Africa and dearth of great leaders

On February 28, 2017, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced that there was no winner for the 2016 Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership for the second year running. While announcing this, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, Chairman of the Prize Committee, said, “As I emphasise each year, a very high bar was deliberately set when the Prize was launched in 2006. We recognise and applaud the important contributions that many African leaders have made to change their countries for the better. But the Prize is intended to highlight and celebrate truly exceptional leadership, which is uncommon by its very definition. After careful consideration, the Committee has decided not to award the Prize in 2016.”

Similarly, the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation had earlier announced that no winner was found for the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership in 2016.

Selection Panel chairman and former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said in a statement that though the panel had received many nominations, it found none suitable for the coveted prize.

Anyaoku said, “The committee wishes to note that the nominees are highly respected persons who have made significant impact, in various spheres of endeavour.

“However, it is important to reiterate that the criteria for selecting an awardee for the prize include integrity, credibility, discipline, visionary leadership, people-centred leadership, grassroots friendly policies, positive policy intervention, impact on poverty reduction/increased welfare, respect for rule of law, honesty, courage, selflessness and accountability as epitomised by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

“A recipient of the award is expected to substantially embody these criteria.

“After thorough and detailed consideration, we regret to announce that we are unable to award the prize this year.”

The panel chairman then said instead of the award ceremony that would have taken place had there been an awardee the committee would hold a lecture. That was done on March 6.


Scarcity of great leaders

Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Obafemi Awolowo Foundation fish in the same pond to bring to the fore exemplary leaders in Africa for reward so as to serve as motivation for others to lead right. Mo Ibrahim does this every year while that of Obafemi Awolowo Foundation is biennial. But unfortunately, the two organizations did not find any African outstanding enough to win either of the cherished prizes between 2015 and 2016. This speaks volume about the quality of leadership on the continent.

Africa is in a deplorable state not because of the absence of leaders but because great leaders are in short supply on the continent. Africa is arguably the most endowed of all the continents but it is also unarguably the least developed. The reason is not a mystery; it is because the continent is deficient of great leadership. Resources are nothing without the input of great leadership. It is leadership that mobilizes resources to produce results. The abundant resources of Africa have not liberated the people of Africa from hunger, diseases, squalor and deprivation because the right leadership which is supposed to galvanize the resources to deliver the peoples of Africa from all these is lacking. When the right leadership is in place in Africa, the continent will experience development.


Why leadership matters

Leaders make things happen. When poor leadership is in place at home, the family is turned into tatters. When a community lacks the right leadership, it goes into disarray. Businesses, economies, organizations and even nations are brought to their knees when they lack the right leadership. Everything falls into place when the right leadership is in place. Hence, the appropriateness of John Maxwell’s submission that everything rises and falls on leadership.


Why great leaders are in short supply

A number of factors are responsible for the dearth of great leaders. Here are some of them.


Seeing leadership as an end

Many of the people occupying leadership positions see their positions as an end. To get to the top, men and women will do all they can but as soon as they get their desire, they believe that the purpose of their striving is served. But leadership is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. The end of leadership is service to others. Leaders are put in place to do for others what they cannot do for themselves. When leaders are of the view that leadership is an end, they begin to think that it is about them. When leaders see leadership as an end rather than a means to an end, they sacrifice commitment for convenience. Rather than work for the people, they work for themselves. They are more concerned about what they get from their exalted positions than what they give up as a result of occupying those high offices. They are focused more on their entitlement than on helping the people. Leaders slide from their enviable height to a pitiable nadir when they start thinking that leadership is about them because they stop serving the people and long to be served by the people. Once a leader loses his service orientation, he drops the handle of his leadership because at that point, greed takes over.


Consistency in doing what is right

There are very few people who aspire to high offices with the intention of doing evil. Many leaders, including, those who turn out badly, had great dreams for their organizations before ascending their positions. But soon after getting into office, they shift their gaze from what brought them into office to other things. They lose their focus. Once focus is lost, vision becomes blurry and accident becomes imminent.

Every military head of state that seized power in Nigeria had very sublime intentions. They regaled ‘fellow Nigerians’ with tales of the misdeeds perpetrated by the administration they just overthrew and promised to correct all the wrongs. They got into office armed with the knowledge of what to do and started on the right course to the adulation of the people. But before long, they deviated, went after other things, thus setting the stage for another coup d’état. Their failure was their inability to continue to do what was right.

Many leaders veer off the right course because of their failure to be consistent. Great leadership is anchored on consistently doing what is right. Very few people can muster the courage to do this because it calls for a very high level of discipline. Leaders are regularly faced with the temptation to shelve what will benefit the majority for what will improve the lot of just a few. They often have to choose between doing the noble and opting for the popular. While it is always a very difficult choice to make, doing what is right consistently puts leaders on the pathway to greatness.



Very few leaders end their leadership career with the same gusto they started it. Quite often, after a while in office, they lose their zest and slip into ordinariness. Great leaders are often distinguished by the vision they cast for their people. They are driven by the hunger to realize their vision. They work day and night for the actualization of the vision. But after repeated success, they become so acquainted with success that they are no longer motivated by it because they have come to see it as a matter of course. That is when complacency sets in and they begin to count their accomplishments in office instead of doing what counts. At this point they start setting uninspiring goals. Now, if a leader’s vision fails to inspire him, how can he hope to inspire others with it?

Rather than surrendering to complacency, what great leaders do is that they keep setting higher goals each time they achieve a set goal. That way, they stay motivated, inspired and challenged. When a great leader records a feat, he does not engage in chest-thumping, he sets his eyes on something higher and better.


Failure to mentor others

Great leaders want those coming behind to be better than they are. Most African leaders fall short in this respect. Their joy is not in producing greater leaders but to be the only cock in the cage. It is the aspiration of many an African leader not only to outshine everyone in his generation but to ensure that succeeding generations do not match his achievements. For this reason, they don’t mentor others, they don’t groom their followers, they don’t bend their shoulders for those coming behind to climb on to see farther than they have seen. That is why many of those who have held leadership positions on the continent fail to write books that detail how they were able to do what they did, how they overcame obstacles and what lessons there are for coming generations to learn. If they do write books, those books are used as platforms for self glorification; not a guide for those coming behind. It boils down to seeing leadership as a movie with the leader as the star actor. But when the truth dawns on a leader that leadership is not about him but about the people, he will do things differently.


Lack of resourcefulness

Leaders solve problems. But solving a problem is not a guarantee that another will not surface. Leaders must consistently solve problems to remain relevant and to be on top of their games. One factor that positions leaders for continuous problem solving is resourcefulness. Resourceful leaders never get overwhelmed by any problem. They approach every problem with a ‘can do’ attitude. This is not quite a common trait in Africa. Many African leaders are quick to look abroad for solutions to their problems instead of looking inwards to proffer solutions. This has made Africa an appendage to other continents. Africa started the solicitation for aids from Europe, then African leaders travelled to the United States of America. The new destination now is China and the rest of Asia. They have demonstrated lack of capacity for resourcefulness. This is one of the reasons Africa countries are regarded as third world countries, the countries that trail behind others.


Last line

He lives best who serves most.