Excerpt from African Expectations: Musings From Where I Stand
AFRICA NEEDS RAINBOW LEADERS
Many African leaders have perfected the art of leadership by distraction. Unable to provide solutions to the challenges facing their countries, they take political shortcuts. They hide incompetence behind divisiveness. They pit race against race, ethnicity against ethnicity, and “indigenous” people against “foreigners.” Charlie Chaplin, the famed English comic actor once said: “Dictators free themselves, but they enslave the people.” Yes! A number of our political leaders are dictators who have perfected the art of political prestidigitation. These leaders have either refused to walk in the giant footsteps of illustrious predecessors such as Nelson Mandela or they used to be inspirational leaders who now entrench themselves in power through all sorts of artifices.
Nelson Mandela’s party – the African National Congress (ANC) has been in power since the end of apartheid but Mandela’s legacy continues to be dragged through the mud by leaders who came after him. It is quite appalling that over the years, the leadership style of the post – jail Mandela that has proved successful at uniting South Africa has been all but completely discarded by leaders who could be considered his heirs. It appears that in current South Africa, nepotism, cronyism, and corruption are creeping into governance culture at alarming rates.14 Take for example the brouhaha generated by the ArcelorMittal South Africa, Kumba mine rights dispute and the related contentious Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deal involving ArcelorMittal, President Jacob Zuma’s son, and businessmen close to the president.15
The president’s son is alleged to have acquired a stake in steel giant ArcelorMittal’s South Africa unit in a sweetheart deal reached under the BEE legislation. The BEE legislation seeks to reverse the inequalities of the apartheid system by transferring ownership stakes in companies to disadvantaged groups.16 BEE is reminiscent of the “indigenization law” in Zimbabwe. There is a perception in South Africa that the BEE legislation is a guise for the ruling elites of the ANC to acquire wealth. Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of former president Thabo Mbeki has even argued that the BEE legislation was in fact the creation of the country’s white economic oligarchs to co-opt black leaders and was never intended to advance the masses.17
Following the sharp criticisms and the media backlash generated by the ArcelorMittal deal, Duduzane Zuma – the president’s son vowed to donate 70% of his share in the deal to charity by spreading it among other South Africans who are needy and disadvantaged like he once was.18 The notion that nation building will occur when the ruling elite use their connections to amass wealth with the intention of sharing among poor people is quite laughable. Charity has never lifted a people permanently out of poverty. Perhaps, Mandela’s successors have run out of ideas to lift the millions of poor South Africans out of poverty. As such, it has become common practice for leaders of the ANC to use South Africa’s Apartheid past as scapegoat for today’s problems. Rather than vigorously fight crime, corruption, and nepotism, ANC leaders resort to racial politics to whip up tensions in order to galvanize the black community in the hope of securing their votes.
Nelson Mandela once said: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” But his dream of racial harmony in South Africa seems to be morphing into an illusion as even his respected contemporaries such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu appear to now speak in racial terms. In response to a call by the respected Archbishop for a wealth tax on white people, many have argued that white people already do more than their fair share. They argue that white people are responsible for more than half of all personal income tax which the government currently collects.19 It is evident that Apartheid skewed education levels in favor of white people resulting in a wealth gap. This explains the higher number of white South Africans who pay personal income tax compared with black South Africans. As such, the post-apartheid black empowerment and affirmative action policies are justified. However, these policies will have success only when the education gap is bridged. After decades of ruling South Africa, the ANC cannot continue to blame Apartheid for current problems. Is it fair to claim that black people in South Africa are still fighting for freedom in the face of white oppression?
Radicals suggest that white South Africans ought to leave South Africa because the country belongs to black people. That is total gibberish, pardon my French! In the new South Africa, white folks have a role to play. After all, the majority of white people were born in South Africa. Their families have been South Africans for generations. Those who propagate the idea of a black only South Africa ought to remember the legacy of Nelson Mandela. The new South Africa is not called the rainbow nation for nothing. White people are an important cultural, economic and political force that should be harnessed for a better South Africa. I do understand that black people may still be reeling with pain over the brutal psychological and physical abuse they endured under the apartheid system. Under such circumstances, healing occurs slowly. The legacy of Apartheid is painful but South Africans cannot afford to be bitter. The people of South Africa must not forget but they must forgive. Forgiveness will not change the past but it is the key that will open the door to brighter days.
As long as unresolved issues such as economic inequalities, crime and discrimination remain, there will be opportunistic politicians to capitalize on the sense of anger and despondency in order to further their own parochial interests. While a bright future is on the horizon, this new dawn – a rainbow nation is still a night away. The deeply ingrained sense of historical persecution cannot be easily erased but the ideal of a rainbow nation is worth fighting for. South Africans must disown race baiting politicians and choose politicians who will approach issues from a pragmatic, all-inclusive angle. Abraham Lincoln once said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” In a country where poverty is still largely defined by skin color, it is imperative for leaders to work to lift the lowest tier out of impoverishment through better education and more opportunities for employment.
It is time for the African National Congress to put the black in the rainbow. Given the history of South Africa, I think it is more constructive to forsake racial rhetoric and focus on the new South Africa envisioned by Nelson Mandela. I define the Mandela legacy as one that conceptualizes South Africa as a nation of multiple yet harmonious colors. The people of South Africa need to forget about race because it fuels disunity. Race is not the problem in South Africa right now; unemployment is. In its first economic survey of South Africa, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) asserts that South Africa has an extreme and persistent low employment problem, which interacts with other economic and social problems such as inadequate education, poor health outcomes and crime. Vulnerable groups are most affected by unemployment, and in South Africa the problem is most extreme for black youth.20
There was a lot of noise in the media about the jobs that will be created by the 2010 world cup hosted by South Africa but the post-world cup reality appears not to justify the hype. The world cup may have put South Africa in the spotlight but I doubt that it has had a significant impact on South Africa’s economy. Some regions may have experienced improved infrastructure while others inherited stadiums which are white elephants with high maintenance costs. A long term increase in tourism may help offset the billions invested in the world cup. But, the true rewards of hosting the world cup may yet be felt for a number of years. There is undeniably a growing chasm between the rich and the poor in South Africa. The post-apartheid dreams of economic empowerment for the black majority are not being realized at a satisfactory pace. And, South Africans are increasingly frustrated. Unequal societies create instability irrespective of racial composition. One cannot help but wonder whether the sporadic xenophobic attacks21 on immigrants are not but the symptoms of the deep malaise that disenfranchised South Africans feel.
The biggest challenge facing the post-apartheid leadership is how to create jobs to lift millions of South Africa’s youth out of poverty. Poverty is an insidious disease that can result in the sort of mindless xenophobic attacks against fellow African refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers as witnessed in 2009.22 In South Africa, there are simmering tensions between the haves and the have-nots. It just so happens that the majority of the have-nots are black which is quite predictable given the history of South Africa. Also, the majority of have-nots are young people. This combination of strained race relations and youth unemployment presents a daunting challenge. President Zuma once stated that 70% of the South African population of some 49 million is younger than 35 and 50% of people in the age group 18 to 24 are unemployed.23 Having achieved non-racial democracy, it is imperative for South Africa to lift its millions of unemployed out of poverty into a vibrant middle class. South Africa must exorcise the demon of joblessness in order to reach the Promised Land. The millions of unemployed youth pose a national security question that must be answered convincingly. Else, the frustrated youths’ anger and misdirected energy will naturally result in excesses such as riots and xenophobic attacks.
The dawn of post-racial South Africa was pregnant with the promise of economic empowerment for the millions of blacks who were second class citizens. However, the high expectations of the people seem not to be met. The introduction of National Service by the South African National Defense Force certainly provides an opportunity for the unemployed youth to learn discipline and leadership but this is only a temporary measure. I humbly suggest the provision of incentives – monetary or otherwise for the youth to stay in school for as long as possible. Epictetus once stated: “Only the educated are free.” The better educated South African youths are, the more feasible the dream of economic empowerment. Under the Apartheid system, white South African children received quality education virtually free of charge, while their black counterparts had only gutter education. The decades of systematic denial of the pursuit of higher learning ought to be reversed by affirmative action. In South Africa’s 2012/2013 budget, the biggest slice of the social services cake went to education (R207.3 billion).24 This is remarkable but I reckon the country may have to spend even more to rectify the imbalances of Apartheid. There are millions of South Africans who have only been exposed to low quality education.
Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore once stated: “It is essential to rear a generation at the very top of society that has all the qualities needed to lead and give the people the inspiration and the drive to make it succeed. In short, the elite. Every society tries to produce this type”. The new South Africa cannot consistently produce this elite group if millions of black South Africans continue to lack access to good quality education. The ruling elites on the continent are key determinants of accelerated development. The better educated they are the better. Unless the education gap that exists as a result of years of oppression under Apartheid is bridged, South Africa may soon suffer a leadership crisis in addition to its youth unemployment problem. Racial politics and indigenization to which our leaders resort will not resolve these challenges.
Indigenization is a concept that gives me indigestion. There is nothing wrong with the word itself but it is one of those politically expedient buzz words that dictators use as a smokescreen to hide ineptitude and incompetence. In Zimbabwe, the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act passed by parliament in 2007 requires businesses valued at more than $500,000 to “cede” a 51% share to indigenous Zimbabweans. An “indigenous” Zimbabwean is defined as any person who, before 18th April, 1980, was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race, and any descendant of such person, and includes any company, association, syndicate or partnership of which indigenous Zimbabweans form the majority of the members or hold the controlling interest.25 Given the history of Zimbabwe, it is understandable for the Zimbabwean authorities to seek to redistribute the wealth of the country but one must not put the cart before the horse.
It may be politically expedient to satisfy the masses with such a radical proposition but the fundamental problem with the indigenization concept is that a lot of these companies may be forced to cede controlling stakes to people who are not qualified and/or trained to successfully manage these businesses. It is troubling that this law appears to be targeted at white Zimbabweans. The owners of these businesses have been Zimbabweans for many generations. Zimbabwe is probably the only country these owners know. So to force them to give up businesses they have built through hard work for the most part may be counterproductive. Empowerment of the “indigenous” people of Zimbabwe can be achieved while preserving somewhat the outcome of the hard work of business owners.
President Mugabe is an example of the kind of leadership that keeps the people of Africa in underdevelopment. The history books tell me that he was a great freedom fighter. Fair enough but taking businesses from white people and giving it to black people is a one dimensional approach to the problems of Zimbabwe that shows a lack of strategic vision. There is a Ugandan proverb that says: “If a leader loves you, he makes sure you build your house on rock.” Giving businesses to people without first training them is certainly not building a house on rock solid foundation. When the rains come in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against Zimbabwe’s economy, the country will collapse because its people are not trained to navigate these challenges. A country’s economy cannot be built with such ad-hoc measures. In the interest of the greater good, the first step in the indigenization law ought to be requiring foreign-owned businesses to hire a certain quota of the most qualified “indigenous” people and train another quota of the least qualified perhaps through internships for eventual employment. This kind of affirmative action could be backed with tax incentives for these businesses. This is a more sustainable approach than state sponsored spoliation. In its current form, all the indigenization law does is to kill the Zimbabwean economy softly.
There are many other political shortcuts that our vision deficient leaders like to take. And, chief among these political sleights of hands is ethnicity. Sadly, electoral politics in Africa is often fraught with the anomaly of ethnicity. I have always been puzzled by the unwritten agreement in Ghana that there needs to be an ethnic and/or regional balance in government. Political discourse in that country when it comes to the formation of governments often centers on the regional or ethnic balance in government appointments. Perhaps this arrangement is intended to keep the peace but it is best government appointments be made based on qualifications and experience. In Nigeria, the highest office in the land is often rotated based on ethnic and/or religious identity instead of competency.
I am not one of those who in the 21st century will continue to blame slavery and colonialism for sowing the seeds of division and ethnic hierarchy in African societies because I believe that the blame game must stop at some point. After half a century of independence, we cannot afford to continue to partake in this futile distraction. I believe that political parties must be built on advocacy for policies that address the most pressing short, medium, and long term needs of African people. Whatever happened to merit? Political leadership must be awarded to the best and brightest not the most identifiable to an ethnic group. Is it not obvious that there are many drawbacks to ethnic politics? For one, political leaders’ kith and kin usually expect a big chunk of national resources, jobs and infrastructural development in their communities at the expense of the rest of the country. Political adventures based on ethnicity lack vision and leaders who encourage such small-mindedness must remember that the seeds of division they sow while seeking political office will grow into trees of ethnic conflicts when they do gain political office. And we all know the end result of ethnic conflicts: chaos.
At this point, I would like to make an impassioned plea to African youths to resist all attempts by dirty politicians to appeal to their ethnic loyalties. These kinds of tactics will not result in a better society for us and our children. Our continent will develop only when our leadership selection process is based on meritocracy rather than aristocracy. Dagoberto Gilb, an American writer once stated: “My favorite ethnic group is smart,” and so should our favorite ethnicity be. We must encourage the best and brightest of our societies to contribute to the development of our continent to the fullest of their abilities and potential. Let’s not follow in the footsteps of our elders who have fanned the flames of inter-ethnic rivalries to achieve their dark designs.
Tribalism is the tool that incompetent so called leaders use to keep us in our place while they loot the wealth of the nation. Leaders who resort to tribalism are at best irresponsible and I urge African youths to forsake tribalism – an artificial construct that undermines nation building. You don’t need to belong to any particular tribe to be the best qualified for the job but people who see politics as their only path to riches often push the idea that political leadership must be driven by ethnicity. We all know better! We know that ethnicity has brought nothing but pain and suffering to the people of Rwanda and Burundi.
I am not advocating for the loss of identity as our tribes or ethnicities are intrinsic to our being. I am because I belong! However, my ethnicity cannot be the sole basis for deciding whether I qualify to run for president of my country or not. Injecting ethnicity in the political discourse only results in stereotyping and conflicts. I daresay that ethnicity is part of the reason we are still poor. Ethnicity encourages the “us against them” mentality that essentially disintegrates our societies. Our elders may be beyond saving but as young people we ought to rise above such base concepts. We need to realize that we are one and the same. Our destinies are bound together by the thread of poverty that plagues our nations.
We do not have the luxury of dabbling in politics of ethnicity. We share a common inheritance – Africa and the experience of being born in Africa, living in Africa, and tracing our roots back to the continent. As such we must not drink from the same cup as our elders. Malcolm X once said: “We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.” I urge African youths to be blind to ethnicity when it comes to political leadership. We must encourage and support the best and brightest among us to lead us out of poverty. Our favorite ethnicity must be Smart. Perhaps we should feel a kind of patriotism from being citizens of Africa over and above any ethnic affiliation. As for me, I feel a strong kinship with my kind – Africans. Miriam Makeba, the Grammy Award winning singer once said: “I look at an ant and I see myself: a native South African, endowed by nature with a strength much greater than my size so I might cope with the weight of a racism that crushes my spirit.” I say our leaders must forsake racial politics, indigenization, and ethnicity for policies which foster unity. Each country on the continent must become a rainbow nation.
Africa needs rainbow leaders.
Excerpt from African Expectations: Musings from Where I Stand by Mafoya Dossoumon. Copyright © 2012 by Mafoya Dossoumon.
Excerpt by permission of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; Lrg edition (July 21, 2012). All rights reserved.
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