Recently I had the privilege of attending the Mandela Institute of Development Studies’ (MINDS) Youth Program on Elections and Governance. Needless to say, I met young people who, like me, have a passion for the development of Africa and who understood the importance of good and sound governance in making a reality the full potential of the continent.

What really struck me was the strong focus on the role of political leadership and political systems in the pursuit of effective governance.

However, as important as that is, my notion of leadership and governance in the continent changed in Honours class, where a certain Dr Siphamandla Zondi “uNondaba” presented his first lecture around the concept of citizenship. He challenged us, citizens of Africa, that we had a duty that far exceeds the simple act of putting a cross against a party.

He argued that while elections were important, they did not exceed the role that we in academia and the broader society had in providing the kind of solutions that would meet the challenges of society.

We, as a continent, have continually been fixated with the “Big Man” syndrome, where we depend on the capabilities of a certain personality to solve our issues, failing to understand that we place ourselves in two disadvantages. The first, we are at the mercy of this personality to maintain their commitment to the interest of his nation.

Former president of the Republic of South Africa Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008)

Ask the Zimbabweans or the Ugandans how that ended up. Subsequently, we also find out that the commitment placed by these big men are not shared by their fellow comrades, and that these commitments die as soon as they leave active political involvement. You only need to look at how quickly the Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) died after President Thabo Mbeki left the stage.

In analysing the quality of leadership on the continent, we have been quick to give it a bad assessment. The reason being we tend to solely connect leadership to politics. However, I am reminded by a fellow Mandela Rhodes Scholar, Sebenzile Nkambule, who reminded the cohort that if we broaden leadership to include non-political leadership on the continent, we will then find ourselves being less pessimistic about the quality of leadership and the hopes of the continent.

This increase in optimism then made me think, what if this non-political leadership played a greater role in governance? What would be the consequences for the continent of Africa?

I argue that we have made a mistake by assuming that governance solely equals government! For this would be in contradiction to the saying “government by the people”. The people being in the business sector, social entrepreneurship, arts, science, sports, the religious sector and other sectors have the critical role in the attainment of African development.

What we need is a bottom- up approach that will see business sectors ask “how can we use our financial weight to contribute to the development of the continent”, this could be in financing housing schemes in mining communities, or building water infrastructure or the simple act of providing skills development to high school leavers.

Those in academia can play a role through research and innovation to find new solutions to the challenges we have, rather than just speak among them; they need to include the broader society in the discussion for academia should never be an elitist endeavour!

If we focus on finding community-driven solutions they will have a greater chance of surviving, for they do not have the kind of fickleness we see in politically motivated solutions, and this must be the new course for us to chart.

Photo Credit: REX/Shutterstock

Bantu Biko put it nicely when he said that “black man you [are] on your own” and until we except this and cutoff our abusive relationship with political leaders who keep abusing our trust and state of health, we will remain a continent that isn’t at peace with herself. For being African is to truly embrace Ubuntu, not just as a philosophical endeavour, but really as a value system that we live by.

It is as simple as when we see guys in the township fill potholes for anything you can give them. Without knowing, they have filled the role that ordinarily would fall under the jurisdiction of local government and filled it.

They saw an opportunity to fill a gap in government-driven governance with citizen-driven governance. I beseech thee my fellow Africans that we need to break the mental yoke that binds us to thinking that all our problems will be solved in Addis Ababa, Union Buildings or even the UN. I call on all of us to do our bit to make Africa the bright spot of the world, or cry the beloved continent!

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