Author: Edson Charikinya
Africa’s leadership process needs a revamp. It has failed the continent’s billion-plus citizens for a very long time. Opposition parties all over the continent, coming into office riding popular waves of hope for change, often revert to the practices of their predecessors. The international community has also been fooled into committing to African leaders who taut respect for human rights and support for democracy just to win approval from Washington. Edson Charinkinya argues that a revamped process would need public discourse, proper scrutiny of Africa’s opposition parties to break the cycle.
Africa’s economic problems are a constant topic of discussion among many academics and commentators. Different theories and explanations have been put forward to explain the reasons why Africa fails to live up to its immense potential. Most analysts agree that Africa has had its fair share of bad leaders. Bad leadership on the African continent is synonymous with dictatorship. Though now a good many African leaders mask their dictatorships in fraudulent “democratic” elections. In the rush to remove leaders who’ve overstretched their constitutional mandates from power, many African countries have ended up trading one tyrant for another. In order to break this cycle, leaders of the opposition party should also be closely scrutinize and not given a free pass just because they boldly “oppose” corruption. Such scrutiny might reveal, sadly, that some countries are better off, relatively, with their current despots in power even if they are not considered to be the best.
There are many examples on the African continent of former opposition leaders who have gotten into power promising to do better than the autocrats and dictators that they fought hard to overthrow. Once in power these leaders abandoned all promises of change. The absence of rigorous vetting – through public discourse - for discerning bad opposition leaders before they get into office has meant Africa keeps getting bad leaders in office. A rigorous vetting process wold expose leadership flaws of populist opposition leaders that become glaringly obvious when they are in power. This would allow the people to see these aspiring leaders for who they truly are, which in most cases are different versions of the tyrants they are fighting to replace. Laurent Gbagbo ,Yoveni Meseveni and the late Meles Zenawi all were at one time lauded as democratic reformists.
The late Meles Zenawi fought hard to overthrow one of Africa’s most brutal dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. When Meles Zenawi came into power he offered the promise of democracy and was expected to be a better leader than his predecessor. Bill Clinton, then-president of the U.S. hailed him as a “new generation” of African leaders who would lead the African renaissance. He was showered with many prestigious international awards, including a World Peace Prize and a Good Governance Award from the Global Coalition for Africa. It didn’t take long for Meles Zenawi to betray his democratic pretensions with rigged elections and intimiding his political opponents. He betrayed his people with mindless wars and often brutal repression, similar tactics used by his predecessor.
It is time the world moves away from the notion that leaders who oppose corrupt and autocratic governments are automatically better leaders. A case in point is Zimbabwe, where the West has portrayed Robert Mugabe as one of Africa’s worst leaders and heaped a considerable amount of praise on his political rival Morgan Tsvangirai. The French government recently conferred Morgan Tsvangirai the Legion of Honour, which is one of the highest honour one can receive in France. This award was presented to him in recognition of his work toward upholding universal aspirations, morals and the spirit of progress. The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has gone further to liken him to Nelson Mandela, with the Bermese freedom fighter, Aung San Suu Kyi, calling him a remarkable figure of our time. By the way, he has also been shortlisted for a Noble peace prize.
Mr. Tsvangirai, currently embroiled in a public love scandal, may not be the crusader these fine judges of character think him to be. His party under his leadership has been engaged in political violence against other rival opposition parties. Tsvangirai has also shown disregard for his own party’s constitution and has exhibited dictatorship tendencies. This should alarm advocates of democracy and good governance.
It is crucial that Africans be able to assess the quality of their prospective leaders before they come into power. Otherwise it would be guess work trying to select the leaders who will make the difference towards a better Africa. It is pivotal in achieving good governance and creating a culture of responsible leadership and more attention should be paid to this.
Edson Charikinya is a Zimbabwean born Chemical Engineer based in South Africa. He is the founder and Operations Director of Innovartis Technology Systems, a Pan-African technology group delivering technology solutions and services to African communities and small-to-medium sized enterprises. He holds an MSc in Chemical Engineering and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Stellenbosch.
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