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Dossier | Afrique : 50 ans d'indépendance

A New Generation of Leaders in Africa: What Issues Do They Face?

John O. Igué
Translated by Sarah Jordan
p. 115-133.
This article is a translation of:
Une nouvelle génération de leaders en Afrique : quels enjeux ? [fr]


Africa is at a crossroads. It is now at the centre of development concerns that its leaders have been involved in for 50 years. These leaders are striving to find a happy outlet through which the black continent would be able play a role at the forefront of the world stage. A new generation of leaders has to be considered, who are capable of facing up to a number of challenges such as fragmentation of the region, history and knowledge, relaying the foundations of the post-colonial State, promotion of democracy and human rights and the implementation of new conditions for peace and freedom, the gauge of sustainable development. The ways in which these various challenges are tackled are crucial.

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“Africa will be made by those who are devoted to it.”
Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Minister of State, Senegalese Minister for Foreign Affairs

1. Introduction

1The concept of leadership, as well as that of civil society, comes from Anglo-Saxon culture. These two notions, which are currently in vogue, only entered French-speaking culture in recent years, following the emergence of democracy after the end of the colonial empires and East-West confrontation.

2During the long period of colonialism and the Cold War democracy tended to make way for strong States as an expression of power. The new freedoms afforded by the triumph of liberal economics have caused a resurgence in the concept of leadership in Africa as a deciding factor in the rational management of people and public affairs. Those countries which have benefited from enlightened leadership have experienced advanced development, while those which have not are hunched down in misery, victims of poor political management. From this point of view, the case of black Africa is particularly critical. This is the reason why, after 50 years of independence, we cannot help raising this question of leadership; the future of the black continent will, in effect, depend on a proper understanding of this issue.

3The question of leadership was first faced by this continent in the 1990s, during the start of the democratisation of African States and society. The quality of leaders has become a major issue in the establishment of the democratic process and its success.

4However, the leadership problem remains vague in the mentality of Africans because of the repercussions of colonialism and the resulting mimicry. This question is now linked to two issues which trouble contemporary African societies:

  • the future of the post-colonial State, because of the recurring socio-political crises with which it is faced and the difficulties experienced by the people in adapting to it;

  • the need to invent a new method of governance, without which the democratic process that has been embarked upon since 1990 risks being compromised. This can be seen already in the repeated rigging of elections and the progressive return of the military to power.

5These two issues are forcing black Africa to come up with a new generation of leaders, who are capable of relaying the foundations of a post-colonial State in crisis and who are also capable of defending its populations’ interests better, based on unwavering respect for different State institutions. This respect for institutions is still far from being a reality because of several contradictory influences on African political decision-makers. Among these we could mention the persistent hegemony of the major powers and the economic stakes that Africa represents because of its main natural resources: oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, coltan, timber and so on. Serious socio-cultural factors must also be taken into consideration.

6To tackle these questions, this article will be based on a historical approach to African leadership, the question of elites faced with the demands of the contemporary world and the action of new leaders as an alternative to the deficit of the State, human rights and social capital in Africa.

2. The different types of African leaders: a historical approach

7The question of leadership in Africa involves three categories of players: politicians, business leaders and the intellectual elites. The role of each of these players has been a deciding factor in the management of the State and society since the start of independence in 1960.

2.1. Political leaders, 50 years after independence

8Political leaders can be classified into several groups depending on their background, their level of education, their political commitment and the period in which they entered the political arena.

9From 1960 to 1970 the management of political power was handled, on the whole, by teachers and a handful of doctors and African union leaders. Despite their rather heterogeneous levels of training, these first African leaders were all guided in their actions by the same demand, i.e. that of nationalism, which was considered to be indispensable in order to free themselves more effectively from the colonial yoke and build the foundations of a true nation.

10Nationalism is common to English-speaking, French-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries. However, building nationalism is not without its difficulties. Beyond the under-equipped nature of newly independent colonies and the training of newly independent elites, more used to obedience than responsibility, the main obstacle faced by these first African leaders was that of the Cold War between 1960 and 1990. Africa, searching for an autonomous development model, was caught in the middle of the East-West confrontation. Nationalist zealots considered that only the left-wing ideology that was prevalent in the East could help them to break away from the guardianship of the conquering Westerners. Therefore, almost all political parties which led Africa to independence were of a Marxist-Leninist persuasion: the African Independence Party in Senegal, the African Democratic Rally, founded in Bamako in 1946, with notable members Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d’Ivoire), Ahmed Sékou Touré (Guinea) and Modibo Keita (Mali), the Action Group of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in Nigeria, the Convention People’s Party of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, the Mau Mauof Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya. It was long afterwards that France managed to divide the African Democratic Rally by associating with Félix Houphouët-Boigny. This association dealt a fatal blow to unified left-wing action. These leaders were profoundly divided on the essential questions relating to the future of Africa. On one side, there stood the group from Casablanca which, around King Mohammed V and his successor, Hassan II, brought together the pro-Westerners such as Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), Omar Bongo (Gabon) and Amadou Ahidjo (Cameroon). On the other side, ardent supporters of the opposing doctrines created the Monrovia group around Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, Modibo Keita and William Richard Tolbert (Liberia). In between these conflicting groups, there floated the unbiased participants such as Sourou Migan Apithy (former Dahomey), Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria), Aboubacar Sangoulé Lamizana (former Upper Volta) and Ngarta Tombalbaye (Chad).

11It was against the backdrop of these considerable ideological differences that the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was founded in Addis Ababa in 1963. These different tendencies also influenced the intellectual elites and the training of leaders until the arrival of the military, starting in 1970.

  • 1  This is currently made up of five countries: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

12Despite the difficulties that these first leaders faced in the management of their respective countries, they nonetheless left an important legacy that continues to serve as a reference today. This legacy is Pan-Africanism, which has become a major requirement to better confront the risks of the balkanisation of Africa. The establishment of the East African Community, which intends to become a federation of States in 2013-15 in order to protect the shared knowledge and experience left by Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and Milton Obote (Uganda), is a notable legacy of this past.1

  • 2  President Abdoulaye Wade organised a symposium on the “United States of Africa”, followed by a for (...)

13In West Africa it is also worth mentioning the examples of Kwame Nkrumah, Modibo Keita and Sékou Touré, whose beliefs still serve as a motive for the creation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and, in particular, the birth of the African Union (AU) and its current continental government programme, which is so dear to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (Libya) and President Abdoulaye Wade (Senegal).2

  • 3  These rare cases are in West Africa: Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.

14The combat started by these first leaders in support of building a nation and Pan-Africanism had hardly begun when a new generation of leaders, i.e. the military, came and put an end to it. Thus, from 1970 to 1990 almost all African States, with some rare exceptions,3 fell into the hands of the military. This marked the start of autocratic regimes, even in those rare countries whose leaders were not from the military. This was characterised by the reign of single parties, bringing an end to the hope that was born of independence.

15The period from 1980 to 1990 was particularly hard for African countries, as a result of widespread economic recession and high levels of debt. The search for a solution to this period of economic crises brought a certain generalisation of structural adjustment programmes, with the first agreements dating back to 1981. However, such programmes can only be implemented properly against a political backdrop of freedom and a free market economy. Consequently, as from 1990 Africa was subjected to the democratisation of State and society, with a return to multi-party politics and the arrival on the African scene of a new generation of leaders, made up of both “civilised” military officers, some old leaders of civilian origin and young politicians, many of whom had served as advisers to the military regimes between 1970 and 1990.

16The arrival of democracy in Africa did not bring a radical transformation of the political classes. The combination of leaders during this democratic period, between civilians and military, did not allow democracy to be a true success or, more importantly, a factor for progress. Only four countries are cited as examples, given their respect for democratic requirements: Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde and Ghana. Some of these countries created the national conference, which was a factor in triggering the democratic process in many countries, such as Gabon, Madagascar, Niger, the Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Some conferences were unfruitful, including that of Benin whose sole aim was to end the incumbent revolutionary regime. Much has been written on the accomplishments of the national conference of Benin (Adamon 1995; Banégas 1998). The underlying debates on the future of the country were not addressed. It took the national economic conference of 1996 to initiate any real debate on the country’s future. The national conferences of the Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville) and the DRC were particularly long, before descending into pointless public outpourings. Only Mali was able to play its cards right with the rise to power of the Alliance for Democracy in Mali, made up of leaders from a group of brilliant intellectuals and strongly committed to the improvement of living conditions for the people of Mali.

17All told, African political leaders since 1960, whether nationalists in the first instance, military personnel during the autocratic period, or leaders during the decade of structural adjustment, have, with very few exceptions, failed in their mission, by making Africa the least advanced continent on the planet. So, since 1960 the State has never been adopted by the Africans. The State is the product of foreign powers and represents the passing of the baton of colonial ideology. Therefore, the political leaders that Africa has known so far are largely seen as mere puppets of the dominant powers (Le Roy 1997).

2.2. Business leaders

18The question of leaders goes beyond simple political figureheads. The challenge of economic and social development is set to both public sector leaders and private business leaders. The real players in economic development are the business leaders. These can fall into several categories:

  •  old trading companies, colonial in origin, of which many continue to control large infrastructure and equipment works, not forgetting of course the agricultural export and mining operations;

  •  foreign interests in Africa, in particular the Lebanese, the Indo-Pakistani and, more recently, the Chinese;

  •  Africans.

19The origins of the old trading companies date back to the 16th century and more precisely to the relationship with the Portuguese between 1571 and 1580, which led to the appearance of the first European trading posts along the West African coast and the start of the black slave trade.

20Between 1580 and 1713 trade with the Portuguese was taken over by the Dutch who, in the 17th century, had one of the most powerful fleets in the world. To exploit the African coast, they split into charter companies, involved principally in the malagueta pepper and ivory trade and practising the slave trade as a subsidiary activity.

21From the 18th century onwards the Dutch were usurped by the English and the French. The English settled on the West African coast, where they later succeeded in setting up powerful companies such as Unilever, better known through its subsidiary the United Africa Company, made up of companies from Bristol, Liverpool and London.

22Thanks to these businesses, also known as “factories”, the English very quickly acquired trade superiority over other European States, which enabled them to fashion the best colonies of the sub-region.

23The French presence on the West African coast dates back to 1787, but it only took root in the 19th century with several trade exploration missions organised by the Naval Ministry as from 1838. This is how the French, from companies originating in Bordeaux and Marseilles, established several trading centres along the coast. These enterprises were then transformed to give rise to new trading companies, the most important being the Société commerciale de l’ouest africain and the Compagnie française d’Afrique occidentale, along with a plethora of companies that followed, such as Total, or that were born as a result of new colonial opportunities. This was also true for basic infrastructure construction companies such as Colas, Dumez, Satom and Fougerolles (for the French) and Julius Berger (for the Germans) and for port operations such as those of the Bolloré (French) or Maersk Line (Danish) groups. In addition to these is a range of companies involved in mining and oil operations such as Elf, Totalfina, Shell and British Petroleum, to name just the most important examples (Assidon 1989).

24The Lebanese have always served as intermediaries for the old trading companies. Most of them bought up businesses that were deemed to be unprofitable by those companies, such as interests in the distribution sector. In doing so, they have become, in recent years, the principal pillars of the African economy (Charbonneau and Charbonneau 1961; Desbordes 1938; Hanna 1958).

25The Indo-Pakistanis have played a very important role, especially in English-speaking countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. They continue to hold significant economic stakes in these countries, in particular in the textiles, sugar, tea and distribution sectors.

26Chinese interest in Africa is very recent and the Chinese have become the main investors in several economic sectors, including retailing, mining and public works (Elenga-Ngaporo 2004; Questions internationales 2005). The arrival of the Chinese can be seen as part of the phenomenon of globalisation, which has helped China and India open up to international markets. Africa has come to represent major stakes for these two countries and their political leaders are frank about the reasoning behind the Chinese and Indian undertakings on the continent.

27For China, Africa is not only important because of its oil, precious metal or timber reserves. It is also important in terms of diplomatic competition in the new world order, dominated by the United States (US). Any initiative that acts as a counterweight to Washington, the current holder of unilateral world power, is welcome. The Chinese presence in Africa also serves to alienate Taiwan, promote world peace and establish a strategic partnership around a mutual understanding. To this end, China intends to play according to three principles: diplomatic security, economic security and another way of doing business.

28As for India, it is seeking to play on its former relationship with Africa, marked by immigration and important relations in the Indian Ocean. Many trading posts on the main islands in the Indian Ocean and along the East African coast have their origins in this historical past. Millions of people who were originally from the Indian sub-continent are now settled in these regions, such as in Mauritius where 70% of the population are of Indian origin. The populations of Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are between 5% and 10% Indian. Given this strong Indian presence, African aid becomes a priority. This aid aims to reinforce education thanks to the intellectual assets of India, to participate in improving health care through pharmaceutical products and to encourage Africa to master new information and communication technologies. The favoured instrument of this cooperation between India and Africa is the Team 9 Initiative (Techno-Economic Approach for Africa-India Movement), which currently involves several African countries.

29Using these two kinds of “fairer” cooperation, Africa is seeking to break away from Western guardianship by diversifying its markets and its foreign direct investment (FDI) resources. For the time being the results are convincing, despite the concerns that this cooperation raises with regard to Chinese and Indian immigration and unfair competition in African markets.

30The last category of economic players is made up of Africans and their influence remains dominant in the banking, insurance and business sectors. These African entrepreneurs fall into several categories. At the bottom are the traders, the majority of whom can trace their history back to the slave trade era when their ancestors were slave drivers. This is the case of several dignitaries of African chiefdoms in the Gulf of Guinea, especially in Ashanti, Danxome and Yorubaland. In this trading activity, and then in the palm oil trade (in Danxome), the first categories of African traders were seen, made up of Afro-Brazilians and the indigenous populations. This is particularly true in the former Danxome for the Afro-Brazilian families Domingo-Martinez and Do Santos and the indigenous families Quenum, Adjovi, Gnahoui and Codjia. In 1882 25 wholesalers were established between Porto-Novo and Grand-Popo and 154 traders were properly registered with the Chamber of Commerce (Codo and Anignikin 1982).

31These traders, who then became the “urban bourgeoisie”, were backed up by the cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria. These became the “planter bourgeoisie”, descended from both traditional chiefs and commoners. An interesting point about these planters is that they evolved as true agricultural producer syndicates, as is the case with the Agricultural Syndicate in Côte d’Ivoire and theAgbè Koya in Nigeria. The latter remained very active until the Biafran war between 1960 and 1970. In the case of Côte d’Ivoire, these planters were behind the founding of the Democratic Party of Côte d’Ivoire, with Houphouët-Boigny as the first president.

32The last group of African entrepreneurs are women and they were particularly active in Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Mali. This group features most prominently in the textiles and distribution sectors. Their role in money-making enterprises was such that they were nicknamed “Benz girls” in Togo because of their big Mercedes cars, an outward display of wealth. This female entrepreneurship has now become more widespread, reaching Sahelian women and, curiously, Malian women who are active in the bazin riche textile dyeing industry, the most notable being Awa Cissé, Kady Sylla, Kébé Tantou Sambaké, Adam Bah Konaré and Awa Ly. Kébé Tantou Sambaké and Adam Bah Konaré feature in the Dictionary of Famous Women of Mali. They regularly make the headlines in newspapers in the sub-region, including Jama, Amina and Divas. Kébé Tantou Sambaké is considered to be a special woman. She is one of the few intellectuals of the group who, armed with an accountancy qualification, left public service to become involved in the dyeing industry. Little by little she forged a reputation in Bamako and then all over West Africa, where she recruits her apprentices. She founded a traditional dyeing training centre in 1998, which currently trains approximately 20 students from all over Mali and neighbouring countries, visible proof of the level of popularity that this Malian art of textile dyeing has achieved.

33The children of these different categories of African entrepreneurs have been educated in the best universities and prestigious business schools in the US, Great Britain and France. They returned to Africa a short time ago to control the banking, insurance, microfinance and business sectors.

34It is important to consider all of these categories of players in the debate on the emergence of new leaders, firstly because of vote-catching relationships that link them to political leaders and secondly because of their financial means enabling many of them to become king-makers.

  • 4  The writings of Hugeux (2007) and Harel (2006) make for interesting reading on the implication of (...)

35The ongoing democratic process in Africa is very costly in terms of the organisation of different elections. Business leaders provide the majority of the finances necessary to organise elections. For example, in 2006 in Benin a private operator in the cotton sector was the principal backer of the campaign for the current president. According to rumour, the Bolloré group, which has recently secured the operations contract for the autonomous Port of Cotonou, also contributed to the support of this campaign. In the time of President Mathieu Kérékou the role of Séfou Fagbohoun was a deciding factor in the financing of the former’s electoral campaigns. In return, the State gave him the mandate to manage the Sonacop oil company. Outside Benin, the Elf company, which went on to become Totalfina, led a secret takeover of political destiny in Africa through the control of political leaders in Gabon, Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville), Angola and Nigeria.4

2.3. The African intellectual elites

36The participation of intellectuals in the control of power in Africa can be analysed in several stages.

37From 1960 to 1970 the first intellectuals were both revolutionary and Pan-Africanist. Many stood in the shadow of the first leaders as advisers. But their small numbers and, above all, their lack of understanding of African reality as a result of their long absence during their studies did not allow them to play a significant role on the political stage during this initial period of independence. It was not until the second period, between 1970 and 1990, that these intellectual elites played a fundamental role alongside the military, with a strong influence on the choice of Marxist-Leninist ideology. This is particularly true in the Republic of Congo (Congo Brazzaville), in Benin and in the former Upper Volta.

38After 1990 the intellectual elites emerged as a political force, this time as liberals, mainly from international institutions and American and French business schools. These people took on important political responsibilities, either as presidents of republics or as prime ministers. Notable examples are the presidents Abdou Diouf (Senegal), Paul Biya (Cameroon), Albert Zaff (Madagascar), Alpha Oumar Konaré (Mali), Tijane Kabba (Sierra Leone), John Kufuor (Ghana), Helen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia) and Nicéphone Soglo (Benin). This category also includes leaders from the wars of liberation which took place in Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. It is in these elites, born of the struggle for liberation, that Africa finds its most notable leaders, such as Nelson Mandela (South Africa) and Joachim Chissano (Mozambique).

39Unfortunately, the profound ideological divisions within these intellectual elites are at the root of the failure of discourse on African development and the lack of alternative solutions to the models brought in from outside. From this standpoint, one could consider that from independence in 1960 to the 1990s African intellectuals were split between three main philosophies: liberal, Marxist-Leninist and religious. Each of these ideological tendencies has left a distinct mark on the vision of development, such as the debate on “endogenisation” that was so dear to the disciples of the economist Samir Amin. With the advent of the democratic process that began in 1990 and the end of communism in Eastern Europe, a certain consensus came about in favour of the capitalist ideology. This is reflected particularly in the phenomenon of globalisation. There are only a few rare intellectuals who continue to defend a new approach to development based on an African renaissance (Do Nascimento 2008).

40This historical context is indispensable in understanding the challenges in store for a new generation of African leaders. The failure of the first leaders could explain the poor position of African countries in world economic rankings. They were all unable to promote quality human resources, a key factor in the success of prosperous countries. They were also unable to “adopt policies of freedom which allow for intelligent use of resources, the creation and stimulation of the intangible values and standards characteristic of open societies” (Koulibaly 2008, 11).

3. The new generation of African leaders and development requirements

41At the start of the 21st century the political responsibility of new generations of leaders will be based on the relationship between power and freedom, in particular the freedom of Africa’s citizens. This new generation is confronted with the following questions:

  •  “What will the configuration and nature of the different political, religious, economic and intellectual powers be on local, national, regional, continental and global levels?”

  •  “What possibility will there be for citizens to control these powers and ensure their balance so as to defend the fundamental rights of African people to life, education and health, indeed to spiritual and material happiness in dignity?”

  •  “What will Africa’s place be in today’s interdependent world?” (Barry 2009).

42The answers to these questions bring us back to three main challenges that Africa must face: fragmentation of political areas, fragmentation of historical conscience and fragmentation of knowledge.

3.1. The fragmentation of political areas

43The challenge of fragmentation of political areas assumes many aspects. Firstly, there is the fragmentation of the area covered by the sharing of Africa between several colonial powers (France, Great Britain, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Italy). Secondly, there are the territorial disparities due to this partition.

  • 5  Population figures are for 2007 and are taken from the ECOWAS Statistical Bulletin, 2008.

44In West Africa three categories of countries can be identified according to their surface areas and their populations:5

  •  the smaller States are difficult to develop and the constraints of the surface area and population offer little chance of endogenous development: Cape Verde, 3,929 km2 and 496,000 inhabitants; Gambia, 11,295 km2 and 1,563,000 inhabitants; Guinea-Bissau, 36,125 km2 and 1,389,000 inhabitants; Sierra Leone, 71,740 km2 and 6,295,000 inhabitants; Togo, 56,600 km2 and 5,465,000 inhabitants; Liberia, 111,369 km2 and3,170,000 inhabitants;Benin, 112,600 km2 and 8,059,000 inhabitants;

  •  the medium-sized States, some of which have good reserves of natural resources, suffer cruelly from the lack of a market to consume those products: Senegal, 196,722 km2 and 11,342,000 inhabitants;Guinea, 245,857 km2 and 9,612,000 inhabitants; Ghana, 238,000 km2 and 22,982,000 inhabitants; Burkina Faso, 274,000 km2 and 13,441,000 inhabitants; Côte d’Ivoire, 322,463 km2 and 20,389,000 inhabitants;

  •  the large areas, mainly dominated by the Sahara desert, are mostly unproductive, with the exception of Nigeria (913,074 km2 and 146,496,000 inhabitants). Apart from this, the viable areas are even less extensive than the surface area of the medium-sized States: Mauritania, 1,032,000 km2 and 3,000,000 inhabitants; Mali, 1,204,000 km2 and 12,379,000 inhabitants; Niger, 1,267,000 km2 and 13,477,000 inhabitants.

45Such geographic fragmentation is even more critical because the smaller States are the most numerous, i.e. 7 out of 16. Furthermore, very few States correspond to real, homogenous historical entities. Apart from Cape Verde, all of the others are made up of a multitude of socio-cultural groups, the majority of which are spread over several borders, such as the Peuls, the Haoussas, the Yorubas, the Akans and the Mandingues.

46This fragmentation, considered by the former OAU to be “peculiar to Africa”, causes three types of problems which hinder the effective control of current developmental conditions: enclaves, borders that are too long or poorly defined, under-development of basic infrastructure. However, the most negative aspect of this fragmentation remains in the resulting territorial disorganisation, marked by:

  •  the crisis of the State as a physical entity;

  •  complex and exacerbated mobility;

  •  isolated areas;

  •  increasing regional differentiation within the same territory.

47The crisis of the State as a physical entity is first of all shown by the lack of financial means needed to function. The weight of the debt is so heavy that the resulting intervention from outside, in particular that of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has taken the basic means for their supervisory function away from these States. This absence of an efficient supervisory function explains the absenteeism among civil servants, preoccupied with ensuring the security of their income through an informal economy.

48All in all, the transformation that results from the fragmentation of political areas in Africa is at the root of the crisis of the State and has led to extensive geographic mobility, which also creates increasing regional differentiation within the same country. This can be seen in the growing awareness of ethnic groups and the reinforcement of their autonomy with regard to the central State. In other words, we are now seeing a form of nationwide regional break-up, with different tribal units isolating themselves from the community at large.

49This dynamic leads to the creation of new territorial entities which are now becoming the anchorage-grounds for political forces through multiple associations. One of the consequences of this phenomenon of isolationism can be seen in “Ivoirity”, which escalated beyond control in the sub-region.

50This ever-increasing regional differentiation can be considered in several ways:

  •  regions of extroversion that are built around centres with a so-called modern economy: centres of rural modernisation or mining operations where the dynamism and prosperity are based on a privileged relationship with the outside;

  •  urban areas which are sometimes ex nihilo creations based on an administrative centre or a mining operation;

  •  trading areas which are mainly set up around major trade traffic, sometimes covering long distances. This is the case for collective markets, already analysed in other works (Igué 1993).

51These different regions accentuate the territorial break-up that comes from diverging interests and what results is an absence of real centres around which a national entity could be structured. It is this territorial break-up that gives a certain dimension to the different forms of networks and migratory flows; the best way to face up to this correctly lies in new approaches towards the structuring of regions.

3.2. The fragmentation of historical conscience

52The fragmentation of historical conscience can be considered firstly as the differences between white Africa on one side and black Africa on the other (i.e. between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa) and secondly as the differences between the colonial legacies.

53North Africa, even though it is part of the AU, forms its alliances mainly with countries from the Mediterranean region. Some of these States, such as Morocco and Egypt, are very advanced in negotiations regarding partnership agreements with the European Union (EU). However, Sub-Saharan Africa is still hesitant (with the exception of South Africa) to sign a partnership agreement with the EU. It seeks to develop its relations with China and India on one hand and with Latin America on the other.

54The other aspect of historic fragmentation lies in the two practices that come from colonial legacy: assimilation, applied by France, and indigenisation, practised by Great Britain. Both of these have proved to be seriously limited.

55This historical fragmentation does not make a unanimous awareness of the problems to be resolved any easier, to such a point that English-speaking countries, which are more nationalist, consider their French-speaking counterparts to be too dependent on France.

3.3. The fragmentation of knowledge

56On one hand, the fragmentation of knowledge relates to the antagonism between the endogenous wisdom and experience and the knowledge inherited from the colonial past. On the other hand, it relates to the respective impact of religions (in particular Christianity, Islam and animism) on the ideological values of development. These different forms of fragmentation have brought great ideological divergence and a lack of cultural roots.

57The ideological divergences between the African leaders were particularly pronounced during the East-West confrontation, revolving around liberal and Marxist ideologies. The end of communism substantially limited the extent of this fragmentation without, however, getting rid of it. The divergences between African political figures now appear in two ways: the battle for leadership, both in the region and with colonial powers, and the question of democracy and the nature of civilian or military regimes. These contradictions were continuously exacerbated, in his lifetime, by Houphouët-Boigny and his French-speaking peers on one hand and the French-speaking and English-speaking countries on the other. From this perspective, the fear of Nigeria remains endemic. Although France is still trying to gather together its former colonies in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, it is simply to counter the too great an influence of this African giant.

58The question of leadership is linked to the necessity to see real democratic traditions develop in Africa in such a way as to govern and manage public affairs. Democratisation, of both the State and society, demanded by the financial backers and strongly desired by African populations, pits many heads of State against each other, as was the case during the East-West confrontation. This fragmentation concerns countries whose former autocratic leaders are finding it difficult to hold on to power, notably in Togo and Guinea, and the States whose heads have come from the sovereign national conference. The arrival of democracy has, therefore, become both a source of hope and a method of blackmail, which weakens the will of African leaders to fight for a common developmental objective.

59This ideological problem is reinforced by divisions with regard to the role of culture in the development of the country. Countries with an English-speaking, French-speaking or Portuguese-speaking heritage distinguish themselves on this question, notably with regard to the roots of their citizens in their national cultures. These roots are much deeper in English-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries than in French-speaking countries. The policy of assimilation practised by France tended to keep the French-speaking population away from the need to make culture a major issue in development. In other words, the recourse to local values that would guide the actions of leaders is missing in Africa (and especially in the French-speaking regions). This lack of a value system is reflected in the artificial nature of States, whose inhabitants have an origin and a history that are attached to other political regions which are sometimes confrontational (such as Chad and Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia). This then results in major ethnic conflicts at the borders, thus ruining the chances for the concerted effort necessary to create local values as the fundamental elements necessary for sustainable development.

60The difficulties faced by the Blacks along the border constituted by the Senegal river valley, who see their future on Mauritanian territory increasingly contested by the Moors of Berber origin, are symptomatic of this phenomenon. These difficulties prevent Senegal and Mauritania from coming together to manage the massive investments that have been made to stimulate economic development in the river valley.

61To face up to the different challenges better, several missions must be embarked upon by the new generation of leaders.

3.4. Relaying the foundations of the African State

62Relaying the foundations of the African State is a necessary measure to make the current territorial entities reliable, viable and secure. The nation-States which descended from colonisation, to paraphrase Antoine Sawadogo, are in an ambivalent situation, real and fictitious, formal and informal (Sawadogo 2003, 47-51). The State has to be re-established using new territorial guidelines in order to better confront the different problems which adversely affect the proper management of current developmental conditions: enclaves, borders that are too long or poorly defined, under-development of basic infrastructure. The consequences of balkanisation of the continent prevent African States from controlling traffic, which is a necessary part of managing their territories.

63Relaying the foundations of the State must enable the new challenges faced by Africa to be met: globalisation, the fight against poverty and the crises that result from democratic government. However, these developmental objectives are costly and require new resources that can only come from the creation of new wealth.

64The wealth referred to in this case is not simply monetary. What this entails is working to make Africa prosperous by acting on the main factors that determine this wealth, such as the reinforcement of productive, technological and innovative abilities. These abilities are indispensable to reverse the current trends of creation of wealth, which are too centred on shareholder economics with low added value. To do this, instruments that have a real effect on these deciding factors have to be used. This notion can be summarised in a few points:

  •  promotion of natural wealth, made up of rich natural resources;

  •  production assets, made up of machines and infrastructure, as well as the land and urban areas developed to house the population;

  •  intangible capital, non-physical in nature. Made up of human capital and the quality of institutions, this is the most important element in the wealth of nations. Even though this intangible capital is not capitalised anywhere, it is made up in part by the fruits of the training, education and know-how of the nation’s population. The confidence that reigns between the various components of the nation must also be considered, along with the ability to work together in a coordinated manner in order to create wealth;

  •  governance that stimulates the overall productivity of the economy.

65Without these different elements, it will be difficult to put an effective, efficient and operational participation-based system of governance into place. Also, without the avant-garde elites, well-trained and ready to commit themselves to decisive reforms that will have a positive impact on State institutions, nothing will be possible.

3.5. The renewal of intellectual elites

66The renewal of intellectual elites should allow for a better contribution of the African diaspora to the development of the continent and lead to the training of a new generation of leaders.

67The African diaspora is spread over three main geographic regions: Europe, the US and the Gulf States. It could be useful to Africa in three main areas:

  •  improvements in technical competence and university teaching;

    • 6  Cf. World Bank data on the subject of remittance flows.

     attracting financial resources for development. The transfer of fresh money from the diaspora to Africa is currently estimated at more than 10 % of the gross domestic product (GDP) of certain African countries;6

  •  better representation of Africa in the world through relations that this diaspora has established in various host regions.

68The promotion of a new generation of leaders implies the emergence of elites that bring together different abilities, including in particular an aptitude for:

  •  assimilating the current debate on development;

  • acquiring new knowledge that is missing in Africa, adopting a long-term approach and using good negotiating skills, exploiting new information and communication technologies;

  •  marrying the new developmental values with those of equality, integrity, good governance and shared management of the wealth available.

3.6. The implementation of new conditions for peace and the promotion of freedom

69Africa is known all over the world for the crises that shake it and the violence that characterises its societies. To a large extent, these crises result from the confiscation of the freedom of citizens by political leaders.

70The question of freedom has become a concern in countries that still have autocratic regimes, such as Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and, Zimbabwe. This is also a concern in countries where the elections are rigged and where the institutions of the republic are subject to manipulation.

71Freedom has always been one of the main factors of progress in developed countries. The Heritage Foundation, one of the American think-tanksin Washington, published an Index of Economic Freedom in the world in an issue of The Wall Street Journal in 2008. This index of freedom is still low in Africa. Out of the 40 African countries studied, only Mauritius featured in the top 20 in the world, in 18th place; this was followed by Botswana in 36th place. The last entries in the list were all African (Holmes, Feulner, and O’Grady 2008).

  • 7  These ten categories are as follows: freedom of enterprise, freedom of trade, freedom of protectio (...)

72According to the Index of Economic Freedom, there are ten categories of freedom, without which a country cannot prosper.7 Even though this index conforms to the American notion of freedom, it is an indication nonetheless of the efforts that need to be made by African leaders to clean up the context of democratisation and society. Therefore, the quest for these ten categories of freedom becomes a major issue in the emergence and the promotion of a new generation of leaders in Africa.

  • 8  We are talking about competition here because the measurements of progress are the same for every (...)

73The emergence of new leaders will not happen unless many complex situations and factors are taken into account. These new leaders will be in scientific, economic, technological and political competition with the rest of the world. They must prepare themselves for this worldwide competition to allow real social capital to be built, which is still lacking on the continent.8

4. The new leaders as an alternative to the social capital deficit

74The concept of social capital generally classifies populations valued through education and health. Investment in education is considered to be an essential component of economic policy. It has been proven that for a given level of GDP per capita, countries with a high level of education are in a more advantageous situation than those with a low level of education. These reasons push international development institutions to invite African leaders to make massive investments in the accumulation of social capital as a favoured means of growth and development.

75The question of social capital implies three notions: human capital, institutions and values. Again, in this field Africa is placed poorly in the international rankings (Koulibaly 2008). The new generation of leaders can no longer claim stalemate in this situation. The difficulties of tacking this issue will come from the complexity of the various elements that constitute social capital.

  • 9  For the different qualifiers regarding the State see Bayart (1989, 1996) and GEMDEV (1997).

76On an institutional level, the nature and the definition of what the African State should be is still the subject of unsettled debate. Should the State be seen to be “benevolent”, “patrimonial” or “regulatory”?9 If no headway is made in the debate regarding the nature of the African State, it is hard to see how the new leaders will be able to position themselves and make society progress.

77The definition and composition of civil society are still more complex than those of the State. The difficulty arises from its heterogeneity. By its very nature, civil society is a composite structure, diverse and polymorphous, which evolves at the whim of the forces that comprise it. The concept of civil society implies a varied range of rather imprecise definitions, with the intervention of social partners such as organisations representing socio-economic services, associations that exist to defend grand causes, community associations, religious groups and intellectual organisations. All told, it involves a constellation of associations which are active in the public sector beyond the purview of the State.

78Even though the concept of civil society dates back to ancient times (Offerlé 2003), it has only emerged in Africa in the last 15 years, in the wake of debates which have dominated the international and African political scene during this period, on participation in democracy, liberalism and its political advantages and the future of the welfare State.

79African civil society is, therefore, confronted with serious problems, such as its heterogeneity and the role that it should play in African society as a whole. For the time being its role is far from being one of development, with the exception of a few initiatives which come, for the most part, from the African diaspora, most notably along the Senegal river valley and in the Kayes region in Mali. Apart from a few isolated development initiatives, civil society plays a role that is based more on censorship of the State on one hand and encouragement of social movements on the other.

80In its role as censor, civil society is content to issue reminders and warnings about jeopardising democracy, human rights and the environment. However, its ability to make alternative suggestions remains weak.

81In terms of encouragement of social movements, civil society passes on to the nation the discourse of outside organisations which finance its various activities. In particular, this is the case for religious non-governmental organisations, whose main actions primarily involve evangelism or islamisation.

82Through these two types of action by civil society, the State is now seeking to control the different associations that comprise it by implementing a strategy of collaboration. If this does not work, opposition may arise between the two players, seriously affecting their actions.

83The last aspect of social capital is that of values, which serve as a foundation of society, i.e. the values and attitudes regarding work, State institutions and money. Of these values, the most important for Africa are those concerning attitudes towards work and the respect for State institutions. However, values regarding money have become the main cause of misappropriation and poor governance.

84The new African leaders will play an essential role in these different aspects of social capital. This is the reason why they must meet several requirements in terms of training and ability, such as:

  • boldness and the ability to anticipate through management and control of change;

  • loyalty to themselves and the people;

  • respect for leadership principles like duty, honour, national commitment, insight and so on;

  • establishment of a more equitable system of partnership with the rest of the world.

5. Conclusion

  • 10  Apart from the speech by President Sarkozy, one may also recall the preface of Edwige Avice, the f (...)

85The world today is driven by permanent competition where the only differentiating factor is intangible capital which, when applied properly, effectively compensates for a lack of natural resources. The world is becoming more and more immaterial. Africa must take account of this to carry out several changes. To start with, mindsets have to be changed (abandoning the mentality of servitude) and Africa must realise that it has to stay “connected” with the rest of the world and be understood by it. In fact, the biggest reproach regarding Africa today concerns its inability to look towards the future. This is what made President Nicolas Sarkozy of France say, in his speech at Dakar University on 26 July 2007, that the continent still has not implicated itself sufficiently in the history of humanity. Although this speech was severely criticised, it nonetheless demonstrates the West’s attitude towards Africa, which is still deemed to be archaic and not committed enough to the race for development.10

86Africa must lose its subjectivism, the omnipresence of certain forces of evil, like sorcery, making its population afraid to dare to face up to real social difficulties. Many African societies function based on fear and find it difficult to introduce initiatives that may bring progress. This is the same for its profound religious beliefs, considered to be the opium of the people. Africa must now promote new values based on its history and its culture. “It is in ‘being’ that Africa will really be able receive credit. Real credit, not from charity and not from begging. (…) This is the reason behind one of the great problems in Africa, the struggle for equitable cultural exchange. To achieve this, our cultures have to be structured. A culture without a material and logistical basis is just wind passing through” (Ki-Zerbo 2003, 80-82). Using culture as a resource for development could make the cultural sector the arena for new issues, i.e. issues linked to preservation of identities and cultural diversity faced with globalisation as a potential factor of uniformity. They could be economic issues also, with cultural industries which place African creators in a position from which they can conquer the market. Lastly, they could be social issues, based on the new relationships that are formed.

87Black Africa is the only region in the world where languages are used only for communication within socio-cultural groups. Its leaders must strive to enable some of these African languages to become the instruments of work and scientific understanding. This is the price that new generations of political players will have to pay to become better established in their territories. From this standpoint, they will thus be able to act more effectively and propose new, qualitative changes, the true gauge of economic and social progress.

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1  This is currently made up of five countries: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

2  President Abdoulaye Wade organised a symposium on the “United States of Africa”, followed by a forum on Africa’s role and position in world governance, in Dakar from 27 to 30 July 2009.

3  These rare cases are in West Africa: Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.

4  The writings of Hugeux (2007) and Harel (2006) make for interesting reading on the implication of these entrepreneurs in the lives of African nations and, particularly, in controlling political leaders.

5  Population figures are for 2007 and are taken from the ECOWAS Statistical Bulletin, 2008.

6  Cf. World Bank data on the subject of remittance flows.

7  These ten categories are as follows: freedom of enterprise, freedom of trade, freedom of protection from mandatory charges, freedom to control the size of government, freedom of an independent currency, freedom of investment, financial freedom, freedom of the right to property, freedom from corruption and freedom in the workplace.

8  We are talking about competition here because the measurements of progress are the same for every region on the planet. These measurements are made depending on the level of accumulation of material wealth. Therefore, Africa is compared with the rest of the world based on its low material accumulation, measured in numbers of health centres, hospital beds, schools, cars and telephones per inhabitant. It is this competition that is shown in the calculations of the various human development indices that are carried out every year by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

9  For the different qualifiers regarding the State see Bayart (1989, 1996) and GEMDEV (1997).

10  Apart from the speech by President Sarkozy, one may also recall the preface of Edwige Avice, the former Minister for French Cooperation, to a work edited by Serge Mikhaïlof, where it was written: “Are not Africans simply bad students, ignoring reprimands and advice? And Africa, happy in its rut, will it not get bogged down or, worse still, go into reverse?” (Mikhaïlof 1993, 7).

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Cite this article

Bibliographical reference

John O. Igué, “A New Generation of Leaders in Africa: What Issues Do They Face?”International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement, 1 | 2010, 115-133..

Electronic reference

John O. Igué, “A New Generation of Leaders in Africa: What Issues Do They Face?”International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 1 | 2010, Online since 11 March 2010, connection on 19 September 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

John O. Igué

Professor of Geography and Scientific Director at the Laboratoire d’analyse régionale et d’expertise sociale (LARES) in Cotonou.

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