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Is it time for Africa’s leaders to stand up?
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The recent election and swearing in of Cyril Ramaphosa as President of South Africa has helped to fuel renewed optimism into the economy of the country. He has wasted little time in putting words into actions by announcing his plans to secure US$100 billion (more than R1390 trillion) in foreign direct investment in the next 5 years. Since announcing the initiative in mid-April, he and his team of special envoys have so far secured around US$35.5 billion (R499 billion) in promised investment from Saudi-Arabia, China and the UAE. Although questions still linger as to how and where these investments will ultimately benefit the country and its citizens are still to be clarified in greater detail, the investment is to be welcomed and perhaps presents a turning point in South Africa’s downward social and economic trajectory that marked the tenure of Ramaphosa’s predecessor.

Are we seeing the rise of a new form of benevolent leadership in Ramaphosa’s leadership style?

Within the broad definition of benevolent leadership, this reflects a style of rule that goes beyond just a commitment to ethics. High values and good governance is about creating greater possibilities and opportunities for your community, your country and the nations that make up our world today.

Benevolent Leadership, also referred to as servant leadership, was perhaps best epitomised – and defined by Nelson Rolihlalha Mandela, the aspirations and dreams shared by the great icon gave South African’s and many others in Africa a future of hope and the promise of economic prosperity but this was quickly replaced by Jacob Zuma and his Gupta minions and their attempts to capture the state and secure their own influence through practices that would benefit a few and undermine the hard-earned democracy of a nation.

Millions of Zimbabweans have recently gone to the polls in the hope of securing a new style of leadership. Will the citizens of Zimbabwe be successful in ushering in a new, benevolent leadership arrangement that can resuscitate an economy that has been left in ruin after years of dictatorship rule?

Rajeev Peshawaria author of Open Source Leadership, a book about reinventing management; states a case that the time has come for democratic leadership to be replaced by ‘positive autocracy’ and that leadership on both national and organisational level should be characterised by a firm resolve to work towards the greater good. He makes the point that for far too long people have been confusing leadership with following – and pleasing people.

Peshawaria believes that in our always-on, digital world and at a time when positive change is demanded, it would perhaps be time to use “a top-down - even somewhat autocratic style of leadership rather than a democratic, all-inclusive and pleasing style.” He notes that merely copying the successful behaviours of others is “followship, not leadership.”

"In our always-on, digital world and at a time when positive change is demanded, it would perhaps be time to use a top-down - even somewhat autocratic style of leadership rather than a democratic, all-inclusive and pleasing style...merely copying the successful behaviours of others is followship, not leadership.”

Rajeev Peshawaria, author of Open Source Leadership

Enter the benevolent dictator or the naked autocrat…

Peshawaria is of the belief that in our changing world, a better future would be best served by a form of benevolent dictatorship. It calls for a new breed of leaders, leaders who can:

  • Remain true to their values and firm in their course of action despite resistance
  • Dare to be different and are prepared to challenge the general opinion
  • Have the energy and courage to see their plans through despite challenges
  • Are bold risk takers that pursue unconventional – even unpopular ideas to break new ground in order to realise positive gains for their people
  • Are prepared to pursue unconventional ideas to create a better world

Our modern world has seen sweeping changes to its political landscape, mostly brought about by the advocacy of democracy and the execution of the will of the people. Long-standing dictatorships that have ruled by a singular power have been toppled either by electoral process or through the uprising of the people. A good example of this was the political changes which occurred in the Middle East following the Arab Spring. The world will continue to change and the continent of Africa and its leaders will change too.

So what kind of leadership will bring the promise of a better future for Africa?

Africa will require leaders of the calibre of Mandela, Gandhi and Lee Kuan Yew. Each of these leaders were intent in belief and purpose in creating a better future for their people. Their strength lay in their values. It was their deep-seated commitment and humility that gave them the right to lead in a top-down, autocratic style of leadership. It also earned them respect. In assuming these mantles of leadership, these individuals also led with compassion and respect for their fellow human beings.

Peshawaria maintains that these attributes hold true today. In a world where we are all connected, nearly all of the time, and where people are more empowered than ever before, leaders are naked and exposed and must therefore earn the right to use top-down leadership by living their values consistently every day whilst relentlessly pursuing a values-based purpose while still being humble and compassionate at the same time.

Has the time come for Africa’s benevolent leaders to stand up? Can Ramaphosa, the new President of Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa – and the future leaders of Africa heed the sage advice of Peshawaria? It is an interesting question and one that only time will tell - and history will be there to record it.

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