Challenge of leadership in transiting African societies

14Apr 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Challenge of leadership in transiting African societies

Our central purpose today is to underline that a high quality of statecraft is an absolute requirement, in ensuring continuity of ideologically focused leadership in transiting societies in Africa. A number of experiences are instructive.

In 1985 in Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere commended Ali Hassan Mwinyi to the organs and membership of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi - for election as president of Tanzania. Mwalimu clearly had continued stability of the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in mind, as well as that of CCM itself.

While there was to be a new team in place in management of the state, it had to be clear that there was a team leader - Mwinyi. Mwalimu understood that he himself towered large over the Tanzanian political landscape ... that the new leadership had to be assisted to build its authority. It is equally important to note that after stepping down from leadership of the state, Mwalimu remained leader of CCM.

Mwalimu understood his colleagues very well ... understood the strengths and weaknesses of each ... He understood who the team players were, who the loners were ... Who was ameneable to collective discipline, who was not ... It fell on the shoulders of the founder leader to guide the party and the country in the election of a new leadership - against the background of the exigencies of managing a transiting society.

Two other points worth noting. In the 1977 constitution, while still under a single party dispensation, Mwalimu introduced presidential term limits. It was clearly obvious to him that Tanzanian ethos and psyche were steadily coalescing.

He knew that his successors might not have the same levels of restraint and sense of proportion with which he had wielded the great moral authority of a founder.

In 1992, Tanzania underwent more constitutional reform - this time restoration of multipartism being the lynchpin. The legal and constitutional framework, as well as the unfolding national ethos were deemed sufficiently strong and elastic enough to accommodate the contestations of more political organizations in the polity.

Mwalimu's hand was again very visible in both the internal CCM and national electoral processes. He strongly endorsed Benjamin William Mkapa to replace Mwinyi, and advised that Jakaya Kikwete was "still young" and should wait! And that, precisely, is what happened.

We now turn to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. The case of South Africa may appear different on the face of it. Madiba (Mandela) was not the founder of the ANC - which was founded in 1912, before he was born. But still, Madiba was associated with the radicalization of the struggle against apartheid.

In 1961 an armed wing of the ANC, Umukhonto we Sizwe (MK), was formed to prosecute an armed struggle. Madiba was the first commander of MK. Captured in 1962, and sentenced to life at the Rivonia trial, Madiba became the symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle, and later, the leader of the new, democratic South Africa.

For purposes of our discussion today, it is critical to note that the ANC leadership was perhaps consciously more collegial in its workings than the example of the CCM, which we cited above. This is perfectly understandable, for the ANC had been around that much longer.

The conditions of underground struggle further, also objectively demanded it - with part of the leadership serving life on Robben Island (Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, etc), and the other operating from abroad (Oliver Tambo, Alfred Nzo, etc).

The discipline and methods of collegial leadership were again reinforced by the tripartite alliance of the ANC with the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. As South Africa moved into the new post-apartheid dispensation, the collegial leadership identified younger people like Thabo Mbeki, Chris Hani, Cyril Ramaphosa, etc - as leaders in their own right.

Yet, a public and private seal of approval on Mbeki to replace Madiba had to be provided by the latter. In the last two years of his term, Madiba publicly declared that Mbeki was the de facto president - and ceded more and more of his duties to Mbeki. He publicly said he did not need to tell Mbeki what to do. According to Madiba, Mbeki had all "the necessary wisdom".

The discussion on whether a Xhosa should immediately replace another Xhosa, was resolved with Madiba in chair. At this point, we can distill one important principle from the experience of the CCM and the ANC in ensuring continuity of ideologically focused leadership.

Within the legal and democratic framework of movements and organizations, founder leaders and symbols of struggle provide vigorous and active guidance on the teams which replace them - and who leads them.The author is a presidential private secretary for political affairs State House.