New Breed of African Leader

By Rotberg, Robert I. | The Christian Science Monitor, January 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

New Breed of African Leader


Rotberg, Robert I., The Christian Science Monitor


The failed and failing states of sub-Saharan Africa - including Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Zimbabwe - attract the most attention. But a quiet renaissance of positive leadership is taking hold in the region, including the Islamic northeast.

The dominant personalities in such battered places as Somalia and Somaliland are firmly on the side of the United States, and ready to be helped in rebuilding their states. No state in Africa now seeks to harbor terrorists; better rewards are to be found in alliance with the developed world.

In Botswana, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, basic human rights are being respected, and there's a promise of better times. After a year of principled leadership, Ghana is in the vanguard of change. If Ghana's gains can be sustained, West Africa will have another model to help transform a neighborhood characterized by fractiousness and meltdown.

Nigeria is a problem case. As Africa's most populous and historically most poorly governed place, its turn to democracy in 1999 seemed dramatic. But President Olusegun Obasanjo has been unable to lead the nation in a wholly positive direction. Too many of Nigeria's Muslim-dominated states have thumbed their noses at the central government. So democratic rule is a phenomenon of the center only, not of the states.

When the ingredients of visionary leadership are lacking, the stew of governance tastes sour. When they are richly available, everyone prospers and AIDS and other scourges seem survivable. The US and UN need to craft new policies to support and encourage responsible leadership skills among elected officials across sub- Saharan Africa.

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela demonstrated leadership without bullying. As president, he was an inclusionist who convinced black South Africans from all backgrounds, as well as coloreds, Indians, and whites, that he was everyone's champion and that he sought a peace dividend for them, not for himself.

Neighboring Botswana, thinly populated and mostly desert, has been an oasis of steady, open rule for more than 35 years. Even before it became the world's greatest producer of gem diamonds, Botswana was well-run. It endured insults and occasional blows from apartheid South Africa, ignored the collectivist and authoritarian fancies of nearby Zambia and Tanzania, and concentrated its energies not on personal enrichment but on encouraging middle-class empowerment amid old-fashioned liberal values.

Festus Mogae, Botswana's president, had excellent role models. His predecessors were participatory, sensible, and focused on what was good for their peoples, not for themselves and their families. Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana's first president, had the charisma and stature to have gone either way. …

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