend the General Assembly of
the African Forum of Former Heads of States held in Johannesburg in October
Born in April 28, 1924, President Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, known as “KK”
was the first President of Zambia from 1964 to 1991. He was born in Lubwa in
Northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia. He was the youngest of eight
children. He came up in a very religious family. His father was the Reverend
David Kaunda, a missionary and teacher. Later on, Kenneth Kaunda also started
his career as a teacher from 1943 to 1951 in various schools and at various
locations. His involvement started in 1951 when he resigned from his last part
time teaching post to become the Organizing Secretary of the Northern Rhodesia
African Congress for the Northern Province. In 1953 he moved to Lusaka, the
capital, to assume the post of Secretary General for the African National Congress
(ANC). In 1958 he left the ANC to form the Zambia African National Congress
(ZANC). The organization was banned in 1959 and he served a nine months
prison sentence in relation to his role to the organization. Upon his release in
1960, the newly formed United National Independence Party (UNIP), which
replaced ZANC, elected him as President. He ran for elections as a UNIP
candidate in 1962 elections which resulted in a UNIP-ANC Coalition Government
with Kaunda appointed as Minister of Local Government and Social Welfare.
Two years later, in 1964 UNIP won the General Elections under the New
Constitution and he was appointed Prime Minister. Kaunda became the first
President of independent Zambia on 24 October 1964. He remained Head of State
until 1991 (Spiritus-Temporis, 2005).
His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan
In July of 2007, I had the chance to meet with Mr. Kofi Annan in Geneva,
Switzerland. The meeting was arranged for both the sake of this research as well
as the leadership program I was trying to establish at the time. I had spoken so
much about leadership and the work that I was hoping to do both in terms of
research as well as the design of programs to develop leadership capacity, that my
father once asked me: “Why don’t you go talk to Kofi?” It seemed very natural to
him that I talk to Mr. Annan—the two had attended the same university in Geneva
in the 1960s and knew each other from the early days. I could only accept, and
told my father that if he could secure an appointment, I would come from
wherever I was at the time. And so it happened that at the end of a mediation
retreat I was attending on the outskirts of Berlin, Germany, I received a call
telling me the appointment had been set for July 11, and I was to come
immediately to Brussels to travel together with my father to Geneva to see his old
I do not need to present the achievements of Mr. Kofi Annan and describe
what he represents for the world—all I can say is that he embodied all that we
read about in terms of the traits of an enlightened leader. The way he received us,
the way we talked and discussed, the way that he gave us his precious time—he
embodied the lessons we have to learn about the roles, responsibilities and
bearing of a leader.
I did not record the interview; it was a very natural conversation that
remains very clear in my mind. But in a very thoughtful way, the personal
assistant of Mr. Annan later sent me two of his speeches that he allowed me to use
for my reference.
Mr. Kofi Annan has gone through many tribulations, especially in his role
as Secretary General of the United Nations, yet he comes across as a gentle,
compassionate, and loving human being who is dedicated to his work and his
talent to be of service to humanity. A Nobel Peace Prize winner, among the many
achievements he has earned, Mr. Annan is a living example for the world.
Mrs. Josephine Ouedraogo
My first encounter with Mrs. Ouedraogo was in 1997. At the time I was
working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Ethiopia in launching a project
to take care of women surviving from prostitution. She was the Director of the
Gender Program within the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. To
my surprise, she granted me an appointment and talked with me for almost one
hour. I was struck from by her humility, openness, and humanity. She is a brilliant
human being with a kind heart and emanates courage, determination, and
commitment for advancing the African development agenda—her sincerity is so
poignant that it makes me freeze. Our relationship has continued through the
years and all the changes, and she continues to be one of my role models and
Mrs. Ouedraogo is from Burkina Faso and grew up mostly in Paris, as her
father was serving in the diplomatic mission in Paris; she was educated at the
Sorbonne in France. When she returned to her country, she worked for a while in
a research institute and then joined the cabinet of President Sankara as Minister of
Social Welfare. After his unfortunate assassination in 1987, she left the public
service and joined the United Nations where she served as a senior civil servant
for almost twenty years. Her last post at the United Nations was Deputy UnderSecretary General for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. She
is now the Secretary General for the largest African humanitarian organization,
ENDA based in Dakar, Senegal. Our interview took place in March 2009 at her
office in Dakar.
Dr. Moustapha Gueye
The first time I met Dr. Gueye was in Ethiopia in 2001. We met in the
context of the Leadership Development and Capacity Building program that the
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) was launching to address and
respond to the issue of HIV/AIDS in the country, and have remained colleagues
since that time.
While Dr. Gueye started his career as a medical doctor focusing on
obstetrics, his main focus since the late 1990s has been in the field of leadership
development and the development of leadership-training modules for leaders at all
levels in Africa. He has been implementing countless training programs on
leadership and on transformation and change throughout the continent, as part of
the UNDP Leadership development program he heads. Dr. Gueye aspires to bring
positive change in Africa by changing the mindsets of African policymakers. He
believes it is possible to transform the way leaders think and work by raising
awareness about how human systems function, by leveraging a common vision to
bring for a different future, and by maintaining a continuous open flow of
communication between all stakeholders.
The interview with Dr. Gueye took place in March 2009, in Dakar,
Dr. Akwasi Aidoo
Dr. Akwasi Aidoo is the founder and CEO of Trust Africa, an African
foundation aiming to provide resources for organizations working on governance,
democracy, and human right issues. I had the chance to interview him in Dakar,
Senegal in March 2009 and then again in May 2009. We met twice because we
did not have time to complete the interview the first time.
What was striking about Dr. Aidoo is his commitment to development in
Africa. Even though I had not met him prior to the interview, he went out of his
way to give me time. I had sent him an email weeks earlier, asking for an
appointment, but by the time he saw the email and responded, I had already been
in Dakar for a week and was ready to leave the next morning. Not only did he
make time to see me the next day before my flight out, but he was also generous
enough to come all the way to my hotel so I would not have to travel around on
the same morning of my departure. Very few people would go to such lengths; in
fact, his vehicle had been involved in an accident, so he came to the hotel by taxi.
Knowing how pressed for time and resources I was, I was infinitely touched by
his act of kindness. During the interview, I realized that he offers this same
kindness to all through his work and the vision of his foundation. The wonderful
thing is how the more the accomplishment of a leader, the more humble and
accommodating I found them. It is such a great lesson for many of us to see that
accomplishment and status doesn’t necessarily equate with arrogance and elitism
but rather entails more service and connectedness.
Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki
I did not know of Dr. Mayaki until my husband Matthias suggested that I
try to contact him. Matthias encountered the work of Dr. Mayaki at a European
Union conference on rural development and agriculture where Dr. Mayaki
delivered a presentation on the issue of agriculture and development in Africa. At
the time, Dr. Mayaki was heading a civil society organization that he had
established and that focused on rural development issues. Prior to that, he was the
Prime Minister of Niger from November 1997 to January 2000.
I interviewed Dr. Mayaki in Dakar, Senegal in March 2009. The week
before the interview, I was in Banjul, Gambia for other interviews. In the flow of
email exchanges, I realized that I was arriving on the evening of March 6, 2009,
and Dr. Mayaki was leaving Dakar early in the morning on March 7, 2009. So I
asked if he could meet with me in the evening, and he agreed. At the end of the
interview, I asked him if he was traveling for a meeting and he said he was
traveling to take up his new post. I did not know what he meant, and it is then that
he told me he was now the CEO of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development
(NEPAD). I recount this story because it summarizes the kind of leader he is;
despite the status of the position he held and others he has held in the past, he
remained down to earth and accessible. I am again and again amazed at how the
leaders who are truly leading and truly in position of leadership, are the same ones
who have remained open, humble and accessible. They are the ones who are still
ready to support the efforts of others in whatever way they can. Dr. Mayaki is one
such leader.
Mrs. Sena Gabianu
I have known Mrs. Gabianu since the mid-1990s; at the time, she was
working at the World Bank in Ethiopia and I was working at the grassroots level
in an HIV/AIDS prevention program especially designed for women surviving
from prostitution. She was a mentor, and supported the work I was doing by
coming to us on the streets, at our community gatherings, and at any other
occasion we invited her. When Mrs. Gabianu retired and left Addis Ababa to
return to Ghana, I felt a sense of void because a mentor I valued had left.
While I could not see her as much as I wanted, I kept up with the
relationship and it was a pleasure to see her in her home in Accra to conduct this
interview. Mrs. Gabianu, an economist by profession, had been working in the
Ministry of Finance in Ghana for many years before she was invited to join the
World Bank to run their Gender Empowerment Program for Ethiopia. The
interview with Mrs. Gabianu took place in her home in the suburbs of Accra,
Ghana in April 2009.
Lady Almaz Haile-Mariam
I have had many interviews with Lady Almaz Haile-Mariam over the
years; indeed, what I bring in this dissertation is all the wisdom and insight that
she has taught me throughout my life. Lady Almaz, she whom we lovingly call
Almazesha, is my grandmother; yet, I can say that she is a grandmother for not
just her biological grandchildren but for an entire nation. She is a sage, an icon of
wisdom and compassion who has shaped the lives of hundreds of children, men,
and women.
She was raised by her grandmother, who in addition to the classical
mission education, ensured that Almazesha would receive full military training;
training in horsemanship, marksmanship, and fine arts, as well as a
comprehensive education in theology and Geez (ancient Ethiopian language). I
believe that it is the sense of honor, courage, valor, and perseverance as well as
empathy for mankind instilled by her grandmother that prepared Almazesha for
all the challenges, opportunities, and tests she faced in her life.
Almazesha’s input in this dissertation is not limited to what she said to me
in the interviews. She was such an influential person in my life that I know most
of what I am and do is a result of the tutelage she bestowed on me all my life. I
conducted the interview with her in April 2009 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; this was
her last interview as she passed on unexpectedly a few months later.
Reverend Dr. Themistocles
Father Themy, as he is called in the community of the Church, was born in
Alexandria, Egypt. He is ethnically Greek and lived most of his life, other than
the time spent studying or on mission, in Australia. He started out as a musician in
his early 20s; in fact, he was a bass player and even toured with the Rolling
Stones. He told me that he really believed in the communist ideology until he
realized that without love and compassion one could possibly not make a better
world; this led him to enroll in university to study theology. He completed two
doctorates at Harvard University, one in education and the other theology, before
starting his mission work in Africa. Father Themy spent over ten years in Kenya
establishing the Orthodox mission there and working with destitute communities
before beginning his work in Sierra Leone. I conducted the interview with Father
Themy in April 2009 in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Mr. Youssou N’Dour
Born in Dakar in 1959, N'Dour is a singer endowed with remarkable range
and poise, and, as a composer, bandleader and producer, with a prodigious
musical intelligence. The New York Times most recently described his
voice as an “arresting tenor, a supple weapon deployed with prophetic
authority.” N'Dour absorbs the entire Senegalese musical spectrum in his
work, often filtering this through the lens of genre-defying rock or pop
music from outside Senegalese culture. (WorldBeatPlanet, n.d.)
I had the chance to interview Youssou N’Dour in May 2009 in Dakar,
Senegal; Dr. Aidoo, another participant, gave me the opportunity to reach Mr.
Youssou N’Dour. I wanted to interview him not only because he is a leader in his
field but also to gain the perspective of someone in the arts. Often when we speak
of leadership, democracy, governance, and so on, we fail to remember to include
the perspectives of artists and creative arts professionals, yet it is they who often
lead the opinions of communities through their messages in music, film, or other
forms of art.
Dr. Christiana Thorpe
In May 2009 I had the chance to interview Dr. Christiana Thorpe. She is
currently heading the National Electoral Commission, an independent agency set
up by the government of Sierra Leone, and is in charge of coordinating,
organizing, and overseeing elections in Sierra Leone at all levels. Dr. Thorpe was
one of the key persons in Sierra Leone’s last elections in 2007 and demonstrated
outstanding leadership in the entire election process. As the head of the National
Electoral Commission, it is her integrity, her unbiased views, and her commitment
to excellence that substantially contributed to the fair running of the election
Dr. Thorpe studied education and worked as a Headmaster for many years
before being appointed as Minister of Education in the government of Captain
Valentine Strasser, who ruled Sierra Leone from 1992 to 1996. At the time she
was the only woman in the cabinet of 19 ministers, and currently she is the first
woman in the history of Sierra Leone to hold the position of Chief Electoral
Commissioner (Davies-Venn, 2007).
Mr. Abdul Rahman Turay
Mr. Abdul Rahman Turay leads the Strategic Policy Unit in Sierra Leone’s
State House and is the Principal Advisor to President of Sierra Leone Dr. Ernest
Bai Koroma. I met Mr. Turay through a research assignment I was conducting for
a European consulting firm. Intuitively, I thought it would be good to tell Mr.
Turay about my work on African Leadership and see if he would be willing to
give me some time to further discuss it. Despite his schedule, he responded
positively and I ended up meeting with Mr. Turay for several Sunday afternoons
in a row discussing the issue of leadership and economic development on the
Born in Sierra Leone, Mr. Turay is an economist and a Cambridge
graduate who has spent a substantial time in his career in the field of international
banking. He has served as the Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone and currently
works on economic policy issues in the State House in Sierra Leone in the Office
of the President H.E. Dr. Koroma, of Sierra Leone. I interviewed him in May
2009, in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Mr. Tokyo Sexwale
In Johannesburg, South Africa in July 2009 I interviewed Mr. Sexwale
who is a leading figure in South Africa and a world business leader. He was an
anti-apartheid activist throughout the apartheid regime in South Africa and
became a member of the African National Congress armed forces wing in the
early 1970s. Following that, he was in exile for training and, upon his return to
South Africa, he was arrested about a year later and sentenced to 18 years at the
maximum security Robben Island prison. He was released in 1990 after serving
13 years (Mars, n.d.).
I met Mr. Sexwale at the reception following the Mandela Lecture in
2009; this lecture is held each year in July a week before Mr. Nelson Mandela’s
birthday. The colleagues with whom I attended the lecture insisted that I introduce
myself to Mr. Sexwale and request an interview. He was very receptive, and in
fact, we did the interview right there on the spot.
Justice Yvonne Mokgoro
Honorable Justice Mokgoro is a woman of substance and a role model for
many, not only women but also men.
Throughout her legal career, Mokgoro has published extensively. She
participated actively in many conferences and seminars both in South
Africa and abroad. The main focus of these conferences and gatherings
has been in the field of sociological jurisprudence. The focus of her
interest and career has been in human rights, customary law and the
impact of law on society generally and on women and children
specifically. Many non-governmental and community-based organizations
and initiatives call on her to get guidance, knowledge and insights.
(Constitutional Court of South Africa, n.d.)
I interviewed Justice Mokgoro in July 2009 in her office at the
Constitutional Courts in Pretoria, South Africa.
Mr. Ahmed Kathrada
A veteran of the South African liberation struggle and one of the famous
Rivonia Treason Trialists, Mr. Kathrada is one of the long-serving political
prisoner on Robben Island together with the most senior African National
Congress activists including Mr. Mandela. I interviewed Mr. Kathrada in his
home in Johannesburg in his home in July 2009.
Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa
Mr. Ramaphosa is a South African lawyer most known for his roles as
trade union leader, activist, politician, and businessman. He is much respected for
his brilliant and outstanding skills as a negotiator and strategist. Mr. Ramaphosa
remains a prominent figure in South African politics and business, and holds
many awards and honorary doctorates. I connected with Mr. Ramaphosa through
Justice Mokgoro (also a participant), who personally assisted and helped me
arrange for the interview.
I conducted the interview with Mr. Ramaphosa in July 2009 in
Johannesburg, South Africa. Although I went with the intention of asking the
questions I had prepared, the meeting turned out to be one where we had a long
conversation as opposed to a question and answer session. This turned out to be a
great gift because as he said at the end: “Now that we know each other, we can
work together.” In a subtle way, he highlighted the importance of relationship in
any kind of work we attempt to do. It is based on the relationships we establish
that we are able to become change agents and channels of energies for
transforming systems.
Rt. Dr. Trevor Mwamba, Bishop of Botswana
I was fortunate to meet the Archbishop of Botswana, Dr. Trevor Mwamba
in Gaborone in July 2009, through pure serendipity. During my visit to
Johannesburg that month, I was invited by the Executive Secretary of the Africa
Forum of Former Heads of States ( to attend a meeting in
Gaborone, Botswana, on an upcoming HIV/AIDS initiative. I joined the
Executive Secretary, Professor John Tesha and, drove with him from Pretoria to
Gaborone; although circumstances prevented us from attending the meeting, we
did have a brief meeting and dinner with colleagues of his, including the
Archbishop of Botswana. In my discussion with the Archbishop, I felt that he
should be part of this research project because of his work in civil society, his
former career as a lawyer for human rights, and his role as a spiritual leader.
Therefore, I asked Dr. Mwamba if he would be willing to be a participant for this
Dr. Mwamba has a fascinating background. He is Zambian by birth and
was born into a family of political and spiritual leaders in Zambia: his father was
a well established politician and his mother a recognized spiritual leader. He told
me that he was torn between studying law, going into politics, or serving the
Church. He first graduated in law from Oxford University and then continued to
study theology, which led him eventually to his current position as Archbishop.
We tried to have the interview in Gaborone in July 2009, but time did not
permit; we then planned to meet in Pretoria during my intended visit in October
2009, but that also had to be postponed. Finally, we conducted the interview by
telephone in September 2009. Through the interview with the Archbishop, I was
able to make full circle on the perspectives of spiritual leaders on the issue of
African Leadership. He was able to answer the questions I had prepared in a very
pragmatic way with a clear spiritual lens.
Former President of Liberia, H. E. Dr. Amos Sawyer
Dr. Sawyer was the President of the Interim Government of National
Unity in Liberia (November 22, 1990–March 7, 1994). In the period following the
abduction and subsequent killing of President Samuel Doe, Prince Johnson and
Charles Taylor both made claims to the presidency, but in an emergency meeting
held in the Gambia in 1990 and attended by 35 Liberians representing 7 political
parties and 11 interest groups, Dr. Sawyer was voted in as the interim President.
He was appointed for one year, but his appointment extended during the civil war
fought against the rebels, who were led by Charles Taylor.
Dr. Sawyer holds a PhD in Political Science from Northwestern
University and currently works on governance, democracy, and peace issues. He
is the author of Beyond Plunder: Toward Democratic Governance in Liberia
(2005). I met H. E. Dr. Sawyer in 2006 when I was invited by President Kaunda
of Zambia to join his delegation to attend the Second General Assembly of the
Africa Forum in Pretoria, South Africa; H. E. Dr. Sawyer is a member of the
Forum as a former Head of State. I connected with him through my friend Alex
Da Costa, former special assistant of the Former President of The Gambia, Sir
Dawada Kairaba Jawara. The interview was conducted by telephone: he was in
Washington, D.C., United States when I called him from Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Mr. K.Y. Amoako
K. Y. Amoako is the founder and president of the African Center for
Economic Transformation (ACET), a policy research and advisory institution
focused on working with African governments to deliver long-term economic
growth and transformation of African economies. After completing
undergraduate studies at the University of Ghana, Legon, and a Ph.D in
Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, KY joined the World Bank
in 1974, where he became one of the first Africans to rise to a senior position,
serving as an example for many other African staff. He served as the World
Bank’s Division Chief for Country Programs in the Africa Region and also
Division Chief for Sector Programs in the Latin America and Caribbean Region,
as well as Director of the Education and Social Policy Department.
From 1995–2005, Amoako served as Executive Secretary of the Economic
Commission for Africa (ECA) at the rank of Under Secretary General of the UN,
during which he transformed the institution to more effectively serve African
policy-makers, to amplify the African voice internationally and to influence
African partners. After retiring from the UN, KY spent 2006 as a Distinguished
African Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in
Washington, DC.
Amoako also worked with leading development experts and political
leaders on high-level international commissions and task forces that addressed the
development prospects of Africa and many of today’s central global issues.
Among many others, he chaired the Commission for HIV/AIDS and Governance
in Africa, convened by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and was a
member of the Commission for Africa established and chaired by Prime Minister
Tony Blair as well as a member of the Commission on Macroeconomics and
Health chaired by Jeff Sachs and the Task Force on Global Public Goods cochaired by Ernesto Zedillo.
Amoako was selected in 2007 together with Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,
former Nigerian Finance Minister, by the influential U.S. magazine Vanity Fair as
one of two individuals who have done more to move African economies forward
than any. In recognition of his contribution to Africa’s development, in 2003, he
was awarded a Doctor of Laws degree, honoris causa, by the Addis Ababa
University; and a Doctor of Letters degree, honoris causa, by the Kwame
Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana, in May, 2005.
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