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As there are different authors for the articles on this blog, each article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bokamoso Leadership Forum.

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23 February 2011

Reviving Democracy and Democratic Processes in Africa

Steve Arowolo; Economist, Author and a Public Speaker

One of the ideas I find very fascinating about leadership is from David Cooper who said "Perhaps the most central characteristic of authentic leadership is the relinquishing of the impulse to dominate others."The impulse might always be there to continue leading even against the will of the people but an authentic leader will never yield to such impulse, because leadership is not domination.

During the commemoration of the 90th birthday anniversary of Nelson Mandela; Professor Ali Mazrui said: “Nelson Mandela is one of the most extraordinary individuals in my own lifetime, and fortunately widely recognized by the world as extraordinary. So that’s a very important element in our situation. We haven’t had many such people in history”. Madiba became a hero not only because he fought against domination but because he surrendered political power to give way to the continuity of a democratic process at a time he had every reason to cling to it and that is authentic leadership in action. African leaders must draw inspiration from people like Mandela who epitomizes and exemplifies authentic leadership.

Africans must stand up and speak out loud against tyrannical and despotic leadership, now is the time to revive our democracy and democratic processes. We have seen what happened in Egypt and how the Egyptians took their destiny in their own hands against long years of oppressive rule and for the first time in several years we are experiencing what could happen when people begin to know the real meaning of democracy and what leadership entails. Many African countries are beginning to wake up to their collective responsibilities in accordance with tenets of democracy.

The citizens must participate actively in electing who governs them and in another sense active participation should involve ordinary citizen contesting for elective offices, nobody has a monopoly of wisdom. We are all talented and gifted in one capacity or the other. Young Africans should begin to look within and see the leadership genius in them, the future belongs to the youths and they must learn from history for those who fail to learn from history become history while they are still alive. Leadership lessons should be taught in our schools and religious centers with more emphasis on good governance and corporate responsibility as good citizens of a particular nation. People must be taught to be patriotic early in life as it is being done in some African countries.

It is axiomatic to say that a leader is not truly a success until his successors are successful, a leader must be secure enough to mentor his people into a position of leadership. Most African leaders have what I can call insecurity complex and that explains the reason why they can never be good mentors, most of them are bankrupt in character with legacy of manifold corruption and illegality of monumental proportion. Most African leaders are failing the final test of leadership; According to Walter Lippmann "The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on... The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully."

We must focus on solutions, what is the way forward for Africa democracy? The answers are well spread over the lines of this article. Africans need visionary leaders, for vision is the essence of leadership, A new Africa must emerge; a new Africa with passionate and visionary leadership, a new Africa with an understanding of democracy and leadership.
When people begin to realize that they have a part to play and do their part to be part of history; then things begin to change, when the people stop the blame game and play to be the difference and make a difference, then the story will change. This is one of the ways of reviving democracy and democratic processes in Africa."Together we can revive this continent, revamp our economic orientation and resuscitate our failing democratic structures, and the time is now.

"Leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best from themselves and others” Anonymous.
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15 February 2011

A conversation with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah: Africans as producers of knowledge

Thembani Mbadlanyana, is a Masters in Public Administration candidate at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, Paris-France

I know that Dr. Nkrumah would be happy to hear me saying that, indeed, Africa has a noble and rich history. As we are deep into our conversation and trying to reconstruct the history and map out and elaborate new visions for the future of the continent, Nkrumah whispers to me, “there is a need for Africans to explain their own culture, and interpret their own thought and soul life, if the complete truth is to be given to the other races of the earth”. He insists, “the next edition of Encyclopaedia Africana should be produced in Africa, under the direction and editorship of Africans, and with the maximum participation of African scholars in all countries”. He further tells me that “if the intellectual project is to be relevant to Africans, there is a need for an Afro-centric point of view for the Encyclopaedia Africana” and he fiercely maintains that the Encyclopaedia Africana must reject non-African value judgments of things African.

I easily agree with him. I tell him that my agreement is based on my historical deduction and my imagineering of plausible and probably African futures. I remind him that, having observed Africa’s glorious past, Old Romans concluded that "Semper aliquid novi ex Africa" (From Africa always something new). I add, one wonders whether when it comes to present day Africa with regard to knowledge generation, does the old Roman saying still hold and can we confidently say today that from Africa new ideas always emerge? I ask him whether with the introduction of Encyclopaedia Africana, is there a promise that that the rest of the world will get to say in agreement once again that from Africa always something new? I tell him that, my answer to the two questions is a resolute no! Africa lost its former glory and nothing, at least for now, that has international relevance will come from our continent.
To me, the continent lost its former glory and our political history is the culprit. African intellectual traditions and discursive communities were suppressed. The new army of missionaries, social anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists trooping into Africa in the periods immediately before and after ‘independence’ would go on to deploy their ‘extroverted’ mode of writing and thinking about Africa and Africans (see writings by the late Archibald Mafeje). They made their job to narrativize about Africans and Africa from their own ill-informed perspectives.

To his surprise, I then tell Dr. Nkrumah that, the new postcolonial thinking class and the following generation of African public intellectuals also contributed to misrepresentation of Africa. They heralded a break with earlier African intellectual traditions epitomized by such thinkers as Ahmed Baba. Their central thematics were not grounded in and driven by the affirmation of African experiences and ontological accounting for the self. They didn’t show an uncompromising refutation of the epistemology of alterity that shaped colonial modes of gazing and writing about Africa and Africans. They didn’t embrace a method of scholarship rooted in the collective Self.

However, there have been some changes over the years. As an appeasement to Nkrumah, around early 70s until early 90s a new breed of African intellectuals as shown by Achilles Mbebe, started to explain their own culture, and interpret their own African philosophical thought. This new breed of intellectuals explained new experiences and ideas in the most accessible and understandable ways to the rest of society. They didn’t rely on ‘importation of ideas’ and they didn’t address African issues in borrowed languages and paradigms.

Nonetheless, this didn’t last. To his surprise, I tell Nkrumah that today’s African thinking class is preoccupied with ‘status anxiety’, how it is seen by the other in the Global North. Despite all the progress made in trying to bring back the former glory of the continent, they fail to infuse an afrocentric view in their analysis, research and writing. Afraid to disappoint him, I reluctantly tell Nkrumah that, despite all the progress made by our Radical Scholars from the Dakar and Dar Es Salaam Schools of Thought, there is still a long way to go.

We desperately need redeemers to reconnect us to the profound scholarship of the real intellectuals of the bygone era. He smiles when I tell him that, Africa needs intellectuals who are grounded on something, that is their ontological experiences; intellectuals with continentally relevant paradigms and languages; intellectuals who are preoccupied with the labour of the mind and soul not status anxiety; intellectuals that are committed to the intellectual, social, economic and political transformation of the continent and more importantly; intellectuals who are committed in assisting the continent as it is busy reconstructing its past, interpreting the present and navigating or mapping out new visions for the future.

I then tell Dr. Nkrumah that, the time for public intellectuals who excel in decontetxualized abstraction and catalogues and in methodological inexactitude is gone. As the late Archie Mafeje would say, wayward intellectuals who confuse feigned erudition with committed scholarship have no place in our society. The time for derivative scholarship is passé; it has reached its sell-by date. Nkrumah becomes so relieved when I tell him that, there is an increasing acknowledgement amongst the emerging and young cream of African intelligentsia that, there is a need to show an uncompromising aversion to the ‘epistemology of alterity’ – the ‘othering’ of Africa and Africans. I see a smile on his face when I tell him that; there is a need for the advancement of scholarship grounded in the centering of African ontological experiences.

As we conclude our conversation, we reach an agreement that, if we are going to have the rest of the world to say "Semper aliquid novi ex Africa" (From Africa always something new), we need African intellectuals who will continue infusing afrocentric views in their analysis, research and writing. We need intellectuals who will focus on churning out new endogenous ideas so that we can continue to de-whiten human civilization and paint human imperfections with a black and white colour.
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07 February 2011

Aluta Continua: what can Sub-Saharan Africa learn from the Maghreb revolutions?

By Nadia Ahmadou, MA African Studies at University of Basel

Tunisia surprised the continent and the world, by shaking up its current political spectrum through a wave of civilian disobedience and unrest. This movement is born from a host of socio-political and economic factors that plague the majority of the African nations, ranging from poor health, education, unemployment to limited access to political and economic prosperous ventures. This movement shortly thereafter produced significant results as it led to the departure of the president and a new government being set up. In addition, the mandate of this new government has been widened to include the development of hitherto poor regions of the country that suffered most from the lack of dedication of their political leaders. The movement didn’t stop there, but also influenced the birth of a similar movement in neighboring Egypt, suffering a similar predicament and clamoring high for positive change. The political movements in Egypt have been able to put to use the activities of the ordinary citizen, to what we hope will benefit them all.

As we recognize and applaud the courage of Tunisian citizens in addressing their problems directly and also for the positive influence they have had in nearby Egypt, it is important to recognize that sub-Saharan Africa suffers from the same malaises of poverty and insecurity. Are there any lessons that sub-Saharan Africa can garner from the actions of our brothers and sisters of the Maghreb to assist us equally? Of course one must always acknowledge context and I am in no way calling for revolutions to spring up across the continent. God knows, we have enough conflicts to deal with as is; one only has to look at recent happenings in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Sudan as testament. However, the hope and passion witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt must not go to waste as time goes by and other current events replace them in the headlines. It is important to examine this question so that it does not take 30 years or 21 years as in the case of Egypt and Tunisia respectively for the people of sub-Saharan African to air out their grievances. Indeed, as Africa looks to 18 presidential elections this year, Egypt included what should African people maximize their roles in the democratic exercise?

This should be a reminder to us all that real power lies within the ordinary citizen. It is the ordinary person who votes, the ordinary person who has rights, the ordinary person who has duties. Independence and the advent of democracy has clouded this and most people have forgotten that it is not the elite who own and control the rest, but rather the elite who should support and assist the rest. If those at the top who we trust to make our lives better are not doing so, then they should be replaced by people who will deliver. This replacement should not be dependent on the whims of the profiteering elite, but simply on the ordinary person who deserves adequate access to food, healthcare, education and economic opportunities. This is a key lesson for what sets to be the new nation of Southern Sudan. The citizens of this nation who decisively declared this historic division of Africa’s biggest nation need to hold these principles about leadership and democratic participation as the holy ground to which their new state shall exist. Citizens of Southern Sudan now have the opportunity to be part and parcel of the establishment and entrenchment of democratic institutions within their countries. Following the Tunisian example, they should actively participate in all levels of the process to ensure that their needs and rights are met every single step of the way. This would go a long way to prevent a descent into the civil conflicts we are currently witnessing. It would also allow for the development of a new leadership in Africa, leadership that is accountable from the onset and stays so based on guidance from those it is at the service of. On the other hand, Nigeria one of Africa’s powerhouses needs to look closer at how fast a powerhouse can fall as few of us believed that Egypt, the second biggest economy in Africa, could be today at its knees because the people are tired of a power that only serves the elites as the patronage of Mubarak exhibits. If anything, the downfall of neighboring Ivory Coast, once economic powerhouse for the continent is an additional example of how disenchantment can plunge a country into civil war. As always, the example is clear, one must prevent the worst case scenario by putting into place the right mechanisms to ensure a protection of basic citizen rights. Prevention is always better than cure.

Thomas Sankara taught us “…we could dare to have confidence in ourselves, confidence in our abilities. He instilled in us the conviction that struggle is our only recourse. He was a citizen of the free world that together we are in the process of building.” (Thomas Sankara, October 1984) As we cheer on our brothers and sisters of the Maghreb, and watch the mess being made by our very own political elite with the unfolding of recent events , it would do us good to remember this and attempt to harness this power for the better. The era of the revolutionary has not come to an end just yet.
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01 February 2011

Celebrating our own: The power of local knowledge

January has come and gone, and most of us have wished our compliments for the happy new year to those we know, made resolutions, some of which we stuck to, at least in the beginning, and have now had the time to know which one of those have already gone down the drain-or will soon be heading that way. But, we also know which commitments we are going to keep, and as the month ends, we grown even more positive as things become clearer that we have made the right decisions. What is left now is for us to work towards our set goals. This is true for us at Bokamoso Leadership Forum.

Therefore it is only right that on this first day of February, we launch our theme for the year - 'Celebrating our own: The power of local knowledge'. This is a commitment from us that during the year, we will do our best to bring to the light the best of our local knowledge, our ‘traditional’ or cultural institutions and strategies, and show how useful these can be in the 21st century. This is not to say that all of them are or were good, or that we would like to go back, but it is rather an attempt for us, all of us, to reflect on what our rich cultures have to offer, without shame or favor, and highlight it so that in the end, before we throw everything away, we are sure that it is only the unnecessary that we leave behind.

Last year our theme of the year was “Gearing up towards the FIFA World Cup in South Africa 2010.” We examined the World Cup as an example of looking at sports as part of governance, diplomacy, infrastructure development as we looked at the impact of the world cup on telecommunications, and African ‘aesthetics’ such as the controversy of the vuvuzela. This new theme of local knowledge we intend to look at the success of the ‘African’ world cup as contributing to, and a product of, African knowledge production.

As in 2010 many African nations celebrated 50 years of independence, the limited inclination to blow our horns in boistorerous celebrations, is revealing of the necessity to go back to the basics as we look forward to another 50 years of African politics, economics, culture and community which is the home of the ‘local’. As over 18 African countries will be hosting elections this year, it is worth revisiting and redefining if need be our ‘local’ understanding of leadership, participation, democracy, governance and indeed the local as it relates to the nation and the nation relating to the continental. What is the ‘local’ in Africa in 2011? What is knowledge? And indeed what is power? Thus, we invite you to share your thoughts with us as you have done so spectacularly in the past year, to send us articles related to the theme 'Celebrating our own: The power of local knowledge'. Share with us the brilliance of your culture and your local knowledge system, after all, its 20elevation aka 2011, let us celebrate our own!
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