19 November 2012

Rwanda: Kagame's Is a Lone Voice in Africa, the World of Clueless Leadership


While having a chat with a colleague to discuss President Paul Kagame's pep talk to the Oxford and Cambridge university alumni from Nigeria, we tried in vain to name sub-Sahara African leaders with a vision to lift their people from economic deprivation. We could not go beyond three.

The fact that President Kagame is now the sole choice for any professional group of people looking for inspiration from a leader, is testimony that he remains the single sensible voice in a continent of clueless leadership.

According to Kagame, Africa needs leaders with a vision for their countries--leadership that has a passion and commitment to exploit the rich African culture and traditional values to shape a modern society where people live in dignity.

"African countries need a new kind of leadership - one that has a vision for the country and a passion and commitment for its rapid development as well as the well-being of its people.

The transformational leadership that will lead to Africa's prosperity and ensure its relevance must be one that is confident, assertive and innovative, and committed to promoting and defending the continent's interests. Above all, it should be prepared to seek solutions from within the philosophies and practices of our societies to various challenges that we face, and develop ideas to propel our countries forward. Sometimes, this might require going beyond the conventional and embracing the unorthodox," the President said.

This was perhaps the boldest statement to come from an incumbent president in post-colonial Africa in recent times. Such bold and assertive speeches used to reverberate during the independence struggles when the likes of Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah spoke of the need for economic independence.

I realized how deep and inspirational the president's speech was when several speakers during last week's regional social security conference in Kigali kept quoting him.

Indeed to drive his point home, the president told the Nigerians how Rwanda has tapped into its rich traditional values and culture to design economic interventions that have helped lift more than one million people from poverty between 2005 and 2010.

This of cause was not a result of any windfall income--such as from the much-talked about oil in some countries that many political leaders are now hype as the sole promise for a prosperous future.

The truth is that even revenues from oil will come to nothing if leaders of those countries, where oil had been discovered, do not share a vision with nationals.

Nigeria, where the President spoke from is a living example. Despite the enormous resources--both human and cash, the country remains with one of the highest infant and child mortality rates in Africa. Millions of children die every year from preventable diseases. Angola is another of such countries where poverty reigns supreme despite oil and mineral wealth.

That therefore means that without leadership that is focused and passionate about making a difference in the living conditions of the people; leaders who seek to serve rather than enrich themselves, no amount of natural resources and aid will deliver Africans from deprivation.

Look at a program like Girinka (the one cow per poor family) project that the president spoke about and apparently touched the hearts of many of his listeners. Where sophisticated economic policies from the IMF and the World Bank has not made sense to ordinary people, this simple project designed along traditional Rwandan values is achieving more than what had been anticipated.

A poor family is given a cow from which family members get milk. With milk, malnutrition becomes history and some milk is sold to earn money to buy other essential commodities. So the single cow is also an income generating project.

Yet that is not all. The cow dung meanwhile becomes a very import source of manure that adds fertility to the small plots of land on which food is grown. At the end of the day, a garden that used to produce only 10kgs of beans can now produce 50kgs. So a single cow becomes the sole driver of economic change at least at domestic level. I wonder how many of our leaders in Africa could ever think of such.

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