In recognition of the urgent imperative for improving leadership qualities in Africa, a continent that has been driven by leadership crises, the Africa Leadership Forum was set up in 1988 as the initiative of General Olusegun Obasanjo, and with support of other individuals. The establishment of ALF was not fortuitous. It was, indeed, in response to a number of very pressing challenges facing post-independence Africa.
By the time independence came knocking as a result of nationalist agitations in the aftermath of World War II, not many Africans who were aspiring to assume the mantle of leadership were adequately prepared to carry out the onerous responsibility of managing the emerging nation-states. The colonialists had hardly given any serious thought to the important idea of training potential African leaders in the art of running a modern nation-state in a world under constant evolution. There had been so much premium on the struggle for independence and the acquisition of political power, that little or no thought was given to equipping the new leaders with the wherewithal to translate the dreams of independence into reality.
Barely a decade after political independence, it became evident that the promises of independence had become a pipe dream: the models of development adopted had woefully failed. In most cases, to resolve the enormous socio-economic problems facing the continent, several organs of the United Nations, such as the Economic Commission for Africa (E.C.A.) as well as the then Organisation of Africa Unity (O.A.U.), had predicted in various reports, what has come to be known as the “nightmare scenarios” in Africa in the 1980s. All indicators – economic, social and political – underscored a disquieting phenomenon characterised by stagnation, if not deterioration, and a bizarre time trap.
No less disquieting and frustrating was the stark reality that post-independence development models had been a total failure across almost the entire continent. And the capacity to deal with the problems on ground or to face the enormous challenges of the future remained nothing more than an illusion. Various studies had led to the inevitable but painful conclusion that the first generation of Africa leaders had been unable to muster political will to face the nitty-gritty of newly independent nations undergoing rapid evolution.
The scenario was not only becoming alarming but exasperating; indeed, Africa was gradually but steadily carving a notorious image for itself as a basket case. African economies were in a parlous state, to say the least. At a time of rising national debts, falling commodity prices and an ever-increasing import bills, inflation was doing battle with the precarious living conditions of the people. These inexorably led to exceptionally harsh and unbearable social conditions for the population of a continent that had imagined that political independence would bring progress, prosperity, peace and stability and not the opposite.
The situation was compounded by a woeful lack of democratic culture on the part of those in the saddle. Military dictatorship and one-party regimes sprouted across the continent making good governance impossible. This, not unexpectedly, was to hit at the very underbelly of good governance.
Sooner than later, Africans began to demand greater accountability and transparency from those at the helm of affairs. This culminated in the struggle for freedom, democracy and good governance, a phenomenon that came to be known as the “second liberation”. This liberation was from the oppressive and tyrannical rule of the numerous dictators who held sway over the continent.
As Africa remained trapped in this dilemma, significant and positive changes were taking place at the global level. Economies were no longer based on labour and capital. Emphasis had shifted to information and knowledge as the nerve centre of economic development and growth. Meanwhile, Africa remained in the past. The result has been a process of involuntary de-linkage or marginalisation of Africa. The continent’s share of global trade is less than 5%, thus implying that we are “living on the outside edge” of world affairs. Long before now, it had become clear that the continent needed, as a matter of urgency, a new breed of educated, enlightened, articulate, innovative and dynamic leadership ready to meet squarely the overwhelming challenges of bringing Africa on a par with the rest of the world. The challenge is that of making Africa a competitive partner in the constantly hyper-dynamic global interaction.
Unfortunately, there were no informal fora where leaders could meet and exchange experiences with the view to improving their performance. No less worrying was the difficulty involved in gaining access to relevant data on issues of national, regional or global importance. The world has not stopped evolving.