Leadership Structure: The African Experience
There are indisputably significant divergences in the degree of development of countries across the world. All countries do not experience the same rate of development process. Literature reveals that countries situated in some regions of the globe experience lower rate of development than others. For instance, people living in the sub-Saharan region of the African continent experience a lower degree of welfare than those living in Western Europe and North America. Does leadership have something to do with this? Literature suggests that political leaders have the potential to influence variables that have bearing on development process (Perkins, Shirley, Wint, 2008) through effective public and social policies. In this paper, we examined leadership in the sub-Saharan region of Africa. We examined whether or not leadership has bearing on the development process of this region. We provided a discussion about the political, religious, and social leaderships in Africa. The discussion touched on the intersection of these three leaderships. We discussed the impact of their intersection on the development process in the region. Finally, we attempted to propose an integral leadership model for the region.
Brief Overview of Leadership Concept
Leadership theory has evolved over time –from pre-classical to postmodern eras– and it has been influenced by several factors. It is worth noting that economic, political, and social systems have had bearing on the definition, interpretation, and application of leadership over time. For long, scholars have been striving to draw a clear distinction between the roles of leading and those of managing. Drawing a clear distinction between leading and managing has been challenging. As a concept, leadership is complex. Thus, one of the main challenges facing scholars and practitioners has been to come up with a comprehensive definition of leadership.
Leadership is an intricate and ever-changing process that has been defined in several different ways (Grimm, 2010; Weiskittel, 1999). According to Andrew (2008), leadership is “a multifaceted process of identifying a goal, motivating other people to act, and providing support and motivation to achieve mutually negotiated goals” (para 3). According to Duerst-Lahti (2010), leadership is a relationship between leaders and followers. This implies effective interaction between the two. Unfortunately, leadership is traditionally deployed in the context of hierarchies, reinforced from and communicated through chain-of-command authority models (Friedman, 2013). In such models, leaders have the power of voice; whereas their followers are on the listening end (Friedman, 2013).
Today, situational leadership, also known as having a contingency approach, has become popular, as different situations require different leadership styles (Grimm, 2010). Despite this advantage, it has been criticized for focusing too much on leaders and not enough on group interaction (Parry and Bryman, 2006). On the other hand, transactional and transformational theories are based on interactions between leaders and followers. These two theories seem to be gaining ground.
Effective leadership requires trust between the leader and followers. If followers trust their leader, they will do whatever the leader envisions (Bach and Ellis, 2011). To develop trust, there should be mutual respect. Leaders should treat everyone the way they would wish to be treated (Rolfe, 2011). Rolfe (2011) and Grimm (2010) suggested that, first and foremost, leaders should be honest. The reasoning is that it is difficult to trust someone who is unethical or immoral.
Leadership is earned, and once it is achieved, it is not sustainable without continuous proof of concept (Sederer, 2012). This means that effective leaders are those who have an excellent record of their performance or accomplishments. Leaders must demonstrate their value in a ceaseless and tireless way (Sederer, 2012).
Leadership means service to followers and to the general public. Leadership is the action of leading other individuals for the purpose of achieving a common goal. In the context of the public administration, this means the pursuit of broader moral principles in the public interest. These principles include “justice, fairness, individual rights (e.g. privacy and due process), equity, respect for human dignity, and pursuit of the common good” (Ehrich, Cranston, and Kimber, 2004, para 5). For a long time, the question relating to leadership in Africa has been on the front burner (Salawu, 2012).
Leadership in Africa
In the African context, leadership has been viewed as individuals’ predisposition to serve their families, their peers, and their communities. Traditionally, ethnical African leaders played three roles: political leaders, social leaders, and religious leaders. In their role of political leaders, ethnical leaders were public administrators. In their role of social leader, they settled social conflicts among followers. In their role of religious leaders, they were priests whose role was service to gods. Although three leaderships resided in the caring and protective hands of ethnical leaders, there seemed to be no conflict of roles in traditional African society.
Unfortunately, the colonial era reshaped the traditional African leadership. Ethical leaders saw their powers taken away to some extent. They were compelled to share power with the colonial authority. The sharing of powers –political, social and religious– between ethical leaders and the colonial authority favored the latter.
With the emergence of democracies in post-colonial Africa, Africans hoped to regain, through new African leaders, ethnical power lost during the colonization. Unfortunately, the world witnessed the birth of two groups of leadership in Africa. The first group included among others elected leaders such as Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah. They were nationalist and charismatic leaders (Nkrumah 2013, Lumumba 2013). To them, leadership meant more than power; it meant loyal service to their nations and their continent. They had the trust of their countrymen.
The second group comprised Africans brought to leadership positions by colonial powers. They had no choice but to remain loyal to their masters. They were the extension of colonial hands. They had the trust of those who vested them with leadership. Through them, former colonial powers have been exercising control over young African nations.The coexistence of these two groups of leadership has had negative effects on the fate of African people. The African continent was unfortunately divided in two ideological clusters. Invisible ideological boundaries emerged in Africa. Their ramification has had bearing on the social, economic, and political development of African nations.
The African continent has been therefore known for suffering from leadership vacuum. Excellent leadership is obviously rare in Africa (Salawu, 2012). Whenever there is an emergence of a progressive leader in Africa, the enemies of the African progress always find ways to hinder the progress (Bangarah, 2011). Poor leadership is thought to be the source of most problems plaguing African societies (Salawu, 2012).
The African continent has taken a step backward from establishing a new generation of leaders committed to fostering development and democracy; tackling conflict, corruption, and dictatorship; and building a new Africa (Van Niekerk, 2009). Africa’s hope for leadership is thought to be a younger generation that, for the time being, remains on the margins (Van Niekerk, 2009). There is therefore a need to get younger generations involved in leadership.
African Women and Leadership
Through building schools, Christian missionaries introduced western education and culture in Africa (Wakahiu and Salvaterra 2012). Yet, little was accomplished before independence with regard to educating women (Wakahiu and Salvaterra 2012) to provide them with competencies to be in leadership positions. This situation has put African women at disadvantage with regard to access to leadership positions.
Although democracy encourages individuals’ participation in management of the public affairs irrespective of gender, the majority of democratic offices in Africa are held by men (Ekwealor, 1999). Women in Africa face several stumbling blocks as they aspire to leadership position (Gouws, 2008). Ndinda and Okeke-Uzodike (2012) assert that even though African women are present at the professional and specialist levels, they remain to a great extent absent in the top executive positions. And this is due to several factors.
The first factor is gender. Leadership in Africa is gendered (Duerst-Lahti, 2010). Duerst-Lahti (2010) explains that there are gender hierarchies in institutions that generally privilege men over women. Ndinda and Okeke-Uzodike (2012) identified the presence of a glass ceiling for Black women, in general and African women, in particular.
The second factor consists of the nature of politics in Africa. Ekwealor (1999) asserts that women in Africa possess the spiritual and managerial abilities to improve the political practice in Africa. However, the atavistic and dangerous mode of politicking makes women vulnerable in the African political arena (Ekwealor, 1999).
The third factor is race. In multi-racial countries –like South Africa–, the situation of black women is even worse as black women are victim of two types of discrimination. First, regardless of their race, men continue to benefit from the structural advantage (Ndinda and Okeke-Uzodike 2012). Second, white women benefit from a structural advantage over black women (Ndinda and Okeke-Uzodike 2012). Whenever positions of leadership emerge, the white men –who are powerful and influential– prefer to give them to black men instead of black women (Ndinda and Okeke-Uzodike 2012). And this is due to gender bias. White women appear to be having a significant advantage over black women in general (Ndinda and Okeke-Uzodike 2012). This is due to racial bias.
Political leadership is expected to play a crucial role in the development of nations. In the exercise of their functions, political leaders have to make challenging choices. They have an objective responsibility to ultimately serve the public interest. Politicians have responsibility in which they are held accountable by the citizenry and the legal system. This is referred to as objective responsibility (Cooper, 2012). At the same time, they have responsibility in which they feel and believe themselves to be responsible. This is referred to as subjective responsibility (Cooper, 2012). According to Cooper (2012), ethical dilemma emerges when there is conflict between objective responsibility and subjective responsibility. Ethical dilemma is basically a challenging exercise of choosing between two right courses of actions. In other words, it is a choice between right versus right (Stout and Love, 2013).
Effective political leadership means the ability to choose well among competing alternatives –and in the most difficult times– based on what is in the greatest interest of the citizenry. The effectiveness of political leaders’ decision making depends on the leadership system in place. There are several leadership styles. In this study however, the focus is on following leadership styles: autocratic, democratic, and free rein (Weiskittel, 1999).
This leadership style involves the use of commands and expected compliance (Weiskittel, 1999). To motivate followers, autocratic leaders make all important decisions and use punishment or threat (Roosevelt and Gustainis, 2004). Autocratic leaders are not concerned with the happiness or satisfaction of their followers. Not only they are primarily concerned with task accomplishment, but also they maintain considerable social distance from the group they lead (Roosevelt and Gustainis, 2004).
Democratic or participative leadership
This style of leadership involves consultation with group members on actions and decisions, and encourages (Sullivan, 2009) and rewards involvement in the process (Weiskittel, 1999). These leaders make decisions and set goals with the approval and full participation of the followers (Weiskittel, 1999). This leadership style assigns individual rights and privileges to all parties in a group or organization as the followers are engaged by a leader to achieve common goals. Democratic leadership encourages participation by all parties engaged in similar pursuits and requires equitable distribution of both power and responsibility (Sullivan, 2009).
Free-rein leadership or Laissez-faire leadership
The group –followers– expect a high level of autonomy and independence (Weiskittel, 1999). This leadership style allows the group to set goals, develop strategies, and mobilize necessary resources to achieve expected outcomes. The leader serves as a support person whose role consists of providing the group with operational assistance. The scope of the leader’s assistance includes (a) facilitating access to information and remote resources, (b) addressing organizational boundaries, and (c) serving as a link between the group and the external environment. This type of leadership is referred to as the servant-leadership (Weiskittel, 1999). The servant-leaders are those who choose to serve first (Spears, 2009) as a way of expanding service to the team, the community, or the citizenry. They ensure that the needs of their followers are met (Mello, 2003). Unlike the traditionally leadership which is deployed in the context of hierarchies –reinforced from and communicated through chain-of-command authority models– in which followers are on the listening end (Friedman, 2013), servant-leaders actively listen (Spears, 2009). If followers undergo proper preparation and training, the best of this leadership style is revealed. When used properly, “laissez-faire leadership emerges as the ultimate form of leading” (Goodnight, 2004, para 1).
There is an increasing awareness that several insightful answers to life’s most critical questions does not come from science; they come instead from religion (Religious leadership, 1994). There is therefore a need for religious leaders to develop leadership characteristics to better guide their religious communities (Religious leadership, 1994). Thus, religious leadership intersects with social leadership in that it has an impact on the community where social leadership emerges.
Unlike the Catholics who have who stand at the head of their religion and whose word was unquestioned, one person who could determine what they should believe, religions, like the Judaism, do not have such a leader (Hammer, 2013). There are however some religious leaders who possess unquestioned authority for their particular loyal followers.
Social Leadership and the Internet Revolution
We define social leadership as everyday leadership. Someone with social leadership skills is capable of getting team members excited about their task, raising their energy, inspiring their spirit, and minimizing strife among them. Social leaders are generally popular among their followers because they use a democratic type of leadership. According to Piasecka (2000), everyday leadership consists of mentoring others, inspiring peers, taking initiatives, and being pro-active. “Leadership is not about grand gestures or personal greatness, but about detailed everyday activities – and it is available to everyone” (Piasecka, 2000, para 1).
The advent of the internet technology has enlarged the sphere of social leadership. As a technology, the Internet allows people to communicate across cultures, religions, and continents. The emergence of the Internet has given voice to those who were voiceless. This technology has impacted the lives of human beings on the face of the earth.Today, people use the communication potential of the Internet to serve and promote their special interests or contribute to human freedom and the development of humankind. The Internet provides people around the world with the most effective communication channel. Thanks to the Internet, people have greater participation in this expanding era of globalization. The Internet has unquestionably become an effective tool for the globalization of protests. According to Brickfactory (2004), the Internet has played a huge role in forming international public opinions regarding western countries throughout the world; it has also helped to democratize the rest of the world by allowing citizens to voice their own opinions.
The potential that the internet technology has to share information with a large number of people and facilitate multi-site dialogues has been a source of concern for many governments. They are concerned about uncontrolled access to this technology. Several countries seek to impose a restriction on its content or simply control access to the technology. This concern is due in part from the realization that the World Wide Web is a powerful communication medium capable of reaching a multitude of people in the blink of an eye.
Social Network and Social Leadership
Social network has an impact on social leadership. Clemson and Evans (2012) conducted a study on a networked type of the minority game to determine whether agents were inclined to follow choices made by a neighboring agent in a social network. The minority game is a simple model for competition dynamics that seeks to interpret the behavior of a group of agents competing for a restricted resource (Challet, Marsili, and Zhang, 2005). Findings suggested that for most networks, a leadership structure consistently appeared, with the majority of agents following the choice made by a small number of agents (Clemson and Evans, 2012).
The emergence of mobile smart phones has given rise to new categories of virtual communities, –mobile communities. With the advent of mobile technologies and wireless networks, the world has witnessed the emergence of social leadership on a broader scale. Social networking is the intersection of social leadership and political leadership. Social networking is a source of concern for most African countries, –especially for countries that have espoused autocratic leadership or traditional leadership and those that violate human rights. The beauty of social networking is that it breaks apart the traditional leadership communication model by empowering individuals and groups to communicate horizontally at higher velocity and greater momentum than a hierarchical model can keep up with. Social network levels the playing field of voice (Friedman, 2013).
The expansion of wireless scope and the increasing use of mobile devices across the world (Singh, 2012) enlarge mobile communities. Mobile phone ownership across the African continent is soaring. This is because of their low cost and their communication capability. There are now more mobile phones in Africa than there are in the United States of America (Parr, 2013). There are currently 475 million mobile connections in sub-Saharan Africa alone, compared with just 12.3 million fixed line connections (Parr, 2013).
The study results are alarming. First, the majority of respondents are of the belief that there is a lack of effective leadership in the sub-Saharan Africa. The analysis of data revealed that countries located in the sub-Saharan region of the African continent lack effective political and religious leaderships. Second, over 90% of respondents living in Africa and 85% respondents living abroad were not satisfied with the kind of political leadership exercised in this region of the world.
These results are disturbing because leadership has bearing on the development of countries. Data analysis reinforces this statement. With regard to a possible correlation between leadership and the development of the African continent, 39.66% of respondents living in Africa and 53.57% of respondents living abroad strongly believed in a correlation between the two. Over 17% of respondents living in Africa and 21.43% of respondents living abroad believed in the same correlation.
The lack of effective leadership witnessed in Africa has had several impacts on this continent. First, it has paved the way for predators to systematically deprive this continent of its human and natural resources. Second, it results in inability to implement effective public and social policies. Africa has been in labor for a long time because of lack of effective leadership. Effective leaders are those who demonstrate the traits of social change agents, economic change agents, and political change agents. Thus, political, religious, and social leaders are expected to play a crucial role in the development of this region.
Third, the presence of ineffective leadership results in lack of effective social policy that gives rise to an exodus of African manpower in pursuit of better life. Due to their dissatisfaction with a dysfunctional Africa, highly educated sons and daughters of Africa are migrating to western countries. Some of them are fleeing persecutions endured from the hands of their political leaders who violate Human Rights, like Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security and Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment. This departure has unquestionably hindered the development process of the African continent in general and the sub-Saharan Africa in particular.
The majority of respondents stated that religious leadership was not stronger than political leadership in the region. This indicates that political leadership possesses legal and formal power. However, religious leaders possess informal power that can seriously shake political power. This is true because people are more inclined to follow religious leaders than political leaders.
The data upon analysis showed that the majority of respondents believed that culture had a huge impact on leadership in the region. Cultural relativism asserts that human rights are not universal; rather, they vary from culture to culture (Ayton-Shenker, 1995). Tensions exist between universal respect for human rights and cultural diversity (Addo, 2010). Indisputably, culture has bearing on the way human rights are promoted, protected, interpreted, and applied in the region. To manage tensions between universal respect for human rights and cultural diversity, they should be allowed to complement and reinforce each other (Addo, 2010). Therefore, the main responsibility of leaders in the region consists of putting in place guidelines, principles, and legislations that can positively impact the well-being of their countrymen.
With regard to a possible correlation between leadership and the development of the sub-Saharan African region, the majority of participants stated that there was an association between the two. Data analysis showed that 39.66% of respondents living in Africa and 53.57% of respondents living abroad strongly believed in a correlation between the two. Over 17% of respondents living in Africa and 21.43% of respondents living abroad believed in the same correlation.
Regardless of their location, the majority of individuals surveyed were of the opinion that leadership was male-dominated business in Africa. Data analysis indicated that over 70% of females surveyed held the same opinion. The analysis of the same data showed that the majority of respondents stated that women possessed skills and competencies required to be in leadership positions. Data analysis revealed that 75% of females surveyed strongly agreed that women in the sub-Saharan Africa were as competent as men to be in leadership positions.
The reality is that African women are still having difficulties getting into leadership positions. This is due in part to the African culture and lack of effective legislations. Traditionally, males have played the role of leaders while females have played the role of followers. There is a necessity to address this situation in an effective manner. A radical transformation of the African mentality is necessary and an introduction of legislations about employment equity is needed. For such legislations to happen and for their application to be effective, a viable strategy would consist of encouraging women to keep developing relevant leadership and policy development competencies. Such competencies will enable African women to become active participants in policy development and decision-making (Wakahiu and Salvaterra, 2012). Networking is thought to be a critical strategy in the education of African women as it can provide them with effective means to support themselves.
Data upon analysis indicated that 36.05% agreed that and 40.70% strongly agreed that social leadership could contribute to the development of the sub-Saharan African region. Social leaders can be very effective in the dissemination of African oral ethics. African oral ethics is crucial as they help inculcate in individuals, right from childhood, the values of good citizenry and leadership, necessary to create a civilization (Salawu, 2012). This is critical because any society in which vices outweigh virtues will not make progress; instead, it will collapse more from internal decay than from external aggression (Haruna, 2013).
The analysis of data showed that over 90% of respondents stated that social and political leaderships were not in harmony in the region. These results are indicative of the African reality. In countries where human rights are respected, social and political leaderships are pretty much in harmony. This is because political leaders recognize that citizens have inalienable rights by virtue of being human beings. Some of these rights include Freedom of Opinion and Information, Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association. The lack of harmony between social and political leaderships observed in this study could be due to the fact that political leadership in the region does not respect human rights.
Data analysis suggested that 33.72% of respondents agreed that leadership in the region was adult-dominated business. The data indicated that 40.70% of respondents strongly agreed that leadership in the region was adult-dominated business. These data are consistent with views expressed in literature indicating African leaders’ inclination to stay too long in power (Bangarah, 2011). As a result, younger generations remain on the margins (Van Niekerk, 2009). The dynamic is changing with the expansion of mobile communication devices in Africa. Mobile communication devices provide African youth with easy access to information once controlled by their governments. Such access to information empowers African youth.
Over 80% of respondents indicated that religious and political leaderships were not in harmony in the region. This result would suggest a tension between these two leaderships. This tension exists for one of the following reasons. Either, the political leadership is violating the Article 18 of human rights, –which recognizes individuals’ Freedom of Belief and Religion–, by banning religion or by controlling it. Or, religious leadership refuses to compromise on their mission. Instead they admonish and criticize political leaders for failing to meet basic needs of the population or for violating human rights. Thru mutual respect, this tension can be avoided for the sake of the development of the region. Both parties should understand that they have been tasked to operate in two different realms for a common purpose: to meet the needs of their countrymen.
However, nearly 42% believed that religious and social leaderships were in harmony in the region. This result suggests that there is some degree of harmony between these two leaderships. This is because when there is vacuum of political leadership, people turn to God. Spirituality plays a valuable role in the life of poor people in the region. Whenever people are persecuted, they seek protection from a supreme being –the one who is greater than the persecutor. When people experience hardship, they want to hear a message of hope. Religion is what makes their lives meaningful; it gives them strength to resist oppressors or to graciously tolerate oppression. Religion gives oppressed people hope for better days. Thus, religious leaders deliver sermons that help people create new meaning and purpose for their lives.
Implication of Findings on the Development of the Region
For some time, Africans have been witnessing the emergence of a political system –called democracy– that in reality is far from meeting basic requirements of western democracy. As result, tensions exist among political, religious, and social leaderships. It is critical to understand that whenever democratically elected leaders are ousted by nondemocratic means, the development process in the region is delayed. The region takes a step backward from fostering democracy, which is a required for effective development. It is crucial to realize that the development of the region is contingent on developing a new breed of responsible leaders, who are willing and capable of serving the public interest.
Citizens of countries in which leadership is not clearly defined, practically demonstrated, or effectively applied do not enjoy the desired level of well-being. Effective leaders are those who feel that they have clear obligations as human beings to care for their countrymen. African leaders should be reminded that effective leadership is the ability to translate vision into reality. Thus, there is a pressing need for practical leadership in the region. In other words, countries located in the sub-Saharan Africa need leadership that directly impacts people on the ground.
It is essential to know that the only individuals that can truly develop Africa are the sons and daughters of Africa. There is therefore a need for developing leaders –whose goal is the pursuit of broader moral principles in the public interest– at all levels of the society regardless of gender or age. This is critical because effective leadership is not supposed to be a “one-man” show (Weiskittel, 1999) or gendered (Duerst-Lahti, 2010). An inclusive approach to leadership is critical to the development of the region.
The region needs a type of leadership that leads to social welfare, cultural emancipation, economic prosperity, and political stability. For that to happen, all three leaderships, –political, religious, and social– must be in a symbiotic relationship.
Africa is in need of a new breed of ethical and moral leaders. It is critical to keep in mind that future leaders come from the ranks of today’s general public. Therefore, there is a pressing need not only to improve education and recognize individuals’ right to education, but also to adapt the curriculum to the realities of the region and to the requirements of the global economy. The region needs leaders who are capable of understanding the requirements of the global economy in order to deal effectively with evils that plague the region. These evils include among others war, crime, poverty, hunger, and disease.
It is crucial to understand that the development of the region is contingent on the development of relevant leadership competencies in current and future leaders.
Various limitations may have existed in this study. These limitations include among others sample size, response rate, weakness of self-administered questionnaire, and truthfulness. With respect to the truthfulness of the participants, it was assumed that participants responded truthfully as their responses did not significantly deviate from the mean.
There are indeed discrepancies in the development of countries around the world. Development divergences are witnessed even for countries located in the same region. Leadership has a lot to do with the development process of countries. Countries with clearly defined, practically demonstrated, or effectively applied leadership do better than others. Findings from this study suggested a lack of effective leadership in the sub-Saharan Africa. Discoveries from the study suggested that leadership was gendered and dominated by older generations in the region. Study results indicated a tension between political and religious leaderships and between political leadership and social leadership. The study indicated however a possible harmony between religious and social leaderships. The explanation is that poor and oppressed people tend to get closer to someone who can meet their needs and who is greater than their oppressor. The development of this region is dependent on the development of a new generation of responsible leaders who can translate their vision into reality.
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About the Author
Israel R. Kabashiki, PhD, is a scholar, practitioner, and leader. As scholar, he received the equivalent of Bachelor of Commerce from the Institut Supérieur de Commerce and the License degree (5-year degree) in Applied Economics from the Université de Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He received the B.S. in business computing from the University of Winnipeg, in Canada. He also holds a Master of Information Systems and a Doctor of Management in organizational leadership with a specialization in information systems and technology from the University of Phoenix, in the USA. He is currently pursuing his second doctorate, a PhD in Public Policy and Administration, with a specialization in Terrorism, Mediation, and Peace.
His research interest includes the use of information and communication technology in health care, medical outsourcing, leadership in health care, policy development, and peace.
As a practitioner, he is an economist, business strategist, and technologist with over 25 year-experience in diverse industries such as, banking, airline, and information technology. As a leader, he is the founder and owner of IZ New Consulting that specializes in leadership development, management consulting, information technology consulting, and economic analyses.