Leadership is about how those in top positions exercise power and influence. Leadership must serve both women and men, young and old, the empowered and marginalised, weak and strong, poor and rich. The kind of leadership we need in Africa must be transformative. It must first address the question of inequality, exclusion and identity.
Many a writer, activist and social commentator has described the developmental challenges, including incessant conflict facing Africa, as a tragic lack of leadership. If poor leadership, characterised by a majority of male-dominated drivers, is the cause of many problems in Africa, then it surely calls for a re-think to fix this anomaly!
It is a fact that a major characteristic of visible leadership in Africa is male-dominated, aggressive and harsh. It is a shocking reality that 8 out of the 10 countries listed in the 2016 Fragile States index described as “very high alert” are in Africa. Furthermore, it is a telling revelation indeed that 70% of the top 20 fragile states are African countries i.e. Somalia, South-Sudan, Central African Republic, Sudan, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Nigeria, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Niger and Kenya. What this means is that at least 25% of the continent is at boiling point and has a high probability of prolonged conflict, stunted economic growth, tipping into further chaos or at risk of losing developmental gains or perceived gains in previous years of stability.
Whether in politics, industry, business, media or arts, the structures of leadership are a reflection of the traditional structures in society which promotes headship of men and recognises their ‘natural’ assumption of leadership in all areas of society. A hearty mix of religion and culture further provides impetus for supporting this position that has in turn created gender roles and stereotypes which are transmitted into public life and corporate culture. But what does this mean to the dynamics of leadership in the country and the implication that these positions are largely occupied by men? And if these positions have defined the continent but we still mark negative impact as exemplified above, is it not time to shift the paradigm? Shouldn’t we re-evaluate the actual gender implications and impact on leadership in Africa?
Leadership that projects certain masculine traits such as aggressiveness, overconfidence and a loud commanding voice or presence is often associated with decisiveness, strength and control. However, more feminine traits of caring, modesty and being soft-spoken are considered timid, weak and irresolute. Ironically, a woman leader projecting a feminine image is viewed as incompetent and in contrast if she exhibits typical masculine behaviour it elicits negative reactions that seek, once again, to question her credibility and intentions. There is no denying the fact that all these come down to perception and gender bias. Fortunately, though, we are currently seeing a global upsurge in women leadership in politics and business life which challenges conservative views about women’s roles. Women like President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius and entrepreneurs like Njeri Rionge of Kenya, founder of Wananchi Online, have used their positions to transform the lives of their communities and they are just a tip of this unstoppable iceberg of women leaders transforming lives in Africa and beyond.
Audaciously, we need to face the reality of the status as exemplified above that if the current kind of leadership (mostly advanced by men) is not working, then we definitely need change. This is not a replacement of power or personalities but rather a shift from traditional and conservative forms of leadership and power structures that exclude women and limit their involvement in decision-making. Surely, every human being has innate talents, qualities and capabilities. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that society is refining and harnessing these individual talents and utilising them effectively.
Africa has made some gains in addressing gender discrimination suffered by women.
The African Development Bank (AfDB)’s Africa Gender Equality Index 2015 examined states performance in three dimensions: economic opportunities, human development, and law and institutions. The top performers overall in order of scoring are South Africa, Rwanda, Namibia, Mauritius, Malawi, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Cape Verde and Madagascar. This shows an overwhelming progressive trend in Southern Africa on gender equality with only one country each from East Africa and West Africa making the top 10. These top-performers have done more to implement gender parity laws and policies in their countries and the result is greater wage equality between women and men as in South Africa and greater representation of women in parliaments like in Rwanda, which is the global leader.
The African Union in its vision document Agenda 2063 themed ‘The Africa we want’ seeks to drive the continent’s inclusive growth and sustainable development. It is designed around seven aspirations which if achieved have the potential to lift Africa out of poverty, secure livelihoods for its citizens, build democratic and efficient institutions and transform it to a prosperous continent at peace with itself. Aspiration Six specifically works towards an Africa where development is people-driven unleashing the potential of women and youths. This speaks to inclusion policies and practices that ensure active participation as well as creating the opportunities for both women and young people to be a part of decision-making at all levels. This is the Africa that will acknowledge the full participation of women in leadership roles that will in turn transform the continent and galvanise positive change.
We must restructure what leadership means in the African context and what it needs to look like. Leadership is about how those in top positions exercise power and influence. Leadership must serve both women and men, young and old, the empowered and marginalised, weak and strong, poor and rich. The kind of leadership we need in Africa must be transformative. It must first address the question of inequality, exclusion and identity. Without an honest reflection and a commitment to reform, legitimacy is lost. Leadership in government must reflect the diversity of its people and ensure representation of its citizens – it must totally be inclusive and thus boldly gender-balanced.
This August 24th and 25th the Oxfam Pan Africa Programme co-hosted the African Women Leadership Symposium in Nairobi, declaring the urgency for Africa to infuse women transformative leadership into its priorities and will see the commitment of African women leaders in various spheres on impacting and changing lives. This is the kind of visionary and transformative focus that we need. These are the Leaders that Africa craves because this is indeed the Africa we want.
*Osai Ojigho is the Interim Director at the Pan African Programme, OXFAM.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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