Africa can reach its potential if more leaders put people first

Sound and visionary political leadership is vital to every country. But it is particularly important in the developing world, where the challenges can be far greater and the institutions and traditions of democratic, accountable governance may not be as mature or deeply rooted.

The modern history of Africa stands testament to the effect of sound leadership on the one hand and inadequate leadership on the other. Africa has produced many outstanding leaders who have shaped the political and development trajectory of the continent for the better. But our continent has also seen too many examples where those entrusted with the responsibility to govern have widened divisions rather than healed them.

We have witnessed, too, leaders failing to separate their personal interests from those of their country, hoarding public wealth for their personal use and, in the process, pushing their people into poverty. For this reason, it is crucial to promote good political leadership and celebrate its successes on the continent.

This is the aim of the Ibrahim Prize, established by Mo Ibrahim, an exceptional individual who is one of Africa’s most successful businesspeople and philanthropists. Since 2007, the prize has been awarded to outstanding and outgoing African leaders. President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique was the winner of the inaugural prize, followed by president Festus Mogae of Botswana and president Pedro Pires of Cape Verde.

In March this year I was humbled to learn that I had been selected to join these laureates after the independent prize committee judged me to be worthy of the 2014 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. In accepting the prize, I made clear that I considered it an honour not only for me, but also for Namibia and its people.

The genesis of my selection can be traced back 25 years to when Namibia gained freedom and independence and put the machinery of democratic governance in motion, following our country’s first free and fair elections. Guided by the principles enshrined in our democratic Constitution, the Swapo government adopted a policy of national reconciliation as the foundation for consolidating peace, stability, socioeconomic development and progress.

At the core of this policy was the need to heal a country deeply wounded by decades of conflict, war and mistrust. This required that the country’s leaders institutionalise a governance framework that promoted a culture of respect for human rights, accountability and good governance that remains the mantra of Namibian political culture.

This history meant that, during my 10 years as president, I could count on a highly supportive administrative environment and a society that cherished the principles of good governance, the rule of law and accountability. It was the commitment of the Namibian people to promoting these time-tested values that made possible the modest achievements that were recorded during my tenure. It is why, above all, this award is a recognition of Namibia as a peaceful and democratic country.

But although I am immensely proud of my country and what has been achieved, I believe that the desire for good governance is something deeply shared across our continent. I also know that our continent is endowed with many outstanding leaders in different spheres who are determined to make Africa a better place.

During my tenure as president, I had the opportunity to interact and work closely with leaders whose personal qualities and commitment to improving the lives of the African people were striking. In many cases, they faced more challenging political environments than I inherited when I assumed office. Yet they were determined to make a difference for the better and took deliberate steps to achieve these goals. These leaders stand as examples of what is both possible and achievable in realising the full potential of Africa. The principles of leadership are, of course, universal, but a case can be made that the difficult challenges facing those who lead African countries and the lack of a democratic history do make particular demands.


What are these demands and how can they best be met? I believe the new African leader must strive to deliver peace, unity and equitable development. This means governing in the best interests of all citizens, regardless of their political, ethnic or religious affiliation. It also underscores the importance of full compliance with constitutional provisions for presidential term limits.

Africa will be better positioned to achieve our collective ideals for peace and stability, development and progress when leaders commit to prioritising the interests of the people and do everything in their power to achieve these goals while they have the mandate of leadership.

Through the Ibrahim Prize, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation is playing a crucial role in promoting a vision for accountable leadership and good governance in Africa.

Hifikepunye Pohamba served as the president of Namibia from March 21 2005 to March 21 2015

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

‘Tenderpreneurs’ block the delivery of protective equipment to schools

Protests by local suppliers have delayed PPE delivery, which according to the DBE, is one of the reasons the reopening of schools has been pushed back until June 8

‘Soon he’ll be seen as threatening, not cute’: What it’s...

There is no separating George Floyd’s killing from the struggles black people have faced ever since the first slave ships landed on these shores

How schools could work during Covid

Ahead of their opening, the basic education department has given schools three models to consider to ensure physical distancing
Advertising

Press Releases

Mining company uses rich seam of technology to gear up for Covid-19

Itec Direct technology provides instant temperature screening of staff returniing to the workplace with no human contact

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday