The African leader like the African he rules has a derisory ontology. With billions of dollars stashed away in foreign accounts, endless terms in office and the excessive paraphernalia of power, these have become the identifiers of the African leader. The one destined lead African nations seem unable to escape it, either by choice or curse. From a people do their leaders emerge; they are no different from their compatriots except by rank and vocation. At least they look African, which is part of their ontology. No one cares where an African leader got his education, his tenures in office, her family background or his religion except for a few. No one cares about his ideology or philosophy. That is how derisory the ontology of the African leader is. He is nothing to anyone, but those he represents and whose stomach he fills. For most of these leaders, their citizens are utterly ashamed of them.
Notions of African leaders as corrupt or failed supremos are a bit too easy to conjure in one’s mind. Empirical evidence and anecdotes about corrupt African leaders abound. Yet, notions of African leaders as excellent and competent heads of government are possible. Nevertheless, it is only the African leader through exemplary governance and achievement that can make such happen. The question then becomes, how can corrupt, incompetent leaders create a superior ontology of the African leader and the everyday African? The answer is, they cannot. You cannot make a bonfire with wet wood nor boiling water in glasses filled with ice. It takes determination, focus, sacrifice, thoughtfulness and energy to reverse negative ontologies.
In the given context, leadership has two essential functions; (1) to prepare a people for a better future especially when it requires solutions, relief or deliverance and (2) to retain the good that has already been achieved by predecessors. Some simple or complex ontology guides every leader. He or she decides what counts as serious 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. When such a balance abandoned, we tend towards despotic or inverted totalitarian governance complete with oppression, repression, corruption, violence, government failure, market failure and all whatnot. Or at least something close to that.
There is no such thing as passive leadership, not of a nation. A hapless, incompetent, corrupt, failing, and irresponsibly governed society is no indication that its leadership does nothing. The “doing by non-doing” concept is too esoteric for the demands and burdens of competitive or national leadership. Even in a failed government, the leaders have to fight tactically and strategically to retain power and enforce their will. It is probably the beginning of the ontology of the African leader, the politics of survival and persistence as against the politics of advancement and deliverance.
Great leaders of the past have created the ontology of the people they govern with highly admirable vision, experiments and sacrifices. Such leaders foster the capabilities of its institutions and citizens coherently as an underpinning rule. 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 from the tap, respectively. Such stable assured expectations of domestic electricity and water supplies are the result of the ontologies of successive European leaders. It becomes clear that successive African leaders (I focus on Nigeria) have not had such ontologies in the slightest. Even if African leaders have such an ontology, it is either impractical due to a lack of commitment or merely cosmetic. Creating the ontology, which will result in a better future or a stable present, requires action and method backed up by resources. Africans do not lack any kind of resources; her resources built and are essential for the progress of developed nations. Such creates significant doubts about the ontologies African leaders have. These should be the number election question and answered adequately by prospective leaders.
I will try not to compare African leaders with their non-African counterparts. Comparison is one of the agencies of the derisory ontology of the African. The weekly food intake of an African peasant 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 was 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, they inexplicably look like lesser primates or even worse. Some African leaders take all the dignity out of wearing a suit as much as they crave photoshoots at international summits dressed in suits. Vanity must never be the basis of serious leadership if it can be helped, but 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 in the leadership game?
Images, as we all know, do foster the derisory ontology of the African, the images of war, famine, filth, poverty, disease and the consequences of misgovernance. Therefore, the derisory ontology of the African is mostly a function of African leadership and the outcomes it produces. African leaders have failed; the results of their actions are the stuff of degrading decivilisation and underdevelopment. In the immediate post-colonial era, systems and institutions worked just fine in Nigeria. Two decades later, they had all fallen apart but not without loads of help from the roguish structural adjustment policies. Low per capita rankings in the Human Development Index are the only areas of development Africans win the race; they are often in the Top 10 in those categories. It actually means at the bottom.
A common leadership trait is self-motivation, being a self-starter as a pioneer, builder, thinker, organiser or whatever else. A governance problem once identified requires serious attempt by the leader to solve it effectively. The effort may fail, but the adopted ontology of the [good] leader ensures that sooner than later, the problem gets solved. Such 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 major self-motivation of the leader is to claim, “It was not my fault; it was not my fault!” 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 or there are rent-seeking opportunities. It is an unintended concession to that accusation that African leaders are incompetent.
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 enlightened, respectable and able beings? African leaders do not appear to be able to develop their nations but not because their policies and actions are necessarily inadequate or unpersuasive. It is easier for them to create fanatical followings among members of their 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 critical factor in attaining political leadership; the African leader maybe 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 public treasury while allowing millions of citizens to endure dehumanising hunger has decided Thanatos prevail over sovereign Eros. Who besides the 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 love war? The leader that increasingly puts ideology, profits or corporations before the needs of the people has by a widening gap placed Thanatos before Eros. 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 independent? We know about colonial taxes. One may be curious to understand why African leaders are very subservient to neocolonial interests and so visibly. Aid and debt are unenviable as reasons, but it is not sufficiently persuasive an argument, for reasons I will not go into here. There have been sincere and reliable 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. Such a notion is too easy to accept. What happened to the deliverance responsibility of leaders? A non-derisory ontology of the African would require the deliverance of the continent orchestrated by African leaders. The liberation from poverty, famine, hunger, infrastructure deficits, war, illiteracy, moving images, should be the untiring responsibility of the African leader. Perhaps, the most significant responsibility of African leaders is to deliver themselves from confirmed mediocrity, confirmed venality and confirmed self-interested destructiveness.
We must not forget that there are 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 in existence 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 African 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 nothing but the youth of the country. The African leader does not 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 country 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 have plentifully without employing the minds and the energies of the youth? For the African leader that in itself is irresponsible and perpetuates 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 sit tight 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.