Crisis of Leadership

By Ayittey, George | Harvard International Review, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Crisis of Leadership


Ayittey, George, Harvard International Review


Botswana is an enduring economic success story set against Africa's economic graveyard of collapsed economies, failed states, and dysfunctional governments. Its president, Festus Mogae, is among the few exemplary leaders in post-colonial Africa. In February 2008, he will be retiring--a rarity in Africa. However, his article ("A Crisis of Image: Achieving Africa's Potential," Summer 2007) was a stunner. It serves up the same old canard: "Negative" portrayal of Africa as a region of "conflict and crisis" by the international media hinders Africa's development. The article ignored the real cause of these conflicts and crises: the adamant refusal of African leaders to relinquish or share political power. Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire and other countries would all have been saved had their respective leaders been willing to step down or share political power. Current examples are Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Mugabe's intransigence has created a mammoth crisis that has caused more than US$40 billion in economic damage to the economies of southern Africa. Instead of blaming the international community for not responding to Botswana's impressive economic performance, President Mogae should be looking to the electrified fence Botswana has erected along its border with Zimbabwe, to keep the latter's refugees out.

Since 1960, there have been 204 African heads of state. Of this lot, fewer than 20 can be described as "exemplary leaders." The rest--over 90 percent--were utter failures. A scathing editorial in the Ghanaian newspaper The Independent wrote that, "Africa today is politically independent and can be said to have come of age but apart from Thabo Mbeki and Yoweri Museveni, we are sorry to openly admit that most of our leaders in Africa are power-loving politicians, who in uniform or out of uniform, represent no good for the welfare of our people. …

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