The country of Burundi is the latest African country to be held at ransom by a leader who refuses to relinquish power when his term of office comes to an end. This means that Burundi president, Pierre Nkurunziza (See photo above, left) will not qualify for the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Worth $5 million spread over 10 years, the prize is the largest annually awarded prize in the world and is awarded to heads of state who have demonstrated exceptional leadership.
Part of the criterion for winning the prize is the ability to relinquish power when your constitutionally mandated term expires. I think the fact that African leaders even need an award that is designed to cajole them to put the interests of their people first is a serious indictment against how leadership is conducted in our continent. Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian who holds a PhD in economics from Oxford University and who has worked for the World Bank asks some pertinent questions regarding the state of leadership in Africa.
In her book Dead Aid she asks: “Why in a recent survey did seven of the top ten ‘failed states’ hail from that continent. Are Africa’s people universally more incapable? Are its leaders genetically more venal, more ruthless, more corrupt? Its policymakers more innately feckless? What is it about Africa that holds it back, that seems to render it incapable of joining the rest of the globe in the twenty-first century?” (2009:6-7).
If questions like these were posed by a person of European descent we would probably accuse him of racial bias but Ms Moyo shows in her book that some African countries have regressed under African leadership to a place far worse than they were under colonial rule. Africa suffers from dearth of inspirational leadership. We seem no longer able to produce leaders of the calibre of Nkwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela, etc.
Instead we have those who seem to have a higher propensity to be drunk with state power and are unfazed with the idea of crushing anyone who dares to stand between them and their desire to keep their hands permanently on the levers of state influence. As things stand, most of the longest service presidents in the world are in Africa. Here I am referring to the likes of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, José Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who collectively have been in power for over 100 years.
Leaders like these have become some kind of cult figures and the countries they lead have been reduced into their personal fiefdoms. You would swear that African leaders do not know the difference between political leadership and tribal chieftaincy. Some are acting more like tribal chiefs than statesmen. A statesman is a leader who rises above ethnic and narrow political interests and offers leadership to the whole nation.
He is not just a politician who has mastered the art of political posturing and rhetoric but an individual who is able to rally his countrymen behind a compelling vision. The late preacher and author Dr Myles Munroe captured succinctly the difference between leaders and politicians. He said politicians are concerned with elections while leaders are concerned with generations.
Africans need to take a stand against self-serving politicians who are prepared to subvert democratic processes and the rule of law in order to stay in power. We need to say: “Enough of this impunity and rule by the barrel of a gun!” What is a great pity is the fact that a multilateral institution like the African Union (AU) is hamstrung from intervening in situations like the one in Burundi because AU itself has very little credibility.
If its current chair, President Robert Mugabe, were to chastise Pierre Nkurunziza it would be like the pot calling the kettle black.
The Bible tells us that when righteous people are in authority the nation rejoices but when it is the unrighteous there is great mourning. Let us petition God to raise righteous leaders.