Unmasking the Truth: The Harsh Reality of African Leadership

July 15, 2023

Unmasking the Truth: The Harsh Reality of African Leadership from The Perspective of a Teenager in Kenya.

Is it safe to say that the future of African leaders is hanging on by a thread? Before we go any further, let’s define our terms. In this context, I use the word “future” to refer to the young generation of Africa, specifically Generation Z, Alpha, and those who will come after them. I am talking about the children and youth of the land. 

The answer to this question is as simple as the question itself: yes, it is hanging on by a thread.

Leadership in Africa is as diverse and complex as the continent itself, with different cultures, languages, and traditions woven into its history. From Nelson Mandela’s triumphant struggle against segregation in South Africa to Robert Mugabe’s controversial reign in Zimbabwe, to Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia who played a key role in ending the conflict with Eritrea, to Muammar Gaddafi’s rule up until his fall in Libya.

Africa has seen leaders both celebrated and condemned, public figures who have left a permanent mark on the continent. But what does this have to do with a ten-year-old who aspires to run for governor in the future? I’m getting there. First, let’s draw the line between leadership and “just politics”.

According to the national academies press on child development and early learning children are highly influenced by their environment. They learn by observing and imitating the people around them, and they are especially impressionable during their early years. This means that if children grow up in an environment where they see corruption, lies, and hatred, they are more likely to adopt these behaviors themselves.

While there have been many dedicated and responsible leaders in Africa, corruption, poor governance, and misuse of power have been common in many if not all African countries. This is where “just politics” comes in.

Just a while back, His Excellency the President of Kenya, Dr. William Samoei Ruto, joined leaders at the African Union Peace and Security Council to discuss one of Africa’s enduring conflicts. He made an appeal, implying that the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is complex and that everyone, including the DRC’s neighbors, the African Union, the United Nations, and other similar international organizations, must work together to prevent and end a humanitarian disaster.

The DRC has been in a state of conflict for decades, and the roots of the conflict are complex. However, one of the most significant factors contributing to the conflict is the failure of leadership.

The leaders of the DRC have played a significant role in worsening the crisis which led to widespread poverty, displacement, and violence. Millions of people have been killed or injured, and millions more have been forced to flee their homes, Men, women and children.

For example, President Félix Tshisekedi has been accused of corruption and human rights abuses. He has been criticized by civil society groups, opposition parties, and the international community. In 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed a special rapporteur to investigate the allegations, and the report published by the rapporteur showed evidence of human rights abuses.

The situation in the DRC is not unique. Many other African countries are also struggling with the consequences of bad leadership. For example, Sudan is currently in the midst of a civil war. The conflict is a result of intense clashes between the military and paramilitary forces, which has caused hundreds of deaths and forced thousands to flee for safety. 

The underlying cause of this conflict is a power struggle between the two main factions of the military regime: that is, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), who are completely loyal to Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the militia-led Rapid Support Forces (RSF), that follow the former warlord Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

The conflict has had a devastating impact on Sudan. There is a shortage of food and medicine, and the United Nations has warned that the country is on the brink of famine. The conflict has also led to widespread displacement and violence.

The conflict in Sudan is a prime example of the failure of leadership. The leaders of Sudan have not been able to resolve the power struggle between the SAF and the RSF, and they have not been able to provide for the basic needs of the Sudanese people . This conflict is a prime example of weak institutions and lack of accountability from the head of state and the authorities in power it’s a method where  authoritarian regimes often employ divide-and-rule tactics, leading to destabilization and violence so at the end they can swoop in and “save” the day

Overall, the situation of DRC Congo and Sudan is not that different from the rest of the African countries

Another recent case to highlight is right here in our very own motherland, Kenya as nationwide protests over the high cost of living are becoming a social norm, which are also a matter of political unrest. The government was accused of rigging the 2022 presidential election, and every time the president addresses the nation, it is like salt in the wounds of unhealed opposition members and supporters. Kenyans are protesting over unfair tax hikes imposed by the government, and yesterday’s protest was assumed to be the biggest of them all .

On Wednesday, July 12, 2023, Protests were called by opposition leader Raila Odinga against a raft of tax hikes. The protests were met with a heavy police presence, and there were reports of clashes between protesters and police. At least six people were killed in the protests, and more than 50 schoolchildren were tear-gassed.Overall, the protests in Kenya, as well as activities in other African countries, are a sign of the growing discontent among the population with their respective governments.

So, again I ask what does this have to do with a ten-year-old who has hopes of being the future governor of the county?

The answer is simple. As we have established, early learning children learn by observing and imitating the people around them. So while the ten-year-old is witnessing the consequences of bad leadership firsthand and are seeing how the government’s decisions are impacting their lives and the lives of their families. They are also influenced by these habits, making them see it as a normal thing to do.

For example, a child who grows up in a country where there is a lot of civil unrest may learn to see violence as a normal way to solve problems. Or, a child who grows up in a family where there is a lot of lying may learn to see lying as a way to get what they want. Same applies to when they are exposed to corruption as well as other vices in this case in relation to leadership so there’s a big percentage that this ten year old will grow up to continue the cycle of his current government.

Children in Africa are excessively affected by bad leadership. One of the most immediate consequences is poverty. When leaders steal from their countries or fail to invest in education and healthcare, children are the ones who suffer the most. In some cases they are forced to drop out of school at a very young age to provide for themselves and their families. This exposes them to dangerous conditions and bad peer-to-peer influence. 

Unfortunately, when “hustling for the family” doesn’t work out, they turn to a life of crime and drug abuse. This can become their life until they are finally caught, mobbed by an angry crowd, or gunned down by a police officer. The life of a potential African changemaker sadly ends at 23.

In some African countries, like the case of Sudan, children are also directly affected by war and violence. They may be forced to flee their homes, witness violence, or even be recruited to fight. The psychological trauma of war can have a lasting negative impact on their physical and mental health.

There have been many instances where leaders have put their personal interests ahead of their countries. They have lined their pockets with public money, while their people suffer in poverty. They have used their power to suppress dissent and silence critics. They have enriched themselves at the expense of their countries, resulting in economic stagnation, poverty, and social unrest. This has left many African citizens disillusioned with their leaders and questioning the effectiveness of democracy and governance on the continent. And best believe the children are watching, and the sad reality is they might end up repeating the same cycle, in the sense of the “same script, different actors”.

So, what will we do to save our future? What will we do to cut off the cycle of bad leadership?

The leadership that Africa wants is often based on personal desires and ambitions, while the leadership that Africa needs is based on the needs of the people. As individuals, we need to contribute to the change that we desire by critically assessing ourselves and our culture of bad leadership. We need to be bold enough to face our problems and address them fearlessly.

We can then evaluate our leaders based on these standards, looking at their track records and their commitment to the betterment of their people. We can hold them accountable through protests and demonstrations, but these must be peaceful. Emphasis on peaceful and justified means of making our pleas to the government be heard. However, do you think that there can be peaceful demonstrations almost similar to that one held in South Africa by Malema here in Kenya?

Most importantly, we should not allow ourselves to be controlled by leaders who do not have our best interests at heart. These are leaders who will spread hate speech and hurl insults at one another in public, whether they are from the ruling party or the opposition. They do this because they believe they have the power to do so, and they cause us to fight on their behalf. But behind closed doors, these same people who “hate” each other in public enjoy coffee together after a long day of political theater. (Furthermore, not believe in the chatter of a so called leader who takes away the hope of newly graduates who have been patiently waiting and preparing for the world out there only to be heartbroken at a graduation ceremony)

However, it is also worth noting that addressing these issues requires more than just self-assessment from leaders. It requires systemic changes, including stronger institutions, a free press, and a more engaged citizenry. These are all necessary for creating a sustainable and accountable governance system in Africa. Additionally, it is important to note that not all African leaders fit these negative stereotypes. There have been many examples of successful and inspiring leadership in Africa, with leaders who have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of their people and promote development and prosperity on the continent. These leaders have often had to navigate complex political, social, and economic challenges, and have demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities such as vision, courage, and resilience.

Ultimately, the key to effective leadership in Africa is to address the underlying issues that have contributed to negative perceptions of African leaders. This includes tackling corruption, promoting democratic values and institutions, and supporting economic development and social progress. Lastly, consider the children before making any decision on an individual level and nation wide as a saying by Eric Namayi goes, if it’s not good for the child it’s not good for anyone. By doing so, African leaders can help to build a brighter future for the continent and make the next generation of leaders. As hard as it looks, it takes a village to raise a child as well as to make them a leader, and fulfill the dreams of that ten year old.

Author: Eric Namayi

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