There is a significant correlation between leadership and economic development of countries. This correlation cannot be undermined. The world has seen how visionary leaderships from different countries have been able to transform the stories of their countries especially since after the WWII. Leadership is key as it provides direction for a country through sound and well-thought out policies and supervises the implementation of these policies. The world has seen leaders of nations perform miracles under the worst of circumstances. The world is witness to many countries with no resources, very key natural setbacks and economic depression emerge from destitution to greatness. In most cases, leadership influenced this transition because in these countries the correlation between the investments, decisions, policies and ideas of most of their founding leaders and their current development status becomes particularly obvious. Israel for example was ‘reestablished’ in 1948 in a desert, with no single natural resources but today she has become a military and economic giant in the world with one of the best public services and Human Development Indexes (HDI). This is partly attributable to the efforts of her founding father, David Ben-Gurion, who helped build viable and vibrant state institutions, and presided over various national projects aimed at the development of the country. Other Israeli leaders followed the pathway he created and this resulted in the highly developed Israel they have today. For a country with her peculiar history, Israel’s macro-economic indices are shocking: GDP (nominal): $305.707bn; per capita: $38,004 (25th); HDI: 0.888 (19th).
Contemporary history is replete with amazing stories of visionary leaders who transform their countries and place those countries on enviable pedestal. Lee Yuan Yew of Singapore, through prudent economic development policies, was able to transform a former third world country to first within 3 decades. Singapore, it should be pointed out, has no single natural resources, was even importing water from Malaysia in the 60s and was very underdeveloped. Today, Singapore’s remarkable macro-economic statistics read: (GDP (nominal): US$308.051bn; Per capita: US$56,319 (3rd); HDI: 0.901 (9th). Jawaharlal Nehru of India invested in education and technology, today India is a technology giant and is the destination of choice for medical tourism. Deng Xiaoping of China in post-Mao years, transformed China into an economic giant through far-reaching market-economy reforms by opening China to foreign investments and the global market. He developed China into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world for over 35 years, thereby raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. Park Chung-Hee of South Korea played a pivotal role in the development of South Korea’s tiger economy by shifting its focus to export-oriented industrialization through key economic development agencies. Reference must also be made to the works of Fidel Castro of Cuba who developed a country with one of the best HDIs in the world, remarkable public services, first class health services and education with an economy that is dependent on cigar, sugar, cane, tourism and tea. Similarly, countries like Indonesia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Iran, Malaysia, Brazil etc transitioned from small economies with terrible standards of living to big and blooming economies with great macro-economic indices because their leaders demonstrated a high degree of official responsibility with regards to public policy formulation.
Some of these countries above were former third world countries; got their independence at almost the same time with most African countries; and have limited natural resources. With most of the leaders above, there were no narratives of cases of corruption, misgovernance, nepotism, mismanagement, and gross abuse of power. Most of them were keen on making sure that an escalating population growth did not overburden development. To this end, therefore, they formulated policies; managed diversities in the best of ways and had clear-cut development policies. They were focused on developing their countries, engendering economic prosperity and lifting millions out of poverty.
This is in sharp contrast to demoralising stories from African countries where, even with huge deposits of mineral-natural resources, vast arable lands and good climate for agriculture; huge revenues earned from the exportation of these mineral resources and the strategic location of Africa in the world, African leaders have failed to develop their countries. Rather Africa has been marred by a lot of conflicts; with the highest rates of dependency on foreign aid, debt, food importation, hunger, inequalities, poverty, child mortality, unemployment, diseases, acute corruption, poor governance, poor infrastructures, lack of quality healthcare, lack of good and efficient public transportation, low standards of living and low manufacturing capacities.
I am set to challenge the narrative that Africa is still underdeveloped mainly because of the elements of colonialism and foreign manipulations. I think that Africa’s failure is a function of leadership crisis. Most of the countries which I have enumerated above were also colonized. Most of them also received aid with strings attached to them. But they used the aid to power development unlike their counterparts in Africa who see their positions as the expressway to the commonwealth. Africa has the longest set of overstayed leaders and dictators that never did anything with their absolute powers. Africa’s political formation along tribal groupings and ethnic aggregations is no less a culprit in this mess. The obvious consequence is that visionary leaders are dropped while mediocrity is elevated to a statecraft. Ultimately, the masses are the ultimate losers.
During the Cold War Era, Africa saw a lot of dictators emerge. Most of them never cared about their nations’ development and socio-economic deliverables. Their preoccupations were embezzlement, banning political parties, human rights abuses, consolidating nepotism, murder and looting, cutting freedom of expression and organizations with no single economic direction. Most African leaders ended up treating their countries as their personal estates. In other cases, a decline in morals and discipline caused or combined with bad policies eroded professional standards and ethics and weakened the system of governance. Institutional decay became an inevitable corollary. Only a few African leaders have voluntarily left office; most were assassinated or were disposed by military coups or turned into Life Presidents.
Africa has produced the most corrupt and dumb leaders in this world. That may sound like a harsh indictment, but the facts speak for themselves. The examples are demoralizing as they are legion. Milton Obote & Idi Amin of Uganda stood out as signposts of corruption and tyranny in their days. Mobutu Sese Seko’s brutal regime in DRC, the richest country in the world in terms of mineral resources but the most messed up in terms of economic development & stability cannot be overlooked. José dos Santos, the Africa’s second longest serving president in Angola, one of the richest countries in the world but has 68% of her total population live below the poverty line of $1.7 a day. And then there is Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabweans into economic misery with terrible HDI and per capita, an unemployment rate of 60% (the highest in sub-Saharan Africa) & one of the most valueless currencies in the world. – We cannot even begin to talk of Kamuzu Banda of Malawi who proclaimed himself as “Life President” of the country & Life Chairman of his party with terrible development and human rights records. Nor can we ignore Teodoro Nguema, Africa’s longest serving ruler who has ruled Equatorial Guinea since 1979 with high corruption rate, lack of respect for the rule of law, large inequality margin, political executions, low economic development, warped democracy, and unabashed authoritarianism. Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan has totally messed up so rich a country blessed by Nature with abundant mineral resources, and has siphoned some $9bn of his country’s funds into his private bank accounts in the United Kingdom. In the same vein, one cannot forget in a hurry the regime of Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic. These are few out of a plethora of instances where tyranny meets corruption and gross inefficiency with the attendant dire consequences for the nation and the people. One could conclude that most African countries were and are still been ruled by lazy & dumb tyrants. As a result, development remains a tall objective for the continent. Most of these despotic leaders have intentionally rendered democracy and development useless in their countries simply because they want to remain in power.
It’s instructive to note that no nation has ever achieved meaningful development socially, politically or economically without the input of an effective leadership. The way most African leaders had run their countries largely determined the economic and human development levels of their countries.
The concept of leadership serves as the pivot on which social, political and economic structures rest. The numerous problems which have been bedeviling African states should be blamed on ineffective leadership. For Africa to develop, Africans should demand transparency and accountability, and question their leaders. The selection and electioneering processes should be looked at and there should be a leadership reformatory agenda.
Chambers Umezulike is a Nigerian Novelist, a secular humanist and Revolutionary/Youth Advocate