Opinions Tue, 1 Apr 2014

Africans are not smart enough to manage their own affairs’ (part II): True or False?

Initially, I had planned to release the part II of this controversial, but insightful debate to coincide with the upcoming Ghana’s republic day celebrations in early July, 2014. However, the overwhelming contributions, criticisms, suggestions and opinions coming from all corners, has made it necessary for me to release it sooner than planned.

But first, let me make it very clear; while I have no illusions as to the storm that would descend on me for writing so frankly on so sensitive a subject, it was my hope that the gravity of the problems I discussed earlier (in Part I), and in this very one, and their profound consequences for Africa and Ghana in particular, would win from my readers, at least, a minimum of group emotionalism and a maximum of individual thought. Based on the critical analysis of the 45 posted comments on www.ghanaweb.com and about 87 personal emails that I received within three days of the publication, I’ve come to the conclusion that majority of Africans are smart enough to take care of business. The problem lies in the word that some people don’t want to hear or have chosen to ignore: “Leadership”.

Those who know me personally in Ghana and those who by chance have come to know me through my chosen career or school, can corroborate to the fact that I have always had issues with the kind of ineffective leadership style in Africa. Not because of the fact that I have had the opportunity to travel extensively internationally, and have lived on different continents so I may be making comparisons. Of course not!, but for the fact that , a sizable number of African leaders are just not smart enough, lack analytical thinking capabilities, can’t figure out what to do, or just don’t care. Remember, the same ineffective leadership issue is the number one deterrent seriously pushing the smart ones away from joining forces to display their intellect capabilities.

Quite simply, the smart ones don’t want to associate themselves with these corrupt and greedy political crosiers. Under no circumstances will the smart wits in Africa would want to meddle with the affairs of a bunch of narrow-minded and heartless leaders who have created some kind of a unique political niche for themselves, friends and families at the expense of the masses/grassroots. Talk to the smart guys living outside Ghana, and I guarantee you, they will say the same thing: “I don’t wanna be part of these scoundrels”!

For the past one year or so, I have been monitoring the developments going in Ghana, which hither to, was not part of my agenda. Sometimes, I get so frustrated that my wife who has never visited Ghana and has nothing to do with Ghana, will honestly plead with me to give up, because, there seem to be no hope! When, you watch some of the utterances and some political pronouncements that are spewed out of some of our leaders, it makes me wanna ooze on myself, and question: are we really smart or not?

The sad thing is that most of these leaders have college (university) degrees with some of them holding PhDs and professional certifications. So what’s the problem, if not leadership failures?  And so, I’ve been asking myself these questions which I believe, some of you might have also asked similar questions about the difficult situations we find ourselves in:

  1.  IF our leaders by nature are smart as majority of you have explained, why do the entire continent’s leaders, some of whom are known for integrity and leadership engage in unethical, greedy, corrupt and wicked activities?

  2.   Why do they risk such a great political careers and a possibility to have unblemished reputations for such ephemeral gains?

  3.     Do these African or Ghanaian leaders think they won't get caught or believe that their elevated status puts them above the law? I really need some answers here. Please, help me unravel this mystery! There’s no doubt majority of African are smart, so what’s going on? What’s the problem? Is it because we can’t apply all the knowledge, wisdom and our innate intellect we have acquired over the years or it’s something else?

Here’s the take home for this article. I have earlier on been criticized for drawing immature conclusion. So this time, I have decided to get to the bottom of this predicament we find ourselves in without any biases or prejudices in my logical conclusion.  The fact is that in this ongoing debate, the media, politicians, and the general public as well as the emails I have received so far, have characterize our leaders as bad people, even some people calling them evil. I have no problem with that because those are mere expression of opinions, just as I’ve been writing to express my views about our poor leadership issues.

The issue is this:  simplistic notions of good and bad only cloud our understanding of why good leaders lose their way, and how this could happen to any of us. A friend of mine always tells me “Peter, African leaders have no vision or sincere plans for the people they lead or manage”. Is that a true statement? I don’t know the answer, but what I do know is that leaders who lose their way are not necessarily bad people; rather, they lose their moral bearings, often yielding to seductions and excessive financial or pecuniary gains in their paths.

The truth is this; very few people go into leadership roles to cheat or do evil, yet we all have the capacity for actions we deeply regret unless we stay grounded, right? But in the case of our continent, the leadership seem to follow a particular pattern. There is a saying that “to err is human” which is true in my opinion. But “to err all the time is also inhuman, and coldhearted!”

Now I wanna give my reasons why in my opinion ‘leadership trap’ is the number one challenge to Africa’s development. I’m not disputing the authenticity of those illustrious children of Africa who have written scholarly articles and books citing our culture, norms, colonial attachments, influence from the western powers, and even nature as a factor in this article. My point is that among all the numerous reasons we may cite as the reasons for our inability to move Africa forward, “dummy leadership” is our number puzzle.

Most of our leaders aren’t smart enough to move the continent to compete with the rest of the world, for real! They are simply dummies! Most of them can’t simply read, analyze and understand just basic financial data, let alone to figure out how to balance budgets, and set our priorities right. When it comes to “almighty technology”, please, don’t even go there.

Let’s face it; Leaders whose goal is the quest for power over others, unlimited wealth, or the fame that comes with success tend to look to others to gain satisfaction, and often appear self-centered, arrogant and egotistical.

They start to believe in their own press. In the case of African leaders, they eventually believe that the institutions and the people they manage cannot succeed without them. By our human nature and common sense,  we all value fair compensation for our accomplishments, so I personally think that only few African leaders really start out seeking exclusively money, power, and prestige.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the numerous rewards and the prestige associated with such a lucrative career, fuel their desires for more. This creates a deep inner desire to keep them going, often driven by desires to overcome the narcissistic wounds from their childhood humble character.

According to renowned Prof. Emeritus WILLIAM W. GEORGE, a Professor of Management Practice, Henry B. Arthur Fellow of Ethics, at Harvard Business School, “when leaders focus on external gratification instead of inner satisfaction, they lose their grounding”.

This is absolutely true especially in Ghana. What do we see? Often our leaders reject the honest critics who speak truth to power. I believe that by now, my writings might have been characterized as abhorrence writings or articles that need to be eliminated, right? It’s a possibility because you can’t trust these fake leaders.

Instead of listening, which is a basic ingredient in any effective leadership skills, they rather surround themselves with sycophants who tell them what they want to hear. What they forget to realize is that over time, they are unable to engage in honest dialogue or confront our challenges with realities.

I do not want to end up giving so many examples, but hold your breath a second, and think of one particular leader in Ghana, who believes that “dwarfs, magicians, witches and wizards” are to be blamed for the free fall of Ghana’s poor currency (the cedi). Currently, that leader holds a very sensitive political position as the deputy director of Ghana’s NADMO; which is purely incompatible with his or her believe in dwarfs and magicians. How do you expect such a leader to believe that when a new hotel building under construction collapses on the innocent workers, there might have been some foundational structural defaults?

How can such a leader whose responsibility is to manage our country’s disaster, combine his or her superstitious believes with science when it comes to disaster management? Thank God she is not a minister in charge of health, else………..?

Also, how can a whole director of one the important ministries stand before the so called Ghana’s parliamentary subcommittee and claim that they purchased a new BMW 7-series worth equivalent of $ 65K for the sector minister to comfortably use and inspect newly constructed roads, when the road from Drobo to the border town of Kwameseikrom a major agricultural rural community in the Jaman south district of Brong Ahafo region, for instance, has never seen any maintenance since 2010. They have completely been cut off while the district mayor drives in plush $ 90K SUV.

How do you explain this to me to make sense for the fact that the minister already has a four wheel drive SUV? I bet you that my kids can answer this question and pass: “A four-wheel drive SUV and a BMW 7-series, which one of these is the best vehicle to use to inspect roads? Which of these two have high performance with regards to the type of roads we have in Ghana?

Let’s put my 6-year old little girl and the chief director in an exam room and test both their IQ and EQ, and I can guarantee you that my daughter will floor this Ghana’s chief director. You know why, I asked her this same question, and she told me: “Daddy, how can you compare 4-wheel SUV such as a land cruiser to BMW 7 series in terms of performance?”

Maybe it’s true that they do know the right thing to do, but it’s just a sheer wickedness as some of you have asserted already. Sadly, that chief director walked away peacefully and happily without being arrested. This is why I get worried all the time. Nobody in the system is held accountable for their actions or inactions. It’s very sad and unbelievable! That’s the kind of leadership I’m talking about.

These kind of events compel me to come back to the very question; are Africans smart enough to manage their own affairs? We may be smart, but I sincerely doubt if we can ever manage our affairs properly. That’s why a lot of people have issues with how you define smartness, because, can your honestly say that the above scenarios can be considered smart thinking to move Ghana forward? I’ll leave you to critically think about it and rhetorically answer this question yourself, or post your thoughts in the comments section.

I have strongly argued that before anyone takes on a leadership role in Africa, they should ask themselves, "Why do I want to lead?" and "What's the purpose of my leadership?" These questions are simple to ask, but finding the real answers may take decades. If the honest answers are power, prestige, and money, leaders are at risk of relying on external gratification for fulfillment. There is nothing wrong with desiring these outward symbols as long as they are combined with a deeper desire to serve something greater than oneself. Unfortunately, that’s not the case of our greedy leaders.

The Dark Side of African Leadership

Honestly speaking, I say this with no offenses, but majority of African leaders are not smart when it comes to their “Emotional Intelligence strategies” what’s referred to as EQ in effective leadership courses. If all African leaders are to take the EQ test which is now a requirement in most US Business Schools and ‘corporate-America’ organizations for employment purposes, trust me, I doubt if even 2% of our leaders will pass this EQ test. Quite simply, most of our leaders are dummies! They are just there to amass wealth and say the things that their subordinates are expecting to hear from them. In other words,

I’m saying this because, I have had the opportunity to take these tests on four different occasions in business school; in our ‘Managing Complex Organizations class, Managerial Finance, and Business Analytics class. Additionally, I took similar test during my current job. But guess what’s funny! A very prominent Ghanaian leader (name withheld for security reasons) who, according to him has 23 years of leadership experience in Ghana in our Managing Complex Organizations class could NOT pass the tests on three attempts.

He relied on me for help, but got frustrated and finally dropped the class and returned to Ghana. Before he left, he told me that ‘you don’t have to do all these in university of Ghana’s (Legon) Business School’. I just wished him good luck, and that’s it! That’s the leadership smartness I’m talking about. Unfortunately, he’s still a leader in Ghana, and will continue with such a dummy mind till thy kingdom come. The point here is that most of our leaders are very ignorant about their own self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness strategies.

You know why? Many African leaders get to the top by imposing their will on others, even destroying people standing in their way. When they reach the top, they may be paranoid that others are trying to knock them off their pedestal. Sometimes they develop an impostor complex, caused by deep insecurities that they aren't good enough and may be unmasked. To prove they aren't impostors, they drive so hard for perfection that they are incapable of acknowledging their own failures. When confronted by them, they convince themselves and others that these problems are neither their fault nor their responsibility.

Or they look for scapegoats to blame for their problems. Using their power, charisma from their strong holds, and sometimes with their communications skills, they force people to accept these distortions, causing the entire nation to lose touch with reality. That’s is what going on in our continent, perhaps, the cause of our poor thinking abilities and capabilities.

But let me also sound a note of caution here. Leading is high stress work and there’s no question about that.  There is no way to avoid the constant challenges of being responsible for people, organizations, nations, and uncertainties in the environment you are in charge. The reality is that people cannot stay grounded by themselves. Leaders are also humans and depend on people close to them to stay centered. That’s why it’s important they should seek help from people who influence them in profound ways and stay connected to them.

In the case of a typical African leader, often their spouse or partner knows them best. The problem is that in most occasions, they are not impressed by their titles, prestige, or wealth accumulation; instead, they worry that these outward symbols may cause them loss of their authenticity. For this reason, I believe and support those who argue that perhaps, truly great and sustained leaders must routinely be humbled in order to maintain their greatness.

I think African leaders who do not have clarity of thought and Vision usually fall into the trap of "moral loss" and eventually become very corrupt. Some of them resort to polygamous practices or become richer than their country itself.  Remember, the world has seen leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela (Madiba) with "simple living high thinking" practice. To me, that’s why, humbleness is one of the critical elements of good leadership which eventually make people work for you and in turn helps you as a leader to stay grounded.

My final Thought

Today, most independent African nations are dealing with economic, health, educational, and political problems.  Despite all of Africa’s wealthy resources, Africa is the poorest continent on Earth. Over 300 million people in Africa live on less than $1 a day, and in Ghana this may even be about 80 cents at the moment. Those same 300 million do not have access to clean water. About 1/3 of the population is also malnourished and less than half the population have access to hospitals or doctors. Can we honestly do anything about this? Africa is rich in natural resources, yet most countries do little manufacturing. They sell raw materials to industrialized countries.

This has limited Africa’s economic growth and political stability.  In fact, most African countries are worse off today than in the 1960s. The average incomes have decreased drastically while corruption and state looting is on the increase. African countries lack crucial infrastructure such as roads, airports, railroads, ports, electric energy, etc. to make life meaningful to the grassroots. In Ghana, they now enjoy what they call “Dumso, Dumso” which means: frequent and erratic electricity interruptions.

Cholera which is sometimes fatal infection spread by poor sanitation, and lack of clean water. Malaria which is also often-fatal infectious disease marked by chills, fever and carried by mosquitoes are now resistant to drugs due to the overuse.  Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) —caused by HIV virus is everywhere. About 70% of adult, and 80% of child AIDS cases are in Africa. This is often paired with tuberculosis, another infectious respiratory infection. The list goes on and on. Sadly some of these diseases are curable, yet children, especially die beyond believe.

Many people have little access to computers or high technology. Though there are many schools and colleges today in African than in the past, the quality of education is going down, and below acceptable standards. Africa has engineers but they relied on their western counterparts to fulfil their complex engineering needs! Why? We need new thinking and new direction to move the continent forward and the challenge is mainly for the youth to take their destiny into their own hands.  Our leaders have failed us completely, and there seem to be no hope. However, I sincerely, believe that when we rise up, and do things differently from what’s going on right now, trust me, we shall surely overcome some day! Until then, the debate still lingers: Are Africans smart enough to manage their own affairs? Please, watch out for part III, the last of the series. Thanks.

Peter Osei-Adjei

Coordinator-Web Communications

Overcoming the Power of Vested Interest Among African Youth

Poseiadjei20@gmail.com , poseiadjei@yahoo.com
Columnist: Peter Osei-Adjei