Leadership, Corruption and Development in Africa

13 March 2007 at 06:46 | 1304 views

By Mohamed Boye Jallo Jamboria.

Actively or passively, all Africa countries, with the exception of may be Ethiopia and Liberia, have reason(s) to celebrate as Ghana celebrates her 50th independence anniversary.

Ethiopia and Liberia are exceptions because they have never been under prolonged colonial rule like the rest of today’s emerging African nation-states. These two, of course naturally celebrate with the rest because of their distinguished roles as countries where major continental decisions resulting in the formation, of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)and other politico-ecnomic landmarks were made.

Secondly, Ethiopia, if not Liberia, continues to serve as the seat of African unity with the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Liberia celebrates with the rest of Africa because she is the first African nation-state to have the tenacity to elect Africa’s first female head of state in recent times, the first being Empress Zauditu of Ethiopia, the predecessor to Emperor Hailie Selaisie ,an indication that Africa has had a long tradition of gender equality.

However a celebration is never complete if moments are not taken out to introspect and meditate on the processes and challenges leading to that celebration. It is never complete if at fifty Africa and Africans are still not mature enough to accept the facts and realities of the major deterrent to their development, which can be simply put as lack of Mental Emancipation especially on the part of both the elites and the rulers, and in most cases recycled leaderships.

Ghana, like the rest of the emerging African nation-states, has had her share of internal challenges over the last 50 years. In most if not all these emerging nation-states, the loudest cry from the vox populii had been around the issue of leadership and public sector management within and in some cases without. Various schools of thought have emerged and opinions and empirical assertions have been propagated by both local as well as international scholars and stakeholders in these emerging nation-states. These are more or less generally accepted, by and large, as facts and in some cases figures representative of the situation in post colonial Africa.

The ultimate fact is African nation-states have had a myriad of challenges, most of which are resultants of and symbols of the facts of poor public sector management in the greater majority of the African nation-states.

The leaderships have had to carry the blame for these challenges and unscrupulous and ill- intentioned persons and groups had drummed up these mishaps to the point that outsiders see and understand nothing beyond the image of Africa and Africa’s leaderships being heartless, corrupt and dictatorial.

Right enough, African leaderships have by and large failed and will continue to fail. The very reasons for these cyclic failures have received very little examination and have in most cases only been of importance when another group wants to get to the helm of power. Some will say it is so because of the relative lack of democratic institutions and the general absence of the basic freedoms of speech and freedom of the press to name two.

These, as a matter of fact, have been absent and continue to be relatively so with some improvements here and there.

The key questions that Ghanaians and Africans must be asking now are; why, when and how is it like it is?
We have the tradition of going back and casting the blame on the past. Some schools of thought on the contrary will ask why blame the past? Which ever way, Africa is faced with the devil’s alternatives of take one and lose one. If we cannot blame the past, what have we done to change the past? To answer these questions demands an examination of the realistic scenario as it obtains in most of these emerging nation-states.


It is appalling and unrealistic to hear scholars describe some African nation-states as failed states because by definition and by implication a failed state is one in which central control and the preservation of ,above all, law and order degenerates to a level of total anarchy.

Looking at the realities in the emerging African nation-states, they were all inclusive of Ethiopia and Liberia, carved up without any direct participation of the peoples that inhabit these geopolitical entities. This was done, of course, outside the continent by people with little or no knowledge of the socio and geo -political set up that obtains then.

Social, ethnic and geo-political groups of similar but diverse interests and goals were either brought together or torn apart in the interest of securing trade rights and creating entities that can be put under the relative control of the colonial administrations that were set up to “govern” these assumed territories.

In most cases, groups that had long standing enmity or rivalry were placed together whilst groups of the same geo-political background were torn apart. These groups managed to co-exist under the heavy and usually undemocratic hands of the colonial administrators.

Then came independence and the true underlying nature of these carved units began to surface. A multiple of challenges emerged and because in most cases the leaderships that took these geo-political units to independence could not manage these crises that had always been in potent form but which took dynamic proportions after independence. Failure and incompetence in governance took unforeseen dimensions.

So the fact is there are no failed states but non-states having to come to terms with the challenges of becoming states. In some cases, like Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Congo, Sudan and Somalia it had meant destruction of lives and property and the disintegration of a barely functioning infrastructure. In other cases like Guinea and Ghana, it had meant prolonged regimes of economic depression and hardship. In others, like Tanzania, it had meant experimentations that had not gone without costs.

By and large, all emerging African nation-states have had to grapple with one crisis or the other but all of these are challenges that had been dormant during colonial rule and which suddenly surfaced after independence.

The leaderships have been unable to face these challenges and instead have managed only to keep themselves in power by dubious tactics that had the support of the elites and public sector managers and in some if not all cases a greater majority of the very masses that cry foul now.
The most disappointing aspect the African situation is the continued lack of mental emancipation especially within the core of the elites who form the public sector and who operate on graft and nepotic associations. Another aspect is the lack of a national vision and mental framework. This situation prevails and will continue for sometime because of the relative dominance of the public sector of a few of the heterogeneous ethnic groups in most of these African nation-states.

This, obviously, was not the creation of the colonisers but in most cases the choice of some of the ethnic groups especially those that had contacts with the Arabic culture before western colonisation. In Sierra Leone, for example, many inroads with regards education in the northern parts were not made by the missionaries acting on the good will of the British colonisers because the people at that time simply refused to accept any other form of education that was not of Islamic origins. Islam had sunk deeply in the psyche of the people of the north many years before the British came.

Had the people been more co-operative, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and Catholics would have had some of their first schools in the north even before the CMS Grammar school in Freetown. The Schelenker secondary school in Port Loko town is named after the first CMS missionary who attempted to brave it inland. Another proof is the fact that the very first graduate from Sierra Leone was from the Thorlu Bangura family of Kambia and this well before the “Crown Colony” was established (Sierra Leone Inheritance, C.Fyle).Later in the 1900s the Koyeima school, later the Bo school, was established for sons and wards of chiefs.

A few of the northern chiefs like that of Koya, Gbinti Dibia, Samu and Kolifa Mabang to name a few sent their sons and wards to school. Most of the others refused on the short sighted grounds that their sons will become estranged from their culture. Whilst this scenario existed in most areas of the north, other parts, like Tonkolili however took advantage of the opportunity and had their sons educated. Today in terms of proportional distributions, the northern part is still grappling with the problems of producing a functional core of elites that will be able to sit inter pares with the other elites and map national programs. A lot has of course changed in that domain but more has to be done.

The example above does not only obtain in Sierra Leone but is common in almost all Africa. In most if not all the similar situations found in Africa this has had very adverse consequences on the mode and distribution of development initiatives because the very mental status quo of nationhood does not exist and whosoever is in the seat of decision making does so to suit the wishes of the area of his or her origin within the nation-state.

This is where the elites have failed and will continue to fail because they have not made and don’t seem to make efforts, as the fortunate few, to address this all important issue. Instead, it seems, they have but assisted the politicians and the masses in general to propagate the divide and rule policies of the colonial masters. The French preached assimilation but as a matter of fact their internal policy in the colonies was divide and rule like their British counterparts, all of them being aware at the time of the benefits of keeping the groups they had brought together at logger heads especially in cases where they faced stiff resistance from popular local rulers of the likes of Samory Toure of Guinea and Bai Bureh of Kasseh,northern Sierra Leone.

Today’s Africa is not far removed from these political gimmicks. Leaderships have risen and fallen on the very grounds of the use of divide and rule tactics but this time by the very elites and administrators that should stand together to build nations out of these non-states that were created in Europe by people who had no knowledge of and did not care about the realities on the ground. It is like the best thing that happened to Africa was the success of the colonial masters in mentally enslaving the African and like it seems forever.

Leaders and their pool of administrators have never sat down to ask themselves what to do to create internal cohesion. Instead they have sat down to ask how much should be spent on creating paramilitary forces and bribing their politically tailored armies to continue to be loyal to them. In most cases the paramilitary units became more equipped than the national armies because these units are made up of their "boys" or are craved out of one ethnic group that is of unshakable loyalty to the leadership. This was the case in pre-war Sierra Leone and one of the reasons why a rag tag group, called the RUF, with covert support from some economic interests and one of the political groups caused mayhem and destruction of a proportion appalling to sane minds.

The same diversity of interest were also at play in most wars in other parts of Africa. Rwanda and Burundi are typical examples of juxtaposition of two ethnic groups that would have otherwise lived peacefully if and only if those that carved these nation-states had taken cognisance of the essence of homogeneity and or past modes of coexistence when they were partitioning Africa. Rwanda would have been one ethnic group and Burundi the other as the same two groups, Hutus and Tutsis, live in these two neighbouring units in uneasy co-existence.

Finally the southern parts of Africa tends to enjoy greater political stability because it is hardly faced with this problem as they are mainly Bantu and can virtually understand each other. The same applies to most part of east Africa which falls under the Swahili and Kiswahili linguistic group. So also are northern Africans whom are mostly berber-arabic speakers. The crux of the problem lies in west and central Africa and it is one of the underlying reasons for the frequent incidence of military coups d’etats, wars and general social unrest like it happened recently in Guinea.

In most of these nation-states that had been through wars, steps and mechanics have not been put in place to address this seemingly passive but resilient challenge.Instead, emerging leaderships after these wars have taken emotional, and in some cases hidden self protective, approaches to addressing the background reasons for the wars. They have embarked on creating expensive institutions, operating on methods that cannot adequately address the core reasons for these wars-i.e, need for more national goodwill and a broader based participation of all interest groups and more equity in the distribution of national development and infrastructures. In effect the very reasons of the wars become more compromised and institutionalised, creating room for further instability in the foreseeable future.


Since independence, African leaderships have been quick to deteriorate into personified and deified cults.Kwame Nkrumah, Africa’s first post-colonial leader and most of the first generation leaders like Nasser, Senghor, Olympio, Kenyatta, Houphouet-Boigny, Sekou Toure, Kaunda, Banda and Nyerere- all started with very good intentions and enjoyed popular acclaim. They took advantage of this and deified themselves and consolidated themselves. They monopolised power and established systems of personal rule and encouraged personality cults around themselves.With adverse consequences, this style of leadership has been and is still most common in all African nation-states.

Leaderships with the assistance of the majority of the elites soon deteriorate into demi-gods and have built around themselves personality cults from two points of view:-first the general and erroneous socio-religious belief that God is the creator of leaders. This belief having its roots in both the traditional and philosophical outlooks of the majority of Africans with regards to their spiritual existence is misused and abused by political parties, the masses, elites and most of all the leadership. As a result, the “intelligentsia” as the elites are most times considered would sit down and have things go bad on the lackadaisical notion that the leadership was of God and so whatever happens is the will of God. Which God? That’s the big question, or does the God of monotheism condone evil deeds and unfair practices?

Second reason for the cycle of deifying leaderships is from the very masses themselves. Drowned by ignorance resulting from lack of appropriate information, they tend to accept every utterance from the mouths of the elites and the few nouvelle rich as truths and facts. Also they accept these “truths” sometimes to get their way or to have something on the table for a couple of days. The leaderships and elites knowing this soon resort to dishing out monies to maintain this deified status. These monies are not from any other source but state coffers and is the key to corruption and the inability of African nation -states to functionally operate. A lot of much needed funds are go into personality cult maintenance and is not used for any meaningful but food and maybe a few luxuries by the recipients who always think that for as long as they play the sycophant game well they are sure of such “gifts”.

These members of the masses, benefiting like it seems will always want that system in place. They are the willing dysinformants, preaching the glories and decadent systems in a way that those who cannot think see beauty in the beast. At elections times, they are the willing thugs ready to do anything for their party or man to stat in power. In the event of their party or men losing power, these are the potential rebels that go into action first by preaching to the generally disgruntled masses(those who had always been on the outside of things and who are most hit by hard times) the need for change and the only way to change by war. In cases where there is room for ethnic sentiments these doom preachers use it and in the end the situation reaches explosion point. This was exactly what obtained in Sierra Leone.

A change in 67 brought in place a deified leadership, though all inclusive, could not cater for the personal ego and needs of the key players from all the political groupings. In the process, a systematic but thorough plan was put into action and key “boys” were placed in key positions and when the time came a massive campaign of disinformation to drum up sympathy and create a war machine was executed. Between 1980 and 1990 massive mismanagement and fiscal disorder became the modus oprandi followed by a popular outcry for war from the suffering masses who had been secretly fed these ideas by agents of the war mongers who kept themselves incognito and till this date remain so.

In some other African nation-states that have been fortunate not to have deteriorated to the level of war ,deified leaderships have been overthrown by others who themselves have been replaced by others in a cyclic and retrogressive regime of coups and countercoups as it happened in both Ghana and Nigeria until recently.

In all African states, this situation has only created a small class of very rich and the rest of the people living in abject poverty with incomes usually at very low and appalling levels. A unique and common situation is that these classes of rich don’t think of ways to invest within and where there is some form f investment it is more of a reaping off business receiving contracts they are not obliged to honour for their continued support to the party and the leadership.

This and that of becoming a minister of state with unlimited reach on the states resources is the reason why the “intelligentsia” play the sycophant game in most of the African nation-states. Reasoning is thrown into oblivion and semblances of it only emerge when a case of defence of nonsense has to be put up for a leadership that has been decried by some sections of society or the international community. It is only then the professorships in them come out but not without loopholes exposing the sycophancy in the speaker.

So 50 years on, all Africa is still grappling with the problems of the past but in very different dimensions and with different approaches yet still not being able to begin the processes that will consolidate statehood out of non states. This is due mainly to the inability of the torch bearers, the educated that ought to know better do not make any efforts to help bring about the needed change. Instead, they ride on the tides of mental enslavement and general lack of badly needed appropriate information that the majority of the continent’s people need to consolidate their geo political differences and begin to work as units with every member making meaningful contributions.

When their games of sycophancy falls out of favour with one political group they are always and shamelessly the first to tote the torch of another, telling the masses in a different way the same old story of how good their intentions are. Put them in power and next day they are there to hold press conferences defending non sense and deifying the new leadership and not addressing the actual challenges faced by the previous system they had pains takingly condemned.

Africa with this system of things will only always be what a Nigerian, Claude Ake, quoted by M.Meredith (2005): “The problem is not so much that development has failed in Africa, as that it never was on the agenda in the first place.”

To quote Meredith: “After decades of mismanagement and corruption (by both elites and political leadership), most African states have become hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good....African governments and the vampire -like politicians who run them are regarded by the population they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival.”

To be continued