Democracy and the Crisis of Leadership in Africa

By Agulanna, Christopher | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Democracy and the Crisis of Leadership in Africa


Agulanna, Christopher, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The author asserts that contemporary Africa shares in the current ethos that favors democratization, but has nevertheless failed to achieve this goal. He explores some of the factors responsible for this situation and proposes measures to improve the situation. Most especially, he emphasizes the need for a new and vital leadership that will advance goals for the people as a whole, as distinct from the type of leadership Africa has experienced since independence.

Keywords: Africa; democratization; Nature of democracy; Role of leadership; Nature of leadership; Leadership in Africa.

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Africa is faced with a myriad of problems. These problems range from those of the socio-economic devaluation of so many of the nationstates" of Africa to a near breakdown of the moral foundations of the continent as a whole. Everywhere in Africa, you find internecine conflicts and social disorder, as well as pernicious ethnic and religious acrimonies. The defining characteristics of the African continent appear to be war and destruction, poverty and hunger, and the breakdown of the political state, as well as the absence of a strong and motivated political leadership. As Africa hankers after technological and economic development in a highly competitive world, this must be rooted upon the foundations of good governance and a dynamic political leadership.

There is a hackneyed but tenacious saying to the effect that a people deserve the type of leadership they get. The idea here is that in a society or nation where the citizens are incompetent or corrupt, the people are likely to have a political leadership that is not only incompetent, but also grossly irresponsible and inefficient. But while there may be some truth in this saying, it only provides a partial answer to a fundamental problem. The full-orbed truth is that, in reality, the type of leadership prevalent in any society largely determines what that society eventually becomes. In other words, the political and economic strength of a nation, the moral and cultural direction the nation follows, the progress and respect it commands from other nations, are largely traceable to the type of political leadership available in that society. The experience of great nations of the world has shown that it often takes a visionary leadership, sometimes a unique and strong individual, to galvanize a people or a society into achieving political and economic greatness.

The point that this paper makes, therefore, is that the major factor hindering the emergence of a strong, viable and enduring political democracy in Africa is that of the absence of a responsive and responsible political leadership. The paper uses Nigeria as a case in point, and argues that a political arrangement that encourages and even permits the emergence of criminals and social misfits as political leaders will surely produce failure. A society needs strong, intelligent and motivated leaders to inspire and galvanize its people into achieving not only national greatness but international prominence as well.

What Is Democracy?

Democracy is a popular word. Everywhere in the world, there is a growing demand for nations to democratize their political structures and particularly access to political leadership and the conduct of the business of government. To answer the question posed above, we may describe democracy as the antithesis of dictatorship and all forms of authoritarian government. Democracy connotes self-government, or at least a government in which the people are collectively or individually involved. Long ago, the American political leader Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." In reality, however, there is nowhere in the world where this type of system obtains practically and concretely. While the Lincoln-type democracy may be referred to as direct democracy, akin to what obtained in the Athenian city-state of ancient Greece, the democracy this paper is concerned with is the type known as 'representative democracy' - a situation where a few leaders are chosen or elected as the representatives of the citizens of a state.

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