The inability to get winner for Africa’s leadership award underlines urgency of rethinking our future, writes Daniel Kamanga

Leadership is about creating a future that will not happen unless it is created. It seems that Africa lacks leaders who can create a future for the continent. For two years in a row, no leader has been found worthy to win the coveted US$ 5million Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

Designed to improve the quality of African political leadership, it was last awarded to former Liberian President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Africa’s first elected female head of state. Sirleaf was one of only four people to have won the award since it was established 12 years ago.

Announcing the decision that no person had been found worthy to receive the award in 2019, Festus Mogaeo, Prize Committee Chair and former President of Botswana, said the committee remained optimistic “that we will have the opportunity to award this Prize to a worthy candidate soon.”

The inability to find suitable African leaders to win this award speak volumes. It means we have a deep leadership crisis. In the past, Africa has had many great leaders: Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Alpha Oumar Konara and Samora Machel and Desmond Tutu. Leaders like Kenya’s only Nobel Prize Winner, Wangari Mathai, and the founder of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, reminded us that Africans are by nature selfless. Sankara named his country “the land of upright men” while Maathai fought against corruption.

Have we entered a dry season as far as African leadership is concerned? Where are Africa’s leaders, whose DNA is selfless sense of duty? Where are the leaders who place the rights and needs of others above their own? These are urgent and weighty questions, given the challenges the continent faces and the huge potential we have. Who can help us tackle the challenges of poor governance, corruption, youth unemployment, climate change, terrorism and insecurity? Who can create the future of an Africa that works for everyone?

Take the education sector for example. In 2015, the World Economic Forum (WEF) put out a list of critical skills needed for 2020 and beyond. The top skills included complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity; Africa’s higher education is not focused on these three skills. Millions of young graduates are unable to find jobs because the degrees they have are not worth the paper they are printed on. The urgent need for an overhaul of the education sector is obvious. But this requires leadership. Who will provide this leadership?

Three of the “atop” African countries are facing humongous challenges that require bold and transformative leadership. Africa’s most-industrialized economy has had two recessions since President Cyril Ramaphosa came to power at the start of 2018. Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, due to complete his second and final four-year term in 2023, needs to fund the country’s N10.6 trillion (US$29 billion) spending plans at a time when economic growth is faltering. Revenue has fallen short of target by at least 45% every year since 2015 and shortfalls have been funded through increased borrowing.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose second term is also coming to an end in 2022, is presiding over an economy that is technically in recession, with the government practically surviving on borrowing. The country’s current public debt stands at about Ksh 4.884 trillion (USD$49 billion) or 56.4% of GDP.

These three countries are representative of a continent that is facing a myriad of other challenges that include poverty, low levels of education and employment. In South Africa, for example, seven million people go to bed without food; in Kenya – at any time – about 10% of the population is facing hunger and famine. Kenya and Nigeria continue to face terrorist-related security threats, with Boko Haram in the North of Nigeria and the Somalia Al Shabaab terror group. Other countries – Burkina Faso, Mali, Mozambique, Somalia and many others – face serious terrorism threats.

The vision of the organization I head, the Africa Leadership Transformation (ALT) Foundation, is an Africa that works for everyone. Our mission is to train one million African leaders through a network of African universities and other educational institutions. We acknowledge the many other organizations working to build the capacity of African leaders and seek to strengthen partnerships and synergies with them. The reason for this is that effective leadership development or the transformation of people is not scalable, despite the urgent need in Africa.

The ALT Foundation is implementing a six-day program targeting leaders in every level of society, from councilors, NGOs and community leaders, governmental organizations and the private sector. Our focus is to empower leaders that will have major impact wherever they are. The impact one person can have when they have truly experienced personal transformation – being free to be and free to act – makes an immeasurable difference to society.
Africa is the youngest and fastest-growing continent in the world. It faces multiple challenges which, if transformed into opportunities, can produce an Africa that thrives and works for everyone. Transforming these challenges requires a transformation in the level and quality of leadership.

What if, in the future, there are so many worthy recepients that the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership had to split the prize between two worthy candidates? What if other donors and philanthropists started similar awards, simply because there are now many worthy leaders – not merely at the political level – but in science and education, music and the arts, business and commerce? With more transformative leaders, the challenges the continent faces would be resolved: young people would find jobs and self-expression, the climate would be restored, democracy would be thriving and security challenges would be addressed. We would have an Africa that works for everyone.

Kamanga is the Executive Director of the ALT Foundation