Under the Tree of Talking: Leadership for Change in Africa

By Bemath, Abdul Samed | African Research & Documentation, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Under the Tree of Talking: Leadership for Change in Africa


Bemath, Abdul Samed, African Research & Documentation


Under the tree of talking: leadership for change in Africa; edited by Onyekachi Wambu. London: Counterpoint, 2007, 291pp. ISBN: 0-86355-586-1; 978-0-86355-586-2. ?11-99.

This collection of nineteen essays draws on the views of major African thinkers from inside and outside Africa. The driving force behind this initiative is the British Councils Counterpoint think-tank and its Interaction Project which is a Pan-African initiative run by Africans for Africans to identify, network, and support the next generation of leaders across nineteen African countries.

In his foreword, John Githongo states that two common strands emerge from this collection - of self-determination and moral accountability, and that the days of non-interference in the internal affairs of African states are over. Ali A. Mazrui (who has two essays in this book) in his The Politics of War and the Culture of Violence: North-South essays, edited by Abdul S. Bemath and Seifudein Adem, (Africa World Press, 2008) elaborates on this intervention in faUed and conflict-ridden African states, providing solutions through regional integration and African re-colonisation, citing Nigeria's intervention in Liberia and Sierre Leone. The role that diaspora based Africans such as Mazrui can play is elaborated on in Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie's essay, 'African leadership for a transnational age'. Mazrui has suggested three solutions to the 2007 postelection crisis facing Kenya and these are the re-counting of votes in the most controversial of the provincial results, the creation of a post of Prime Minister answerable to Parliament and not to the Chief Executive (the President), and the appointment by the African Union of an independent commission of enquiry.

This collection is divided into six sections exploring African leadership from a number of perspectives. Wambu in his introduction delves into examples of leadership and processes and, most importantly, choices people make in taking control of situations and becoming leaders.

These six sections are:

1. From the beginning: The historian Chinweizu examines the evolution of the Egyptian state under pharonic rule.

2. From the top down. Consists of three essays focussing on how African leaders have dealt with the post-colonial state. Mazrui provides a comparative typology of African leaders: heroes and martyrs such as Kwame Nkrumah, Yakubu Gowon, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko; the disciplinarian Murtala Muhammed; and technocrats such as Thabo Mbeki and Mwai Kibaki, to name a few. He categorises these leaders along nine styles of leadership drawing on four cultural traditions - the elder, monarchical, sage and warrior traditions. In his interview with Wambu, Chinua Achebe revisits his 1983 essay, 'The trouble with Nigeria'. An important change is that age no longer confers authority and the youth have inherited the power of leadership. William Gumede sheds light on leadership style in comparing Nelson Mandela to Thabo Mbeki. This essay provides one insight into reasons why Thabo Mbeki lost the leadership of the African National Congress during its December 2007 conference. As Mazrui queried in his April 2007 Witwatersrand University lecture, amongst his critics, Thabo Mbeki is a man of the world but not necessarily a man of the people, and too much of a technocrat to qualify as a man of the people.

3. From the bottom up: Consists of seven essays that move away from political leadership and the state and how ordinary people take control of the challenges facing them. Ordinary people such as a group of Christian women, the Mothers' Union give leadership in tackling HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe in the spirit of Ubuntu-hunhu, as described by Martha Chinouya. Wambu examines how rapid urbanisation has impacted on his own Nigerian village, and JeanBosco Butera the role the University of Rwanda can play in re-construction and its graduates in government. Ndidi Nwuneli shows how its LEAP Africa organisation can change mindsets and behaviour regarding the issue of time and Kimani Njogu, who was the event director of the Interaction program held in Naivasha, Kenya in February 2006, talks about issues discussed and the role of youth in development.

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