Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has suggested that bad African leaders should be paid to leave power in order to save their countries from ruin. “I can think of a few leaders who we should give money to and let them leave,” he said, adding that they had been causing problems as a result of bad leadership.
General Obasanjo did not name any leader during a discussion at the 6th Tana Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, which took place in Bahir Dar in Ethiopia last month. He was speaking during a side event that discussed the African Union’s aim of silencing the guns in Africa by 2020.
His intervention came when the discussion touched on The Gambia and claims that former President Yahya Jammeh took with him millions of dollars from the country when he left Banjul in January for Equatorial Guinea after losing the December 2016 election. Gen Obasanjo, who is chairman of the Tana Forum Advisory Board, said he did not know about the money being taken, but if that were the case “let him be”. He said that was the price The Gambia had to pay for peace and stability.
He said leaders in Africa must accept their responsibilities and lead accordingly. The issue of bad African leaders had been raised the previous day by the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who said that the continent was suffering from “a leadership deficit”. He gave the example of how the continent’s leaders had failed to stand up for Africa – mentioning the AU’s plans to intervene in Libya in 2011, which had to be cancelled at the last minute after NATO said that it could not guarantee the safety of African leaders flying to Tripoli on a peace mission.
Mr Mbeki pointed out that this had led to the current chaos in Libya and that former US President Barack Obama had regretted NATO’s bombing, which led to the removal and killing of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi,
“What does this boil down to? Weak leadership in Africa,” he said. “There is a serious problem of a leadership deficit in Africa. What do we do to correct this manifestation?
We don’t have the slightest clue of how to eradicate poverty on the continent.
“What do African leaders do? They turn to the World Bank and IMF [International Monetary Fund] who say to them: “take our advice or you get nothing at all’.”
He said that at times such advice was not in the interest of the continent. Mr Mbeki suggested that young people should take charge of their own future by rebelling against leaders who had failed to provide good leadership.
The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, also weighed in on the leadership deficit issue, claiming that the problem was down to policy mistakes that were made in the 1960s. He said “fragmented thinking and fragmented ideologies” were responsible for these mistakes, adding that African leaders were just “meandering” on while placing the continent at a “structural disadvantage”.
The topic of this year’s Forum was Natural Resource Governance in Africa, but the leadership issue took centre stage. Professor ‘Funmi Olonisakin, Interim Vice-Rector and founding Director of the African Leadership Centre at King’s College London, who has been a regular at the Forum, said that this was the first time that the issue of poor African leadership – an obvious problem that had always been ignored – was being raised.
She said that many leaders and the governing elite in Africa were pursuing their aspirations to live long and well at the expense of the masses.
In a book launched at the Forum, Making Africa Work*, the authors noted: “…so far, it has proven difficult to change the old ways of running Africa’s economies. The inertia reflects the contemporary retreat of democracy and ‘misgovernance’ – when government works efficiently, but only for an elite. In this environment, the incentives for liberalising economies are outweighed by the benefits of keeping things just as they are, as elites are easily able to manage and deflect international or other disincentives designed to encourage change.”
In the final analysis, as one participant put it, “African leaders are behaving like colonialists who pillaged Africa’s resources”.
– Desmond Davies
*Making Africa Work: A Handbook for Economic Success, by Greg Mills, Olusegun Obasanjo, Jeffrey Herbst and Dickie Davis (Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2017).