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The Leadership Challenge of Development in Africa

Statement at the 2nd Africa Governance, Leadership and Management Convention 2011
3rd August 2011
Sarova Whitesands, Mombasa

Olusegun Obasanjo


Your Excellency, President Mwai Kibaki ably represented by H.E Vice President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka,
Your Excellency President Thabo Mbeki,
Your Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic corps
Honourable Ministers
Distinguished delegates
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen

Permit me to preface my remarks by adding my warm words of welcome to those expressed by previous speakers and to say to you all, Karibu.  Let me also thank President Kibaki represented by H.E Vice President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka and former President Mbeki for accepting the invitation to fellowship with us. This is, indeed, an honour and it provides an opportunity for the successor generation to engage with those who have, so to speak, passed through the mill. To the two distinguished African elder statesmen, I say asante sana.
There is a lot to learn and share on leadership in the course of this conference. And I believe few people are more qualified to inspire the discussions than those leaders who are here. They understand the challenges Africa faces in the international community. Our continent is like Gulliver among the giants of Brobdingnag. We are treated with curiosity for our dwarfed growth. We are exhibited for all the wrong reasons.

It is beneficial that this conference is coming at a time when many African countries are pursuing substantial reforms in order to reverse the trend. The outcome of our discussions will, therefore, have a far-reaching impact on the ongoing reforms.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, quality leadership remains the touchstone of Africa’s progress. This is why much of our conversation borders on leadership. The need to thoroughly evaluate the impact of leadership is not to determine which individual leaders have been right or wrong per se, but rather to establish the critical success factors in some cases that can be emulated, strengthened and adapted for today’s challenges while also understanding the gaps that must be filled in the near future.  The idea is what has Africa done right and how can we continue to do it right while widening and deepening the support base for the right things we are doing

It is, therefore, important that we put into proper perspective the importance of this august convention as our outcomes will have a far-reaching impact on the critical next steps required for the rapid growth and development of Africa in this decade and the next.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, our journey to present day Africa has been full of ups and downs. While there have been instances of managerial deficit and not so wholesome leadership resulting in a rash of coup d’états, civil wars, inter- and intra-tribal conflicts and ravaging diseases, there have also been several instances of exemplary and sagacious leadership, as well as adroitness in the face of intimidating challenges.

At independence, over fifty years ago, optimism, enthusiasm, hope and the promise of a greater tomorrow were the bedrock, the pillar and the propeller of our existence. They were justifiable dreams and expectations. Everyone believed that we were apparently going to develop in quantum leaps and bounds, now that we were the masters of our destinies or so we thought.

Reflecting on the journey so far, it was obvious that we did not have a structured and interpretative understanding of the complexities and the dynamics of the world we found ourselves in.

It seemed that after gaining the political kingdom, we sat back almost with our arms folded across our chests and waited for every other thing to be added unto us. It took us time to realise that we really did not even have the political kingdom in the real sense of it.  For a long time, we held to the shell while others had the content. In summary, we slipped back badly to what I called, in 1988, ‘the Third World of the Third World’.  At a point, it was common place to refer to Africa as a continent in dereliction and decay. We were moving backwards as the rest of the world was forging ahead. The facts then bore witness and were unanimous on that damning verdict. In 1980, Africa’s exports stood at US$57 billion; by 1986, in the space of only six years, the figure had fallen to US$32 billion. Per capita income, already at its lowest for two decades, fell by a further 4.2 per cent since 1986. Behind these figures stood an unreconstructed economic structure. Our economies have substantially preserved their colonial moulds most times lock stock and barrel! We lived on received ideas most of which have no bearing to our situation and reality.

Today, things are getting better. Even the most undiscerning observer will agree that the first decade of the 21st century has been compellingly different for Africa and Africans.

At the start of this century, African leaders approached the need for change and reform by establishing new institutions and programmes to serve Africa in the twenty-first century – the African Union (AU), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).  

The effects of these initiatives are evident in the various statistics and reports that have emerged that comparatively, more African states are doing well. This new development and growth trend manifests in the growth indices as stated in the McKinsey Global Institute recent research on the continents’ economies. Africa’s collective GDP in 2008 stood at $1.6trillion, roughly equal to Brazil’s or Russia’s GDP. Consumer Spending in Africa was at a staggering $860billion with an amazing increase of 316million new mobile phone subscribers since 2000. That is, perhaps the most important aspect of Africa’s lionised economy.

The economy of the continent has also been democratised and the space has been expanded, allowing private sector-driven initiatives to take more advantage of the massive opportunity abundant in the continent. Global indicators show that some of Africa’s financial institutions are implementing policies that are taking away the red tape that had hindered business dealing and making it easier to do investment business in Africa. Indeed, Africa is making more active reforms than even the Middle East, Latin American or Asia.  

Even poverty is being fought back with relentless zeal and passion. In 1990, 45% of sub-Saharan Africans were living below the poverty line. The World Bank is optimistic that, at the current trends, the level will fall to 37 per cent by 2015. Some countries have performed near miracles in their poverty rates. The World Bank again states that, Uganda poverty rates, for instance, declined to 36% last year, from 56 per cent in 1992. Nigeria declined from 74% to 52% in five years up to 2005.
What is heartwarming in all these is the fact that, the growth surge is propelled largely by the improved political and macro-economic stability and micro-economic reforms in the continent.

The difference, if you ask me, has been leadership more than anything else! It is a direct consequence of a result-based and value-driven leadership!

Leadership anchored on values, clarity of purpose and one that possesses an interpretative understanding of the issues as well as one armed with the requisite knowledge and mechanisms required for confronting the challenges of our development holds the key to the sustenance of our modest achievement.

Leadership is a value-laden concept and it is critically imperative for Africa to build a consensus on shared values. Such shared values must underpin both horizontal and vertical personal, group and institutional interactions across the African region.

Shared values have both structural and psychological impact with great potential to foster collective self-development of the African people under condition of good governance at continental level and constructive engagement with the rest of the world. They serve as the basis of mutuality and reciprocity in Africa’s self-discovery. There is a consensus amongst most Africans on the following shared values: (1) Sense of community and solidarity, (2) humanness of the African peoples, (3) protection of the weak, (4) a sense of solidarity reflected in being our brother’s/sister’s keeper, (5) believe in a common destiny, (6) resistance to racialism, and (7) sanctity of life amongst others.

A leadership committed to such shared values would usher in a period of good governance and sound economic management. There is, indeed, a correlation between governance, leadership and management. Leadership is a major precondition for good governance and sound economic management. These considerations are pivotal to my accepting to be the Patron of the Africa Governance, Leadership and Management Convention.

Let me, at this juncture, salute the conveners of this great convention, Kenyan Institute of Management (KIM) and the Africa Leadership Forum (ALF) for their thoughtfulness and interest in Africa’s development. These two distinct bodies, divergent in both philosophy and vision yet passionate to see sustainable growth across the various spheres of Africa’s economies have put this year’s convention together.

This convention is the second in the series and is aimed at building the capacity of African countries towards forging a continental synergy and investment networks in Africa and thereby creating a developmental phase that would usher in the ultimate vision of a united Africa on the long run. 

 This convention will engender continental networks of private sector organisations and foster Public-Private Partnership (PPP) at the national, regional and continental levels, all working together in a collective and well-coordinated manner. More specifically, the convention provides a platform for all stakeholders to examine the challenges and opportunities arising from developments across the last decade towards building regional and sub-regional networks of private sector operators and public-private-partnerships that would adopt collective strategies and frameworks for tackling the challenges confronting Africa, while also capitalizing on the emerging opportunities.   

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the public sector in developing countries has limited capacity both for financing the required investments as well as efficiently operating them. Thus, there is a need to attract private investments within Africa and beyond on a sustainable basis, and this cannot be achieved by the public sector efforts alone. Engaging the “responsible” private sector in development solutions can have a fundamental, long term impact on poverty alleviation and social development by increasing client’s countries national competitiveness. The experience of the last 15 years shows that most countries will be better off working in a partnership with the private sector to achieve sustained efficiency gains and minimize fiscal financing requirements.

The dominance of public enterprises in the provision of employment, infrastructural development and other amenities has repeatedly hindered development. The public sector once had near monopoly of the economy and provision of services. However, Africa has witnessed dramatic reforms leading to privatization and commercialization of public service with profound implications for many African countries and people. Indeed, significant and sustained developments in developing countries cannot be realized without active participation of the private sector. Through PPP, the private sector can bring in additional funding for public projects, besides valuable technical and managerial experience. Thus, partnership between the public and private sectors is a necessary condition for cost-effective provision of services.

Let me also say at this point that the private sector is also a critical partner in linking markets, facilitating business activities and creating a green economy that will in turn lead to employment generation, poverty reduction with an aim of helping Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I believe that the conclusions of this convention will percolate through national, sub-regional and regional policies.

We must seek ways to strengthen the progress that have been made in world trade and see ways to rapidly make them visible in the lives of our people in terms of reduction of large scale poverty.

The next decade will definitely be an exciting one. It will be an era of even greater scientific and technological achievements and breakthroughs. It will be an era in which a nation’s worth; standing and influence in world affairs will increasingly be determined not so much by its military might as by the strength and performance of its PEOPLE and its ECONOMY. This brave new world will be for the disciplined, the inventive, the creative, the enterprising and the productive. It should be an era of opportunity for us in Africa too; but it will not be so unless we make adequate preparations for it here and now and unless we do so with a sense of urgency and speed which reflects our present situation. This is where and why leadership matters.

The future is looking much brighter than the past.  Here, in the same hall, on June 16 this year, I was among some hundred or so African youths from more than twenty African countries.  They gathered together on their own, determined to make a change.  They have a mission and the right orientation. They are angry about the plight of Africa but, at the same time, they are eager to do something about it.  They are not playing the blame game.  They cut across all walks of life.  In their programme, they have set the year 2020 as the year of Africa’s destiny and their own destiny.  They have chosen the name ‘Africa 2.0’ for themselves.  I was impressed and excited by them.  Youths like them need to be encouraged.  They are the hope of Africa.  We must continually invest in them.  I hope some of them are here.

African youths must imbibe entrepreneurship, job-creation and ‘can do’ spirit in their preparation for the future. This way, they will be fit and ready for leadership in both private and public sectors of the economy and the beckoning greatness of Africa will be attained in this century. Our educational institutions must focus on producing job-creators and not job seekers. Let us have, dotted all over Africa, young job creator clubs encouraged and incentivized by governments and Africa’s development agencies. Let the older people be job-creator mentors and apostles. I have decided to be both. Let us depart from here determined to saturate Africa with armies of job creators who can turn dry-lands to wetlands, marshy lands to farmlands and thereby turn the liability of youth unemployment to assets of youth job creators.

Before concluding, let me add a word on gender balance in our government, leadership and management efforts. If we fail to pay adequate attention to the women, we will be neglecting almost fifty percent of our population. That will mean not having them fully incorporated into development plans and programmes as they should be. Without all hands on deck, our progress and growth will be stunted.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Africa is blessed with vast and diverse potentials as a continent. We possess significant investment opportunities which are topped by a large number of human resources that is creative, innovative and innately entrepreneuria

It is our responsibility to continue to provide opportunities through massive investments in this human capital by attaining, most especially, the MDGs, if we are to achieve the much-needed development in the next decade. This is the challenge for both the leadership of the public and private sectors in Africa.  It is the only way forward for African development.

I thank you all for your attention.


Former President, Federal Republic of Nigeria and Patron Africa Governance, Leadership and Management Convention

Lions on the Move: The progress and potential of African economies, McKinsey Global Institute, June 2010

Africa Now, Building A better Future, The World Bank Africa Region Report 2007















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