The Impact Of Leadership And Governance On Africa’s Economy

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Over the past few decades the focus of most African States has been on developing their economies, however, efforts by most states seem to have only yielded marginal success. While several studies have attributed the causes of retarded development in Africa to colonialism, neocolonialism, corruption, insufficient technical assistance, unfavorable terms of trade, inadequate entrepreneurial skills, and incompetent management, among others, governance has long been suspected to be a major impediment to economic development in most African States. This suspicion came to the fore in the late 1970s when African economies suffered major setbacks after independence. In a 1981 report, commissioned by the Bretton Woods Institutions, Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action, which came to be known simply as the “Berg Report,” poor governance was highlighted as a main impediment against Africa’s economic development, (World Bank, 1981). Accordingly, this paper seeks to discuss how leadership and governance may have contributed either positively or negatively to Africa’s development based on examples of former leader Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and the countries they shaped.

Governance refers to the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority to manage the affairs of a family, community or a nation, irrespective of the method, that is whether good or bad, used by the governing body to distribute power and manage resources, affairs and problems. The working definition of what constitutes good governance has evolved over the years. (Schneider ,1999) defines good governance as the exercise of authority, or control to manage a country’s affairs and resources. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID, 2002), on the other hand, defines good governance as a complex system of interaction among structures, traditions, functions, and processes characterized by values of accountability, transparency, and participation. The (UNDP, 2002) defines good governance as striving for rule of law, transparency, equity, effectiveness /efficiency, accountability, and strategic vision in the exercise of political, economic, and administrative authority.

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Similarly, the definition of leadership has evolved since its introduction into academic introspection in the 1900s. The definition progressed from an emphasis on control and centralization of power to traits and influence. (Burns’, 1978’s) definition was however identified as the most important concept of leadership to emerge. He defined Leadership as the reciprocal process of mobilizing by person with certain motives and values, various economic, political and other resources, in a context of competition and conflict, in order to realize goals independently or mutually held by both leaders and followers. (Northouse, P. G., 2013)

Colonization left a legacy for internal struggle for power in most Africa states. In total, Africa has experienced at least two hundred (200) coup attempts since the 1960s with Burkina Faso topping the list with a total of ten (10) attempted coup d’états. An argument could be made that the frequent changes in leadership and differences in the ideologies of various leaders may be one of the reasons to blame for policy reversals in various African counties, which is in turn to blame for weak institutional patterns and the weakening in the system of governance in such states. Unlike in other parts of Africa, military coups have been extremely rare in southern Africa’s post-independence history. In fact, only Lesotho has had two (2) incidences of coup d’états, South Africa has not experienced any and until November 2017, neither had Zimbabwe. This notwithstanding, leadership and governance in both Zimbabwe and South Africa, post-independence, have played major roles in the state of the economy in both countries.

In 1980 many believed that Zimbabwe was in a better position than South Africa to succeed, as Greg Myre, an American national security correspondent with a focus on counter-terrorism, summarized for National Public Radio (NPR): “[If you were] gazing into the future from the vantage point of 1980, it would have been reasonable to predict that Zimbabwe had better prospects than South Africa.” Today, although the two (2) countries are still geographic neighbors, and have many similar ‘sub-Saharan’ characteristics, they could not be further apart. When Zimbabwe first declared independence in 1965, its economy was diverse, it had a well-built infrastructure, and an enviable financial sector. In the 1970s, the country had mining, agriculture, manufacturing, local businesses selling supplementary goods, and plenty of food. Former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, who occupied one high office or another in the country from 1980 to 2017 (Baker, 251), presided over the country’s transition from regional powerhouse into the economic ruin that it has become as evidenced by its annual inflation rate that rose as high as 79.6 sextillion percent (79.6 X 106) in November 2008 to 288% at the time of his resignation from government following a coup d’état. It is, therefore, tempting to understand Zimbabwe’s collapse only in terms of Former President Mugabe’s dictatorial style of governance Muvingi, I. (2008).

When colonialists left Zimbabwe (which was then called Southern Rhodesia), they left 70% of fertile land in the hands of a white minority. Former President Mugabe capitalized on anti-colonial sentiment and effectively cultivated and maintained a liberation-based entitlement discourse as the legitimating creed for holding political office Muvingi, I. (2008). In his determination to change the injustice against the black majority, the former president implemented a land reform program when a constitutional provision protecting white landowners expired. In 2000, the policy was enforced, with his authorization of the seizure of land from white farmers, burdening Britain to repay them (“Zimbabwe 2014”). The land was then redistributed to the elite, associates and fellow party members of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front ZANU-PF political party led by the former president. Many white farmers fled the country, taking their agricultural expertise with them (Baker, 251).

The exodus of the white farmers had devastating effects on Zimbabwe’s population and economy. With no plan in place to keep the planting and harvesting cycles turning, approximately 400,000 farm workers were left unemployed, but the government failed to manage the farms, leading to shortages of food such as corn and export crops such as tobacco (“Zimbabwe 2014”). Consequently, food prices soared, and shortages have remained common even recently. In 2014, for example, as many as 2.2 million Zimbabweans were in need of food assistance. With a formerly booming agricultural sector in ruins, investor confidence in Zimbabwe diminished. Consequently, the seizure of land from white farmers has been identified by many critics as a key factor in Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown since 2000.

In addition to the land reform policy, Ex-president Muagbe introduced other controversial laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a law that regulates the mass media and restricts their freedom as well as the Public Order and Security Act, which gives enormous powers to the police, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and has often been applied to obstruct protests against the government. As a result, the United States and the European Union (EU) imposed sanction on Zimbabwe during his era in 2002, reviewed the sanctions in 2019 and extended them until February 2020, citing a lack of progress in democratic and human rights reforms as well as restrictions on freedom of the press. The US’s financial and travel restrictions currently apply to eighty-five (85) current and former Zimbabwean government officials, including the current Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Fifty- six (56) farms, companies and organizations owned by these designated individuals, also face restrictions, in addition to a ban on transfers of defense items and services, and a suspension of non-humanitarian government-to-government assistance. Likewise, EU sanctions comprise travel restrictions and a freeze on assets targeted at specific individuals both within the Zimbabwean government and others associated with it, along with the sale of military hardware and equipment which might be used for internal repression.

For many years, Zimbabweans interviewed in the media turned to one refrain over and over that when the conditions in the country would get better when former President Mugabe stepped down due to old age or died. The former President was ousted from power in November 2017, and died in September 2019. But new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is yet to amend or repeal the controversial laws and has been accused by the US and EU of using many of the same repressive tactics that its longtime leader once did, plunging the country once again in a deep economic crisis. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Zimbabwe’s economy faced a steep economic contraction in 2019, with the country’s year-on-year inflation having soared up to 300%, the highest in the world. Electricity and clean water have had to be severely rationed, petrol stations either have no fuel or long queues. Workers and civil union societies, who have held several demonstrations for increased salaries have been cowed based on the laws with union leaders allegedly detained and abused by security officials. But such is the anger among ordinary Zimbabweans that calls for further protests have grown. In a statement issued on 26th October 2019 by the US embassy in Zimbabwe on the twitter social media platform stated that the fault for the failing economy lies with Zimbabwe’s government’s ‘failed economic policies’.

By contrast, South Africa is the second largest economy on the continent, with a Gross Domestic Product of $349.3 billion. Although the country is also facing socio-economic challenges, its economy is ten times better than that of Zimbabwe, according to World Bank statistics. Admittedly, South Africa’s current economic success cannot be solely be attributed to the efforts by the country’s first black president Nelson Mandela but like a relay baton race, I wish to argue that his style of governance and leadership evidenced by his management of the situation in the country in the days after colonization has contribute immensely to the country’s success in comparison to Zimbabwe.

When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he negotiated with the country’s white leaders for four (4) years to end apartheid. As the country’s first black president, he consistently preached national unity, sometimes to the point of irritating the country’s blacks, who felt he was too conciliatory. And on a continent where many leaders rule until they are overthrown or die, Mandela served just one five-year term and then retired in 1999 even though the South African constitution allows for a second term.

Mandela continued to negotiate with President F.W. de Klerk toward the country’s first non-racial elections. The first plenary session of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA I) began on December 21 1991, at the World Trade Centre in Johannesburg. White South Africans were willing to share power, but many black South Africans wanted a complete transfer of power. The negotiations were tense and violence across South African townships erupted, putting former president Mandela was under pressure and he had to keep a delicate balance of political pressure and intense negotiations in the midst of the demonstrations. Negotiations between black and white South Africans prevailed. On 27 April 1994, South Africa held its first democratic elections. The ANC won the election with 62.65 % of the vote.


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