Africa: Is Transformation From A “Dark Continent” Possible Under Political Ambiguity?

By David K. Dahn  +231(0)886568666/7755466683

This article offers fresh insights into the unending frontal debate regarding political ambiguity in Africa. In my settled consideration, the pace of suffering, pillaging and stunted growth of Africa, compared to other regions of the world is a consequential effect traceable to poor political leadership. This  is a solvable puzzle though, if only attention is drawn by continental leaders to the continent’s plight. Samuel Adei notes, “In the last hundred years or so, leadership has been the determining factor for nation to progress”(10th  William Ofori-Atta Memorial Lectures, October 28-30, 2003, pp1-38).

An Asian friend mockingly threw these doubled barrel questions at me- “Why is Africa always associated with stories of traditional and nontraditional security threats including war, hunger, HIV/AIDS, poverty, unemployment, etc and what are the political leaders doing to mitigate the suffering of the people?” These were embarrassing but brutally frank questions. My response was unusually brief as contained in this summarization: “Africa needs statesmen/women(generational thinkers) and not politicians(political cycle thinkers)”.

Implicitly, a piece banking on political leadership’s role in transforming Africa is more generic and does not reference any particular leader either in the past, present or future. But there is no contradiction in my mind  that this piece is a prescription for a provocative leadership debate that the reading audience is expected to use in mirroring the past, evaluate the present and project the future for the domestic environment they anticipate decades ahead.

European scholars’ characterization of Africa as the “dark continent” sounds demeaning. Since the disdainful description of Africa as a  dark continent, what vision of the kind of transformative  environment have been developed  by African leaders to turn the continent from ‘dark’ to ‘light’? No! If Africa’s resources were to be pooled , can the continent’s class of intelligentsia and ‘venerated leaders’ come to replace arrogant response to the “dark continent debate” instead with action-oriented leadership?

I believe yes! An issue here is the cocktail diluted irony for Africa which I choose not to massage; in most cases, political changes become catastrophic on a continent endowed with preponderance of wealth, leaving the people in a worst state of destitution than previously experienced (Adei, 2003). As inscribed on the walls of one of China’s war museums, “If you forget suffering, suffering will knock at your door again… and all men share a responsibility for the rise of their nation.”

In this instant case, all Africans share responsibility for the rise of their continent. More profoundly if African leaders are ever to listen to voices of reasons, I have elevated the thoughts of two distinguished personalities. According to Professor John P. Kotter, “leadership is the development of vision and strategies; the alignment of relevant people behind the strategies; and the empowerment of individuals (groups and societies) to make the vision happen despite obstacles”.  Who are those relevant people African leaders are aligning behind their strategies (if any) for which progress is stalled on the continent?

The takeaway in here is, a leader’s success is contingent upon ‘strategy’ and let me take the latitude to add  in the words of Gene Sharp as quoted by Srdja Popovic (2015) ‘grand strategy’, “the overall conception which serves to coordinate and direct all appropriate and available resources( economic, human, moral, organizational, etc)of the nation or other group to attain its objectives….(p.189)” As for Harry S. Truman, he reminds us that “men make history and not the other way around.

In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” Again if I may restate for emphasis, have African leaders seized the opportunity to change things for the overall betterment of the continent’s population? Whatever your response, one thing I can say for sure is that African leaders, under the beating wave of globalization and informationization should not afford to fiercely resist change and continue to behave opportunistically.

Why am I concerned? The answer was provided by Martin Luther King, Jr., many years back; “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. And what matters to me now is the fundamental question: Is Africa still a dark continent or have we shifted the paradigm, with emphasis on human and political progress and developmentalism?”

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