The Ontology of the African III: The Leaders



The African leader like the African has a derisory ontology. With billions of dollars in foreign accounts, endless terms in office and paraphernalia of power the African leader cannot escape it. From the people do their leaders emerge and they are no different besides the acquisition and exercise of power or wealth. No one seriously really cares where an African leader was educated, his career, her family background or his religion except for a few. No one seriously cares about his ideology or philosophy. That is how derisory the ontology of the African leader is. He is nothing to anyone but those who stomachs he fills.

In the context articulated here leadership has two key functions; to prepare a people for a better future especially when it requires relief or deliverance and to retain the good that has already been achieved by predecessors. Every leader is guided by some simple or complex ontology; it decides what is to be taken seriously and what is to be avoided or neglected. His or her approach to ontology may be positive (i.e. based on what is) or normative (i.e. what should be). To avoid excesses, a healthy balance between positive and normative ontology is necessary or else we are eventually left with totalitarian or inverted totalitarian governance complete with oppression, repression, corruption, violence, government failure, market failure and all what not. Or at least something close to that.

There is no such thing as passive leadership at least not of a state. A hapless, incompetent, corrupt, failing and irresponsibly governed jurisdiction is no indication that the leadership that controls it does nothing. The “doing by non-doing” is too esoteric for the demands and burdens of competitive or jurisdictional leadership. Even in a totally failed government, the leaders have to fight tactically and strategically to retain power and enforce their will. This is probably the beginning of the ontology of the African leader, the politics of persistent as against the politics of advancement.

Great leaders of the past have created the ontology of the people they govern of with highly admirable vision, acuity and dexterity. Europeans expect (provided their bills are paid consistently) that when they flick a switch or turn on a tap the lights come on and water runs unfailingly, respectively. Such flawlessly assured expectations of domestic electricity and water supplies are the result of the ontologies of successive European leaders. If this is a statement of fact then successive African leaders (I focus on Nigeria) do not have such ontology in the slightest. Even if African leaders have such ontology it is both passive and utterly useless. Creating the ontology which will result in a better future or a stable present time requires action (backed up by resources). Africans definitely do not lack any kind of resources; in fact her resources built and are essential for the progress of developed nations. While African leaders have not created ontologies for “constant electricity” and “constant water” other leaders have created ontologies for going to space, splitting the atom, universal free health care, safe transport, job creation and so on.

The purpose of this article is not to compare African with non-African leaders. Comparison is one of the agencies of the derisory ontology of the African. The weekly food intake of a peasant African family is happily and gloriously compared to the weekly food provisions of an upper middle-class American family regardless of the claim to rationality and intelligence. It hard to fathom that while US and European heads of state are becoming more electable based on good looks and style African leaders are not only becoming uglier many with a little help from photo shop look like lesser primates or even worse. Some African leaders take all dignity out of wearing a suit as much as they crave photo shoots at UN, AU and other international summits dressed in suits. Even though vanity must never be the basis of serious leadership, well if it can be helped, the bad looking African leader turns out to very bad at governance as well. Where are all the dignified, awe-inspiring, charismatic, media friendly Africans with great characters and personalities?

Images as we all know foster the derisory ontology of the African, the images of war and the consequences of misgovernance. Therefore, derisory ontology of the African is largely function of African leaders and the outcomes they produce. Regardless of the skills of sycophants and the politically correct African leaders have failed, the results of their actions are the stuff of degrading underdevelopment. Poverty, illiteracy, hunger, senseless wars, disease, and corruption are the only areas of development Africans score highly; they are often in the Top 10 in those categories.

A common leadership trait is self-motivation, being a self-starter as pioneer, builder, thinker, organiser or whatever else. A governance problem is identified and a very serious attempt is made by the leader to effectively solve it. The attempt may fail but the adopted ontology of the [good] leader ensures that sooner than later the problem is solved. This does not appear to be the ontology of the African leader who takes no responsibility for his or failures but delights in credit for mostly imaginary achievements and veneer successes. In new democracies there is the novelty of blamocracy i.e. “governance by blaming others for the government’s very own failures”. The ontology of the African leader on paper and in common knowledge includes the observation that problems cannot be solved by them unless less they get help from abroad on there is money to be made.

Notions of African leaders as bad or failed supremos are a bit too easy to conjure in one’s mind. Empirical evidence and anecdotes about African leaders abound. Notions of African leaders as good and competent heads of government are realistically very possible. However, the irony here is only the African leader through exemplary governance and achievement can make such happen. The question then becomes, how can bad incompetent leaders create a superior ontology of the African leader and the everyday African?

Without intending offence, one wonders if the African leader actually understands the ontology of the African. Put differently, it often appears the African leader is effectively oblivious to the implications of the derisory ontology of Africa and their role in entrenching it. If African leaders appear to routinely lack the intelligence and ability to provide their people with enlightened governance, how can ordinary Africans be seen by non-Africans as intelligent, respectable and able beings. African leaders do not appear to be able carry their nations along with their policies and actions but not because their policies and actions are necessarily bad or unpersuasive. It is easier for them to carry along members either of their own political parties, ethnic groups, religions but no one else; the rest neither matter nor have a voice. The African leader from a majority ethnic group, majority religion and majority political party (especially simultaneously) is ’lucky’; those who are not are simply ‘unlucky’. Around the world accidents of birth appear to be the most important factor in attaining political leadership; the African leader may be thus excused but it does not help their derisory ontology.

Notions of African leaders loving their people or being constructive principals to their nations are not so easy to experience or formulate. Sigmund Freud talked about the eternal battle between Eros and Thanatos. Eros is the desire / capacity for love and Thanatos is the resort / tendency towards destruction. The leader who robs his own public treasury while allowing millions of citizens to endure dehumanising hunger has made a decision of Thanatos to prevail over sovereign Eros. Who besides ruling elite who live extravagantly off the state enjoys austerity? The leader who elects send his ethnic majority to war with another people of the same country when simple or minor political concessions would have ensured continuing peace and stability has hidden behind the ‘inevitability’ Thanatos and abandoned the almost ‘limitless potential’ of Eros. Who besides leaders, the ruling class and industrialists loves war? The leader that increasingly puts ideology, profits or corporations before the needs of the people has by a widening gap put Thanatos before Eros. It is the case that African leaders are not alone in this respect but when have they never shown a genuine preference for Eros over Thanatos besides a mostly fraudulent fight for independence.

I have personally asked many of Nigeria’s leading politicians, lawyers and jurists if they had seen the Nigerian “Declaration of Independence” to which they said no; I have never known anyone to have seen it. Is Africa really independent? One may be curious to know why African leaders are very subservient to neocolonial interests. Aid and debt has been proffered as a reason but it is not sufficiently persuasive an argument, for reasons I will not go into here. There have been sincere and strong African leaders who put Eros of their nations and people ahead of Thanatos superlatively but what happened to them. Painful and humiliating deaths were their lot and that sent a message to future leaders to ‘behave’. Thanatos by default became the “only way” of leading African nations by indigenous leaders. Nevertheless, such a notion is too easy accept. What happened to the deliverance responsibility of leaders? A non-derisory ontology of the African would require deliverance orchestrated by African leaders. The deliverance from poverty, famine, hunger, infrastructure deficits, war, illiteracy, pitiful images etc. should be the untiring responsibility of the African leader. Perhaps, the greatest responsibility of the African leaders is to deliver themselves from confirmed mediocrity, confirmed venality and confirmed self-interested destructiveness.

We must not forget that there African leaders who can only do good in the sight of certain celebrated Western “do gooders”. Unfortunately these do gooders pursue a utopia that has never been created elsewhere before. These do gooders never help the ontology of the African leader or the African. Understanding their agendas, few take them seriously even though leaders do or have to.

The African leader like any other needs able soldiers, energetic workers, content population increases, young entrepreneurs, fresh innovators, new thinkers etc. to build, rebuild, run or maintain a nation. This constituency is mainly drawn from the youth of the nation. The African leader does not really have any good or constructive use for the African youth though. The youth are deliberately or inadvertently allowed to waste away encouraging even more Thanatos in the nation. The leader who does not know the value of the youth to a nation or cannot harness their energies is not worthy of a leadership position. . How can an African leader make good use of the resources their nations are endowed with without employing the minds and the energies of the youth? For the African leader that in itself is irresponsible and perpetual of a derisory ontology of the African

For the African leader the absence of ontologies of progress and advancement means leadership will always be the stuff of persistence and power-for-its-own-sake. If this is how the African continent will continue to be governed into the future the ontology of the African and the African leader shall remain utterly derisory.

Grimot Nane

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