I decided that I would listen to a Ted Talk every morning while having breakfast. The point is to keep my brain going from the beginning of the day, but not necessarily on political or topical subjects. Every week, I will pick the one that made me reflect the most. I will post it here, and share my views with you.
Fred Swaniker offers us his insights into Africa, its political history and how the continent’s lack of strong institutions have enabled single individuals to dictate their laws and act unilaterally, creating chaos and warfare throughout Africa. Coups d’état seem to be common and widely spread practice in Africa, as demonstrated by Burkina Faso’s recent military coup. This is, however, becoming less and less frequent, thanks to a shift in Africa’s politics, at least in some of its parts.
But what is the problem? Why are coups possible? Swaniker rightly explains that the continent possesses weak governmental institutions which are not capable of ensuring good governance and respecting democracy, thus allowing individuals to seize power illegally without consequences. They are also able to stay in power for long periods of time, thus ruling as autocrats, by dividing the population, annihilated the civil society and stomping on human rights. Mugabe in Zimbabwe is a perfect illustration of this type of leadership.
In Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré, who had been in power for 27 years and was yet willing to “run” again, was toppled by a popular uprising last November, following which the military seize power. A few days later, the military surrendered power, thus allowing the formation of a a transition government led by Michel Kafando, in charge of organizing free and democratic elections due on October 11th. On September 17th, Compaoré’s right arm, Gilbert Diendéré, perpetrated a coup against the transition government, hoping to reinstate the practices in place under the former dictator. This can also be explained by the fact that Campaoré’s clan cannot run for the upcoming presidential elections, as agreed by the transition government.
Mugabe and Compaoré are what Swaniker describes as generation 2 leaders: they came after the decolonization wave and instated regimes of terror, war and corruption in their countries, for their own profits. They exploited their countries’ resources and starved the populations. They both show that, in Africa, leadership matters because the institutions are too weak to counter balance the personal powers of autocrats, and
“Africa would rise or fall because of the quality of [their] leaders… In Africa more than anywhere else in the world, the difference that one good leader can make is much greater than elsewhere”.
Most countries in Africa have moved past generation 2, and have or are being led by generation 3 leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, who have cleaned up the mess of generation 2, stabilized their countries and developed their nations. South Africa is probably the best case of this.
Swaniker rightly points to the future: what will come next? All 3 generations involved old leaders, who must now pass the torch to the younger generations. But Africa is failing at producing homegrown leaders who are able to take up the task.
In addition, many challenges will surface, namely environmental ones but also linked to the demographic explosion the continent is facing. Economic opportunities will have to address the new demand in order to keep people at peace. Africa has the potential to do great things. People are resourceful, creative and the soils is full of natural resources such as oil, gas, minerals, etc. The solution to future problems are on the continent.
Africa must, however, seize its independence again. It must define solutions adapted to its own circumstances without depending on others, be it countries or international institutions. Africa must also be given a chance to build its own way to develop, which should be done by African leaders for the African people. Local institutions must be reinforced to ensure the stability of the local governments. These must be built around each countries’ specificities and not based on a universal model, dictated by foreigners. Let’s trust Africa that they know what is best for them.