On Thursday September 21, 2023, which marked the birthday of Ghana's First President Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the Nkrumah Mandela Leadership Conference under the auspices of the Kwame Nkrumah Centre for Ideology, Governance and Leadership, held a session on the theme, "Osagyefo & The Madiba: Global Africa in Search of Transformational Leadership in the 21st Century."
The guest speaker for the session at the Great Hall of the University of Ghana, Legon, was Corporate Executive and Pan African Advocate, Yaw Oduro Nsarkoh.
Find below his full speech:
- INTRODUCTION AND TRIBUTE TO FIELD MARSHAL MUTHONI WA KIRIMA
Thanks for the invitation to me to deliver this speech. Africa’s continued underperformance in the post-colonial incarnation means we must pause and do some critical reflection. Was Independence, to invoke Professor Samir Amin, that outstanding scholar, “a miracle that led nowhere,” for the majority of Africans?
Pio Gama Pinto, the incomparable freedom, Mau Mau, revolutionary, journalist, trade unionist and humanist used to say, “Uhuru must mean Uhuru for the masses!” To him, there could be no freedom, no independence, no Uhuru, when the majority of our compatriots continue to languish in mass misery.
In keeping with this theme, may I ask that we honour the only woman that made it to the rank of Field Marshal in the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (Mau Mau), Muthoni wa Kirima. Her story inspires me and fills me with sorrow simultaneously.
She was outstandingly courageous. As a revolutionary, she was a true humanitarian, hardworking and tremendously strategic. From that we must be inspired and learn.
But when she reminded us that we had forgotten those who gave their lives for our freedom and liberation, what was our answer? Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima reminded us of the extreme sacrifices the Mau Mau revolutionaries made. When she said, in the face of colonialism’s primitive brutality and cruelty, many times, they did not even have the time to bury their murdered colleagues. “Hyenas ate their dead bodies.”
Yet in post-colonial Kenya where a new monstrous and predatory elite emerged soon after independence, people like Muthoni wa Kirima were forgotten. She had to fend for herself by selling lemons in her destitution at one point.
Little wonder she once said: “Up to date the country is in the hands of collaborators. They are only concerned about their wealth and not in the interest of the masses. Everything they own is because we fought for it. It’s sad that many of us are either dead or live in deplorable states.”
The neglect of people like Muthoni wa Kirima in post-colonial Africa, and even by this more recent sham neoliberal Santa Claus democracy, is one of Africa’s most stinging tales of tragedy. The lumpenbourgeoisie has stolen and grabbed with both hands, while our heroes perished in destitution.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o was right to describe this tragic reality when he bemoaned the consequences of neoliberal capitalism in his novel, “Petals of Blood,” as the creation of societies in which you either eat or you are eaten, you bite or you are bitten. The only way to stay clean is to wash your dirt, your urine, your sweat, your tears on to someone else’s back.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, professor, super-scholar, freedom-fighter, revolutionary and more; then ominously reminded us of our revolutionary mission. When he stated that, in our societies there are some, the many in fact, who have neither the claws nor the fangs with which to prey. That is a devastating reality when life is reduced to an existential battle between prey and predator, which is what neoliberal capitalism is.
The Revolutionary Mission of a Re-Imagined Pan Africanism for the 21st Century must therefore be about how to liberate the productive forces in order to achieve shared prosperity and shared dignity in our societies. We must remember J.M. Kariuki, also a Mau Mau, booming that: “we do not want a society of ten millionaires and ten million beggars!”
The words of another Mau Mau, the immortal Pio Gama Pinto, continue to ring true. “Uhuru must not be transformed into freedom to exploit, or freedom to be hungry and live in ignorance. UHURU MUST BE UHURU FOR THE MASSES, Uhuru from exploitation, from ignorance, disease, and poverty.”
Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima lived long enough for us to at least correct some of the wrongs we committed to those of her colleagues who died earlier. Did we?
Che Guevara argued repeatedly that the true revolutionary is motivated by feelings of great love. Is it love that we who say we are interested in revolutionary change showed to people like Muthoni wa Kirima, freedom fighters who gave everything they had so we could be free? When we watched them sometimes sell lemons in destitution?
I tremble with shame when I imagine the conversation Muthoni wa Kirima is now having with her ex Comrades who crossed the river to be with the ancestors earlier. The thousands of Mau Mau revolutionaries whose names we never even got to know must forgive us all. We certainly could have done better.
I am not a very keen advocate of charity as an organising principle of society. I prefer to work for a society that does not need charity because everyone has dignity and human prosperity. It is because we live in broken societies that we sometimes seem to think more charity is the answer.
I am also not a fan of burying the fundamental issues of society in lifeless dogma and complex formalisms and arcane language and terminology in the name of ideological purity.. I believe in “what works.” To use Deng Xiaoping’s imagery, I am more interested in whether the cat can catch mice than whether it is black or white.
In my view, in terms of economic impact, Deng Xiaoping is the most
historically significant leader, in actually raising living standards, that the human race has ever produced. Reforms that lead to eight hundred million people being raised from poverty, have simply no precedent in human history.
He guided us to keep focused on the essential task of development not on lifeless dogma. Some of his principles were:
a. To always seek truth from facts. That all formalisms and postulations must and can only be proven in practice and by execution. He was fond of saying, we must cross the river by touching the stones.
b. That the purpose of development, of government, of democracy, of revolution – whatever you wish to call it – is to liberate and emancipate the productive forces to improve the livelihoods of all. EVERYTHING ELSE IS SECONDARY.
I could end my presentation here, as this really is my message. If we truly love our neighbours as ourselves, we must work for they too to share in dignity and prosperity. Not watch them in destitution as we hand over our lose change as charity.
Chinua Achebe made this point forcefully in “Anthills of the Savannah.” The great professor wrote: “… charity… is the opium of the privileged: from the good citizens (like yourselves) who donate water so that some Lazarus in the slums can have a syringe boiled clean as a whistle for his jab and his sores dressed more hygienically than the rest of him; to the Band Aid stars that lit up so dramatically the dark Christmas skies of Ethiopia. While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”
Our real obsession should be creating a world where there is socio-economic justice. A society that can claim that there is shared prosperity, shared dignity and shared humanity. We must continue, with all our intellectual, spiritual and material resources to campaign for the liberation and emancipation of the productive forces. By stimulating and igniting the creativity and willingness to work hard of our compatriots, so that, in the words of revolutionaries of another era and place, we may achieve, Liberte Egalite Fraternite. (More Liberty, More Egalitarian opportunity, More Fraternity).
Development is about the reordering of the social relations (all of them – class, gender, race, creed, etc.) around the means of production. We do this
to improve livelihoods, so that the long term health of society can be secured.
None of all this can be achieved without courageous leadership. Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima was an exceptionally courageous leader. I raise my fist in salute to her. Shall we never forget her. Shall we never forget her colleagues in the Land and Freedom Army, an army that gained iconic status among anti- colonial liberation fighters all across the periphery.
Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi, Field Marshal Musa Mwariama, General Baimungi, General Ruku, General Mathenge, General China, General Gachienga, General Ndege, General Kagia, General Kula-Twende, General Mukarange, General Mengo and others. We thank them all and commit to them anew that their struggle for a just society continues through us.
In words cobbled together from their own comrades, Pio Gama Pinto and J.M. Kariuki, we do not want a society of ten millionaires and ten million beggars!
Uhuru must mean Uhuru for the masses.
Asante sana and Kwaheri kabisa Shujaa Field Marshal Muthoni wa Kirima.
We are gathered today to ensure the struggle continues. I pray to the
ancestors, all of them, including you, Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mandela. Guide us and give us strength.
- The intangible shall prevail over the tangible
Our independence movements and the actual attainment of independence in Africa, filled us with hope and euphoria. These movements were filled with big ideas. Ideas that inspired hope and great expectations and fired the imagination of Africans everywhere.
Patrice Lumumba declared in a fiery and truly historical speech, written in long hand as he listened to King Baudouin of Belgium insultingly describe Belgian colonialism in Africa as the culmination of a civilising mission. Lumumba exploded in righteous rage:
“The colonialists are not in Africa for her own sake. They are attracted by African riches and their actions are guided by the desire to preserve their
interests in Africa against the wishes of the African people. For the colonialists all means are good if they help them to possess these riches.”
Capturing the imagination of revolutionaries all over the world, given the speech was broadcast on radio globally, Patrice Lumumba thundered with insight and conviction in continuation.
“Political independence has no meaning if it is not accompanied by rapid economic and social development. Without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.”
“The day will come,” Patrice Lumumba was to prophesy, “when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington, or the United Nations. Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.”
The question for us all, pondering on Lumumba’s words decades after, is, why has the post-colonial reality so under-delivered compared to the sunny optimism that characterised the Big Idea of Independence?
Kwame Nkrumah had said at Independence that the black man must prove to the world that he is capable of managing his own affairs. Ahmed Sekou Toure powerfully underlined that only the African people would make their own history. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere urged the African people to run where others had walked.
The zeitgeist was a new era of African liberation that would see the continent flourish. While there has no doubt been some progress since the days of colonialism, I take the view that African independence cannot have delivered on its promise. If in 2023, so many of our compatriots continue to live in poverty.
Karl Marx defined class struggle as the key issue of the 19th century. W.E.B. Du Bois pointed at the colour line as the defining issue of the 20th century. I argue that egregious inequality, eliminating poverty, is the major problem facing humanity in the 21st century.
Today’s leaders must organise to liberate the productive forces and to activate the creative energies of those they lead in order to improve livelihoods. This is the central task of development.
- Development is organised around big ideas
I make the point again: Essentially, development is about big ideas, that reorder the social relations around the means of production by liberating and emancipating the productive forces. And point out that revolutions are powered by big ideas too. We mobilise around big ideas. Lenin fought for bread and peace. Dedan Kimathi, for land and freedom. And so on.
- People follow ideas in expectation of material gain
Yet, Amilcar Cabral, that great revolutionary, was right, humans want to improve their lives. Writing in “The weapon of theory,” in 1966, Cabral observed:
“Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward to guarantee the future of their children."
People do not eat slogans and arcane rhetoric from the lifeless dogma of sterile “isms.” Independence has not delivered, as yet, shared prosperity and shared dignity. And for that reason the idea of independence is endangered.
- We need a mindset revolution
One way in which the African condition is endangered is the all pervasive failure of mindsets we see all around us. We experience anomie conditions, chronic indiscipline, lack of ambition, a deficit of self-confidence, debilitating inferiority and more.
We must begin by radically uplifting and upgrading our mindsets to imagine and work for a better tomorrow. My friend Akosua Bame who has authored three books on the subject, is right when she notes that: “The real work of changing one’s mindset is an internal journey and is evidenced when one consciously applies that mindset in practical situations as they emerge. You will know that you have achieved the mindset change when you no longer have to consciously apply it, that is, when you naturally approach a given life situation that way.”
- Let us reflect on some thoughts of Nkrumah and Mandela
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave person is not the one who does not feel afraid, but the one who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
“Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. They claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.” – Kwame Nkrumah
“Africa is a paradox which illustrates and highlights neo-colonialism. Her earth is rich, yet the products that come from above and below the soil continue to enrich, not Africans predominantly, but groups and individuals who operate to Africa's impoverishment.” – Kwame Nkrumah
7. Ten Leadership principles for the real world in the 21st century
Principle 1: Keep your ‘enemies’ close, be kind to them, get them to input into your strategy and pay serious heed to what they have to say.
I took an example from the corporate world (Paul Polman) and from contemporary electoral politics in Africa (Bola Tinubu). None of them is
perfect. But in their own ways they are very effective in the contexts in which they operate.
They both understand bridge building and this is absolutely critical in the modern real world. Polman demonstrated this when he invited the former detractors of Unilever, the NGOs, to come inside the Unilever operation and input into strategy, so that together a better world could be created. After this, a constructive and very productive and harmonious relationship was formed for the benefit of society.
Bola Tinubu fell out with his successor as Governor in Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola. But when he needed someone to run his presidential campaign, he knew what Fashola could do. He made up with Fashola and got him to lead his campaign.
Deng Xiaoping stuck to his principles but he refused to succumb to temptations to humiliate Mao, even though Mao had humiliated him, He leveraged and rehabilitated Mao and used his ideas, with relevant modifications, to power the Chinese reforms
The real world requires pragmatism and flexibility not fundamentalism. In Ghana, and much of Africa, the dawn of neoliberal over-monetised party politics, what I call the Santa Claus democracies, has resulted in deeply dysfunctional factionalism. To such an extent that the solidarity that is needed for nation building is now even difficult to summon. No people have developed in such hopeless partisan fragmentation and disunity. Africa simply will not be the first to do so. Therefore, substantial questions must be asked about how to re-organise multiparty politics in Africa so that the big idea of national development is not submerged in factionalism.
Principle 2: Know and Master your context
Great leaders are masters of their context. I have wondered many times whether a person like Bola Tinubu can be effective outside the unique circumstances of Nigeria. Yet, in Nigeria, he has so far been unbeatable. He has never lost an election despite competing in many. Even his ardent critics, and there are many, agree that in the Nigerian political context, Tinubu is a very significant player.
Kwame Nkrumah, especially as a mass mobiliser, had this. He understood the times and space in which he operated in Ghana. He could fire the imagination of ordinary people in a way none of his upper class political opponents could. He was at ease with his context and with ordinary people, his so-called “veranda boys”.
Deep proximity with the people brings deep appreciation and deep
understanding of their circumstances. It is the only way real insight and empathy can be built.
When I see today that so many African leaders are locked behind very high walls and fortresses, far away from the masses they claim to lead, how are they ever really going to know the truth about how their people live? They cite insecurity but it is poor policies, like neoliberal capitalism or what others call bourgeois liberalisation, that create explosive income polarisation and make violent crime preponderant.
We must fix this. If African political leadership only visits the people with large hordes of security personnel in their trail, and with TV cameras everywhere, they soon become disengaged from reality. They then begin claiming things that surprise many others. Because everything gets falsely set up for them and they do not ask sufficiently rigorous questions when people present them with made up numbers and claims.
If we had indeed had the food and agricultural supply breakthroughs that Ghanaian officialdom claims for “Planting for Food and Jobs I,” the first phase of agriculture policy for Ghana, questions arise. Can someone explain to us then, why food inflation hit 59.7% in 2022, if the supply situation was so rosy. How is it possible that there is so much supply and yet there is also runaway inflation?
If four hundred thousand toilets have really been built in Ghana in recent times, how is it that in a country of thirty-two million people, that degree of expansion hardly moved the needle on open defecation? It simply does not add up.
When we say but for the Ukraine war and COVID, Ghana’s neoliberal policies were on track economically, we must also answer the question, why did other countries, so many others, not experience general inflation at 54% with food inflation almost touching 60%?
Such questioning brings integrity to public discourse and enables true accountability. People then dare not mislead their leaders because they know the leader will check and find them out.
When in Ghana someone tells you that the ban on illegal mining is working, please check where and how the ban is working, before announcing that it is. Paul Kagame says after decades in the bush fighting for basic dignities with his people, very little surprises him.
Proximity to the people brings specificity and granularity to leadership communication. Check out the communication of Deng Xiaoping when it came to the Chinese reforms.
- The reforms will move China from $200 GNP/capita/annum to $800 in twenty years (1980 – 2000).
- GNP is a proxy for industrial and agricultural output.
- Reforms will begin in the rural areas where 80% of the Chinese population live as peasants in poverty. Improving the livelihoods of peasant rural folk will bring needed stability, peace and harmony to the China project. After three years, the reforms will then include the cities.
- $800 GNP/capita/annum will not make most countries of the Western world moderately prosperous, as China was aiming for. But China has socialist
distribution and therefore a more even income spread than the West, hence attaining this number will see a significant uplift in livelihoods.
- At $800 GNP/capita/annum China would become a $1trillion economy. If 10% of that was invested in education that would be a budget of $100billion. This would be a gamechanger for China.
The message was crisp, realistic, understood and therefore it mobilised the creative energies of China and the imagination and passions of the ordinary people caught fire. Unsurprisingly, every single communicated target was exceeded.
Compare the crispness of this communication to say the messaging that followed “Ghana Beyond Aid.” Beyond the slogan, how many Ghanaians could say in granular terms what we were going for? We create office after office, appoint too many people, who then – to justify their existence – write meaningless papers that keep many idlers talking but doing nothing. Worse, they make up outright lies to please the boss and then start dysfunctional rivalries among each other. Each trying to outdo the other for the bosses favour.
So, teamwork collapses and the state becomes incompetent from the resulting bureaucratic chokehold. This is the worst-case scenario for any leader, for in no time, they will be naked kings dancing out in public believing they are clothed in the best garments. Because they have been told so.
All their promises will not be delivered and their slogans will be what the immortal Samir Amin described as MIRACLES THAT LEAD NOWHERE. Chronic short-termism then takes over.
Leaders must cut through such bureaucratic chokeholds and speak directly and frequently with the people. Deng Xiaoping bemoaned such dense bureaucracies with the felicitous description: “there are too many temples, and in each of them, too many deities.”
Principle 3 - IF YOU CANNOT EAT SPICE DO NOT JOIN REVOLUTION – Mao Zedong
When asked whether he was a ruthless man or not, Lee Kwan Yew said: “I am not a ruthless man but when I say I will do something, people know I am serious.”
it cannot be right that a president stakes his office on ending illegal mining but then nothing happens to stop it. The neoliberal state is an incompetent state that produces weak leaders. We cannot continue like this, with states in Africa that are so incompetent they are incapable of enforcing their own good laws.
What kind of society do we hope for when we buy the neoliberal fallacy that the private sector, by itself, can replace the agency of the competent state? Yet, all over Africa you hear politicians parroting these fallacies. With of course a few exceptions like Rwanda.
Leadership is not for timid people. To make changes that have never been tried before, such as the Chinese reforms, requires courage, grit and determination. Long term commitment. You must be willing to and dare to try new things, fail fast sometimes and course correct quickly when and where necessary.
You cannot sit at the top, aloof and disengaged, like a cuddly teddy bear. Deng Xiaoping put it best, a leader must dare to touch the backside of the tiger. Or achieve nothing structural and significant by way of improvements.
Nelson Mandela, in his last days was presented to the world as the ultimate conciliatory figure. An image that significantly short-changed the revolutionary character of his struggles for justice. Even then, when the brutal Nigerian
dictator, Sanni Abacha, murdered the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, while the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was in session, Mandela showed the world what he was made of. He went after Abacha hammer and tongs and lambasted him in ways that we had never seen one African head of government do to another.
Principle 4: Play the long game
The world is not always as innocent as we will like it to be. There is a vicious interstate power struggle for global domination and world hegemony going on. Therefore it takes great skill to navigate geopolitics and to deal with Nicolo Machiavelli’s, “what is, not what should be”
The footballer Didier Drogba reminded us that in the game of life, as in the game of football, a striker cannot expect many great chances. Therefore, the striker must take the chances that come his way to be successful. It is not different in leadership.
African leaders show a tendency to shout out their plans even before the seeds are planted. William Ruto bleating his views on the dollar as the reserve currency of the world; Nana Akufo-Addo screaming about “Ghana Beyond Aid” and cocoa sovereignty; again Ruto announcing the attitude of African leaders to Africa summits, even before it has been digested.
Navigating geopolitics requires more tact and savvy than this.
Deng Xiaoping’s famous Southern China tour was done twelve years after the reforms started, when he had actually retired. China’s progress was then irreversible. Even in 1989, the year Deng retired, the German KFW was still giving grants to China. China had not gone around beating its chest to the world about becoming a major power, it kept its head down and did it. It was not different, although to a smaller scale, in Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew in the early days.
The world can be a brutal place. It is not for the naïve.
Master your craft: To do all the things I am saying requires that leaders must take capabilities and skills development seriously. Trying to be the very best they can be. We make them leaders so they can lead. As strong persons with strong institutions. Leadership development must be taken very seriously.
The neoliberal farce that relegates the state to a non-entity, and has led some African leaders to think they can abdicate responsibility and pass the buck to the private sector and ordinary citizens, has been disastrous on this continent. It must be stopped immediately.
There is a reason why we allow leaders with their sirens to drive through while the rest of us stand still in traffic. And a reason why we stand up when they appear at public functions. In return they must deliver for the people. That requires capability and mastery of one’s craft.
The prodigious painter, Pablo Picasso, had this to say: “My mother said, if you become a soldier, you’ll be a general; if you become a monk you’ll end as the Pope. Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.”
Diego Maradona, the footballer, would say that there are times when the responsibility falls on the most gifted and talented to show the way, she or he must. Only he in the Argentinian national football team of 1986, could have dribbled six world cup defenders and scored, he did.
African leaders volunteer for their jobs and almost beg to be elected. When they get there, they must work hard for the people.
Principle 5: Before you thrive, you must survive.
“We are not fighting imperialism in order to die.” - Nikita Khruschev
I have made the point earlier. We must focus on what matters; creating shared dignity and shared prosperity for ALL the peoples of Africa.
Needless and naïve posturing by people who do not understand the ruthlessness of imperialism and neocolonialism, can lead to preventable ruin and collapse or societies. What for example was Saddam Hussein thinking when he annexed Kuwait?
While it is true that many of the assassinations and coups experienced in Africa were consequences of the contradictions of cold-war geopolitics, we must dig deeper to understand. How is it that Fidel Castro who, by the declassified records of the US Congress escaped assassination attempts seventeen times, still managed to survive? What are the lessons to be learned?
PRINCIPLE 6: No one society knows it all – we must work for a differentiated polycentric approach (one planet, many systems)
- Jettison needless ideological rigidity in favour of pragmatism and an orientation to do what works to improve the long term health of society in Africa, under Africa’s own specific conditions and in our own context. The
Chinese under both Mao in the first three and a half decades, and then Deng, but especially under Deng, upheld: Seek Truth From Facts. Peter Senge called the same principle, “suspend all assumptions.”
- There is simply too much ideological rigidity and posturing by too many
African intellectuals of both the right and the left. We are then left stranded at the doors of other people’s formalisms. Which we then adopt as lifeless, irrelevant and inapplicable dogma.
- Liberating the productive forces requires world class understanding of the market economy. To achieve long term social justice will necessarily involve more egalitarian modes of distribution, which can be called socialist economics..
- In my view, an ability to lead in this way was Deng Xiaoping’s greatest strength. Which is probably why Lee Kwan Yew said he was the most impressive man he ever met. He used market economics and socialist economics as complimentary tools but never gave up his own ideological
credentials. He warned constantly that if socialism only delivered poverty, it would collapse.,
- How does it help ordinary people in Africa when so many of our intellectuals busy themselves with the esoterica of the Communist Paradise? Or equally nauseating, with Milton Friedmann’s impenetrable neoliberal logic backing shareholder primacy? We must think more originally and take our opportunities.
PRINCIPLE 7: No guts, no glory – have the courage to follow the path of integrity wherever it goes
Neoliberal democracy has reduced many an African state to an incompetent state. By over-monetising our elections, we now have Santa Claus democracies. That is, democracies where the politicians show up every four or five years bearing gifts for an expectant but disengaged electorate. The electorate is literally bribed to vote one way or the other, then that is it for the next period.
Santa Claus democracies in turn yield Robinson Crusoe Societies because over-monetised democracy yields Incompetent States, and an Incompetent State cannot enforce even its own good laws. Therefore, an Incompetent state will result, necessarily, in conditions of anomie. The state of anomie is the Robinson Crusoe Society.
Our sham neoliberal democracies no longer even attempt to tackle the big issues. Leaders are so scared of losing elections that they turn into Monkeys of Nikko. They see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Right in the middle of tremendous governance breakdowns in their own societies.
Such leaders, even in the face of dangerous and cataclysmic occurrences like rampant corruption, land administration chaos and ecologically damaging illegal mining; remain eyes off, ears off, hands off, everything off. Yet, leadership is about courage, grit, determination and long term commitment to take on the big and structural issues of society, in order to liberate the
Issues like land reforms or funding of education, or properly subordinating chieftaincy to the republican constitution and the state, or ending the use of religion to exploit the vulnerable. These are big issues of society.
How do we get our over-monetised neoliberal democracy that only produces leaders who just think about how to win the next election to dare to touch the backside of the tiger? WE MUST NEVER FEAR, NEVER FEAR, NEVER FEAR!
Then as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict told people trying to undermine the doctrinal basis of the Catholic church by threatening him they would leave the church, that “a smaller church may be a better church!” In more street language he was saying, they could go to hell, no one would hold the church they had joined voluntarily to ransom. I am no Catholic, nor necessarily an
admirer of the Vatican. But I like to see leadership that does not buckle at any new threat from fickle elements parading new winds of superficial doctrine.
Margaret Thatcher approached Deng Xiaoping with hubris, cloaked in her assured status of being an Iron Lady. The man Mao fondly called “The intelligent little man never to be underestimated,” taught her a lesson.
Thatcher had proposed that beyond the fifteen year transition period for the return of Hong Kong to China, Hong Kong should remain as a colony of Britain.
Deng sprang to his full five feet height. He said the masses trusted him and that he could therefore delay the reunification by fifteen years. But “One China, Two Systems” was as far as he would go. “The question of Hong Kong not returning to China, will not even be discussed. It is not up for negotiation.” A master of managing the public mood, Deng added that he prayed he would be alive to see Hong Kong returned in 1997. “For, the leader of China that does not work for the reunification of China will neither be able to face the people of China nor their ancestors.” Deng died in February 1997, Hong Kong returned in June 1997.
Thatcher plaid glowing tribute to Deng’s strength of character and conviction upon his death. Mao Zedong had once told Nikita Khruschev something instructive, when a top Russian diplomat, physically a giant, had been cut to ribbons by Deng in a public debate. “Never underestimate our little man, he is extraordinarily intelligent and about the best we have. His only problem is people fear him.” Mao was of course referring to the Ultra-Left and Ultra- Right. They stood in fear of the clarity of Deng’s thinking to the end.
Christopher Okigbo, the formidable Nigerian poet, trenchantly refused to be dragged down when some people complained his writing was not accessible. He countered that art was not a contest for the popular vote.
Real leadership is prepared, when the path of integrity is threatened, to tell multitudes to go to hell, if that is the price of doing what is right for society.
Never fear being in the minority if you are dedicated to seeking truth from
facts. Never fear. In the end it was Galileo that was right, not the multitudes of the Catholic Church.
James Baldwin, the maestro, often reminded us that, one day for each of us, the sun will go down for the very last time. This is true for rich and poor. We must never fear. The indomitable Ngugi was right: in a land in which there is too much fear, poverty soon descends.
Principle 8: Civilisation does not fall from the sky – Leadership can be hard work and lonely
The great writer, Professor Chinua Achebe, in characteristic wisdom and fluidity, wrote in “The Trouble with Nigeria”: “I know enough history to realise that civilisation does not fall from the sky; it has always been the result of people’s toil and sweat, the fruit of their long search for order and justice under brave and enlightened leaders.”
I need add no more to the ancestors words. They are sufficient clear and very powerful.
Principle 9: Remember Nikita Khruschev – we are not fighting imperialism in order that we may die
I repeat for emphasis: WE MUST SURVIVE BEFORE WE CAN THRIVE! We do not need erratic strategists as leaders in Africa, people who poke the eye of the bear without understanding the consequences and then destroy whole societies. Like Saddam Hussein. Africa is not available for stunts men who become Presidents and then want to play Russian Roulette with the fate of more than a billion people to bolster their personal profiles as macho men.
William Ruto’s seeming fool-hardiness, naivety and inexperience on the international stage is uppermost in my mind at this stage. He must be much more strategic in the timing and content of his utterances.
In modern times, stealth, tact, strategic savvy, immaculate timing, are essential tools in the arsenal of leaders of poor countries in navigating geopolitics. People have moved mountains that way.
Principle 10: Guard health and well-being
We do not talk sufficiently about this. No leader that is not mentally, physically and spiritually alert and fit will survive the excruciating and punishing demands of modern effective presidencies. This aspect must be prioritised. One way to stay charged is to stay connected to the masses.
8. Some words of wisdom from our ancestors – Jah continue to bless these very wise women for we’ve been treading the wine-press for much too long!
“Know the function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being… None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” – Toni Morrison
"The movement is not about the individual. It is about transforming the conditions that exist for the masses of people. It is about making sure that the efforts of one person are part of a collective struggle." – Angela Davis
"The real difference is making the commitment to dig a hole, plant a tree, and water it for life. You don't just give speeches; you don't just discuss the problem. You roll up your sleeves and get dirty. That is the only way you will make a difference." – Wangari Maathai.
"Courage is the most important of all the virtues because, without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently." – Maya Angelou
"The liberation of the mind is a lifelong journey. We must constantly question and challenge the status quo." – Ama Ata Aidoo
“The revolution begins within ourselves. We must unlearn the ideologies that oppress us and relearn our true history and culture." – Micere Githae Mugo
"I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights." – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
- Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will
When Antonio Gramsci, the formidable Italian Marxist philosopher, uttered these words, he was pointing to an irrefutable truism. There are many times in life when the objective conditions suggest hopelessness and yet we must not give up. Our will is all we have left and we must leverage it.
For more than a decade, Deng Xiaoping, for example, lived in the ‘cow shed’. Rusticated, humiliated, under house arrest. He spent much of his time pacing around trees in his compound, to keep fit. Even his children were kept away. For twenty years, he was not allowed to contribute to the running of China.
But he was to say later that he never gave up. He kept his optimism. And his day came, and what an impact he made on human history. He took his chances.
In the seeming hopelessness of Africa today, I choose to remain optimistic. Our day will come. As Nadine Gordimer pointed out, some Monday for sure, it will come.
When that day comes, we must take it, fully prepared to change the course of human history by liberating the productive forces and take ALL our African people out of poverty. The preparation must begin in earnest now for that day when on the African continent we will topple neoliberal capitalism. Just like the Chinese eventually smashed the “Gang of Four.”
- The point is to change it
We talk a lot, we must focus more execution and getting things done. Karl Marx, writing in 1845, in his The Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach observed:
“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”
Those immortal words were inscribed on his grave upon his death.
- We must keep hope alive - There are still some good people even in a world where the news is filled with so much pain
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist and Nazi holocaust survivor, writing in Man’s Search For Meaning, in my view, one of the most influential books of the 20th century and beyond.
- Back to where we started
This is what we must focus on not all the meaningless distractions and esoterica of abstract and metaphysical ideological debate of the Ultra-Left and Ultra-Right. Essentially, development is about big ideas, that reorder the social relations around the means of production by liberating and emancipating the productive forces to improve the livelihoods of ALL the people.
- Now we must end
I invoke the slogan of the Portuguese speaking anti-colonial freedom fighters and combine it with the slogan of our Cuban compatriots who came to Africa to fight and die on our soil, in an ultimate example of solidarity in the Periphery. For this reason, we can never forget Fidel Castro and all the Los Barbudoes, no matter what anyone says.
We bandy the idea of freedom around lightly but it is the deepest and most enhancing condition of humanity. Amartya Kumar Sen has written tomes on this matter, I recommend his books to all. I find particularly instructive Sen’s illustration of freedom being about capability and choice.
Two people do not eat. One by choice is fasting, and that enhances his or her dignity. Another is deprived of food by poverty, that results in the indignity of
starvation. On a large-scale, the indignity of famine. The difference is the capability and freedom to choose, they both did the same thing essentially;
not eating. But one chose, the other was forced. That is the value of freedom.
Our national motto in Ghana is “Freedom and Justice.” There is no freedom when close to 70% of our population live in poverty and mass misery, when close to 20% of the population are housed in kiosks and discarded shipping containers, when close to 20% suffer the indignity of open defecation and more.
The day is coming when we will be reunited with Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mandela across the river where all our other ancestors I have mentioned today reside. May we be able to say when we meet them again that we reimagined Pan Africanism and delivered freedom to the African people, all the African people.
Until that day comes, shall we be each other’s keeper and love one another. In the words of perhaps the most famous musician ever to emerge from the black world, and remember “black” is a lived experience, not just skin colour. In the “black” world, we include Joe Slovo, Ahmed Kathrada, Nadine Gordimer, Pio Gama Pinto, Frantz Fanon, Jean-Paul Sartre, Olof Palme and the many others who took substantial risks to fight for African freedom.
Bob Marley sang powerfully:
'Cause we're moving right out of Babylon
And we're going to our Father's land, yeah How good and how pleasant it would be Before God and man, yeah
To see the unification of all Africans, yeah As it's been said already, let it be done, yeah We are the children of the Rastaman
We are the children of the Iyaman So, Africa unite
'Cause the children wanna come home (Africa unite), yeah, yeah Africa unite
'Cause we're moving right out of Babylon And we're grooving to our Father's land, yeah How good and how pleasant it would be Before God and man
To see the unification of all Rastaman, yeah As it's been said already, let it be done
I tell you who we are under the sun We are the children of the Rastaman We are the children of the Iyaman So, Africa unite
Afri- Africa unite, yeah
Unite for the benefit of your people (Africa unite) Unite for it's later than you think (Africa unite) Unite for the benefit of my children (Africa unite) Unite for it's later than you think (Africa unite)
Africa awaits its creators (Africa unite) Africa awaiting its Creator (Africa unite)
Africa, you're my forefather cornerstone (Africa unite) Unite for the Africans abroad (Africa unite)
ALUTA CONTINUA! HASTA LA VICTORIA SEMPRE. VICTORIA ASCERTA.
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