Africa has had many great leaders: Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Alpha Oumar Konara and Samora Machel, Desmond Tutu. Their leadership was characterised by a selfless sense of duty and they put the rights and needs of others above their own.
But today in Africa, arguably more than on any other continent, we have a deep leadership crisis. Leaders stay in power way past their sell-by date, corruption is rampant, few succession plans are made, skills are stagnant and the youth is floundering in many ways.
But if we got it right, what a continent we’d have. USB-ED’s International Advisory Board - a board of advisors comprising educators, public servants and corporate citizens from all over the continent - recently met to think-tank leadership in Africa. Members include South Africa’s deputy public protector, Kevin Malunga Deputy Public Protector, Sam Kimani, CEO of Jamii Bora Bank Kenya and Judy Sikuza, deputy executive director of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation.
Here, in their collective view, are the top six challenges Africa needs to overcome to realise its potential.
Challenge 1: Lack of ethical leadership and sound governance
Setting an ethical compass and deeply entrenched morals starts from a very young age – in fact it should start at daycare and continue for life. In many cases, this is not happening as many informal day cares are run by well-meaning but unqualified carers. Early development must be a focus – from a moral, intellectual and social perspective – if we are to root out corruption and instil better governance in the private and public sectors of nations on the continent.
Real change will require courageous, bold leaders who exemplify value-driven servant leadership. We need to start young, but ongoing learning should be built in to every phase of life, including at an executive education level during the working years.
Challenge 2: The youth is in a downward spiral of poverty and unemployment
Youth unemployment statistics across the continent are staggeringly high. In Zimbabwe, the figure is estimated to be around 90%, in South Africa it is around 52% and Nigeria 33%. The youth are struggling to break out of the cycle of poor education, youth unemployment and lack of opportunity.
Again, early education is something to address as improved literacy is vital for socio-economic inclusion down-the line. Tertiary education is also an issue. The IAB members strongly felt that too much emphasis is placed on attaining a university degree or professional qualification geared towards a traditional ‘office job’ either in the public or private sectors.
The result is that there are many young men and women with similar degrees - but not enough jobs for them all. The members felt strongly that there should be far more emphasis placed on technical skills – artisanal careers like builders, plumbers and electricians are very lucrative, create jobs and stimulate the economy. It was floated that, rather than seeing executive education as the exclusive domain of professionals, it could be used to help artisans become excellent leaders and more deeply skilled entrepreneurs.
Challenge 3: Bridging the knowledge gap and fostering a culture of leadership
In some African societies there is a resistance to bringing new skills into the mix. So you have generations of similarly-skilled people continuing to do things the way they’ve always done them in the same way they’ve always done them – and teaching the next generation to do this too. This does little to improve the country’s ability to compete on the global stage. New and innovative models of learning should be introduced.
Challenge 4: Succession planning: essential to developing the leaders of tomorrow
Every generation needs a robust bank of strong, ethical leaders poised to take over the reins from the incumbent leadership. In many cases, succession planning is not on radar at all in Africa. There are leaders – not all of course – both in the public and private sectors who believe they are the organisation and the organisation is them. This hampers change, progress and the sustainability of the organisation.
The future leaders on the continent need to be groomed today to take over the reins of power and to work for the good and betterment of those placing them in positions to lead. Diversification is also critical, along with talent investment and grooming at school-age.
Challenge 5: Closing the divide between vision and policy implementation
Many African countries have robust policies in place to drive their economies and future growth – however the gap between intention and implementation remains a stumbling block to change and sustainable progress. It is often the case where leaders at the top know what needs to be done, but don’t know how to galvanise their organisation in order to effectively take action. The leadership challenge is to create a sustainable implementation approach that can effect positive growth and change through these sound policies.
Challenge 6: Investing in education today - for a better future tomorrow
Critical to Africa’s future is the necessity to invest in education. Investments need to be made into executive development and training at all levels – from government and the public services to businesses and NGOs. There’s a skills dearth and it is increasingly difficult to get talent across borders.
Education holds the key to unlocking the real wealth of the continent and its people, and ways should be found to get it on the boardroom agenda and on the annual budget as well - in order for it to become entrenched in organisations across the continent. We need to encourage co-operation at a public and private level to collaboratively foster the skills that Africa needs – and share these effectively.
View more information on USB-ED’s International Advisory Board and board leadership development in Africa.