Africa’s Leadership Challenge

Rhodes University Campus By Dr Reuel J Khoza, Chairman Aka Capital
and Nedbank Group Limited  I  4 September 2013

As Africans, we have a characteristic in common with most of humankind: we find it extremely difficult to see a solution to a seemingly intractable, all-consuming situation that seems to have existed forever. Africa has struggled under a multitude of crushing burdens that many have come to be regard as a matter of course; as afflictions rather than as effects. Those without a historical perspective of the degradation of the continent as a result of slavery and colonialism and who have just awoken to this reality, call it the “African condition”: congenital, without hope, without remedy.

Those who appreciate the deep-seated impact of the historical imposts of slavery, colonialism, imperialism and more lately of globalisation and the venality of Africa’s leadership, those who do not accept this as being ordained, inevitable nor even characteristic of the continent; those who do not depart from the premise that Africans are genetically hard-wired to fail, merely see it as the “African crises”, the result of reversible and or remediable circumstances, however intractable they may seem.



They believe that Africa’s destiny will not be a consequence of predestination but the consequence of human will and application. Africa has a date with destiny, a positive destiny and implicit in this fundamental belief of Africa’s date with destiny, is an understanding of history as being cyclical; as ever-evolving and not frozen in time.  Hence the concept of a renaissance, a rebirth, a return to greatness, or simply the coming of a new age. Therefore, my abiding belief is that notwithstanding anything, Africa will transform. The catalytic element that is crucial and central to that transformation is leadership.

Given the requisite leadership, it is possible to conceptualise a very different Africa, an Africa whose time has come… if we make it come:

  • An Africa that is more excited by its future than by its past;
  • An Africa whose scope for growth is limited only by its imagination;
  • An Africa that has successfully translated its concepts of humanity and communal relations into vibrant forms of co-operative models of government, institutional and individual relations;
  • An Africa whose children are fed by native produce;
  • An Africa whose intellectuals are nurtured by native founding  principles and insatiable inquiry;
  • An Africa whose industry is fuelled by native technology and skills;
  • An Africa whose airwaves and media are dominated by issues of native concerns, images and aspirations;
  • An Africa that redefines the term “emergent” from a notion of condescension and derision to a term of economic, political, and cultural vibrancy, and technological prowess;
  • An Africa where its natives both home and in the diaspora, as well as other citizens of the world, as a matter of choice invest their time, resources, aspirations, lives, in the future of their children;
  • An Africa that seeks and employs the advice, skills, technology and resources of others for own ends and to a chosen destination and not to serve the agenda of others;
  • An Africa who is matriarch and sculptor of her own destiny!


It may be that I am dreaming, if it were so, it would be good. It is necessary that our leaders should all dream, but the dreaming I refer to is one that occurs not in our sleep but in our waking moments. For it is in dreams of our waking moments that we reveal our deepest aspirations; those dreams in waking moments which, when subjected to our will and our ability to translate them into a desired reality, truly become visions. Those that support Africa can help and encourage us, but in the final analysis, Africa will be the instrument of her own salvation; through her transformational leadership that Africa will transform herself.

  • A leadership whose defining features are probity, humility, integrity, compassion and humaness;
  • A leadership that stands for the truth and affirmation of the good, and whose primary pursuit is noble causes and the common good;
  • A leadership that demonstrates competence, tenacity, and a sense of efficacy;
  • A leadership that does not shy away from the difficult nor the unpopular decisions or measures;
  • A leadership that practices introspection and self-renewal;
  • A leadership that lives by the tenets of consultation, persuasion, accommodation, and cooperation and shuns coercion and domination;
  • A leadership that generates trust, goodwill and confidence and is politically and personally as gracious, honourable and magnanimous in defeat as in success;
  • A leadership which understands that the success of others does not diminish its own success but adds to the good of the commonwealth;
  • A leadership that deeply believes that the locus of control for Africa’s future is within Africa herself;
  • A leadership that acts as much for today as it does for the future;
  • A leadership that does not consume seed capital but invests for ensuing the generations;
  • A leadership which bridges the schisms and cleavages wrought by religious, tribal, social, ideological, economic and political diversity that characterises much of Africa’s political economies;
  • A leadership that understands the difference between cause and effect and for whom the means are as important as the ends;
  • A leadership that is visionary and compassionate.


The leadership to which I refer, is not mythical, it does exist in Africa and is epitomised by our own icon, the living embodiment of African leadership: Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela who is an example of what Warren Bennis, the noted leadership expert, might refer to as servant leadership, where the true leader is the servant of all. Such a quality of leadership is not unique nor is it the result of pre-ordination.  It is the result of choice, discipline and application. Mandela does not have these leadership qualities because he is great. Mandela is great because he has these leadership qualities.

The leadership to which I refer, understands that they are not leaders because they have power, public acclaim, wealth or privileged access. They do not confuse cause and effect. They do not compound the conundrum of leadership by elevating the effects of leadership i.e.: power, wealth, acclaim, to ends in and of themselves, sought and exercised as virtues in and of themselves. They fully understand that the pursuit of these as ends in and of themselves lead us down pathways where it matters not how we acquire these nor to what purpose we employ them; it leads to corruption and venality. The leadership I refer to will set us all firmly on the road to regeneration through exemplary leadership, setting high targets for themselves and everyone who takes up the challenge. Their solutions and strategies will be, above all, do-able and sustainable. The principles of their strategies will be designed to be applicable from generation to generation, remaining as effective and as valuable as when they began. A leadership which, (to paraphrase James McCune Smith commenting on the 19th Century African American leader of great stature, Frederick Douglass’s successful leadership); this leadership will “… furthermore prove possible what had hitherto been regarded as an impossible reform, and then become a shining light on which the aged may look with gladness, the young with hope, the downtrodden as a representative of what they themselves may become”.


The social, economic and political decay of Africa is as much due to a complete collapse of public and personal morality as it is to other factors.  When both the elite and the under-classes abandon morality in pursuit of power and/or wealth, this sets the stage for endemic corruption and crime. Over time we have come to accept that the only crime or sin as it were, is to be caught. There is a tacit understanding that everybody somehow perverts the system and that they are fools if they don’t. But in Africa our worries are not only about personal morality, it is perhaps more importantly about public morality. We have reached a point where we have institutionalised public immorality as reflected in the political and economic policies and decisions made by many a leadership and which are obscene, not only because their consequences are unjust but because those consequences are fully intended by a corrupt and cynical leadership.


We are brought here today by a vision, or the earning for a compelling vision of Africa’s ascendancy. The African Renaissance is presented as a pan African vision conceptualised, articulated and driven by a visionary leadership.  Unfortunately, it is a vision that has not yet found expression in a manner accessible and practical to the lay-person. As a consequence, the African Renaissance as a vision, has come to mean anything and signifying nothing to those whose lives it is meant to transform. They understand the vision as an intellectual pre-occupation of the political, economic and academic elite. Amongst those in the media and those generally derisory of Africa, the African Renaissance has become a caricature, a rod to lash those leaders who have been brave enough to articulate and promote this vision. They are quick to pronounce the African Renaissance as a failure as they gleefully watch Africa continue to struggle with generations old problems.