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Africa Vision 2017: Where Does Change Truly Begin?

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By Kenneth Nkemnacho/ Writer at Large

A.P.J Abdul Kalam, the former president of India and a world renowned space scientist said, ‘Let me define a leader. He must have vision and passion and not be afraid of any problem. Instead, he should know how to defeat it. Most importantly, he must work with integrity.” In addition, in Warren Bennis’ opinion, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality,” and to further buttress the essence of vision, Vance Havner pointed out that “The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.”

To step into 2017 and make progress, African leaders must first be visionaries. If leadership is only perceived to be politics and monarch-style, we won’t move farther and further from where we are. We must see beyond, and become slaves to our African dreams – only then can we serve it and bring it to fruition. Vision produces quality leadership, because without outstanding governance, life in the hood will make the people’s shadows their mirrors, and this will keep them in a mood that brood something we mustn’t anticipate. War was a mood, but we hardly saw it until its bubbles burst. Increased armed robbery was a mood until another next door neighbor was shot dead. The uprising was a mood until it reacted to our indifference. 2017 should be born with a dream to make the nations of Africa better and more attractive to outsiders. It should also be born with a dream of making outsiders open their doors to us. So, we must dream and dream big because when the door is shut against you and the key thrown away, dream will unlock the door. Vision gives insight to destination. Until you see, you can’t be empowered to become.  What you see is what you enter – if you see nothing, you’ll be nothing. 

Walking into 2017 must not be business as usual – the usual business has been nonchalance, narcissistic desperation and institutional corruption. If we carry on in that direction, we wouldn’t need soothsayers to tell us where the year will end. Putting the spreadsheet of 2016 on the table will make reality dawn on us because nothing much was achieved and not a handful of major developmental milestones were erected and covered.  To move out of the routine, certain actions must be taken and cardinal decisions made. The actions and decisions must match the qualities of purposeful progressions, involving people with a genuine interest to see a positive difference in the continent. If the privileged few that occupy the epicenter of leadership don’t have the conscience to serve the people and build legacies that will never die and if all they do is manipulate and prey on weak minds to exploit them, 2017 would be another wasted opportunity never taken advantage of.

On September 8 2016, the Nigeria president, Muhammadu Buhari, through the National Orientation Agency launched a ‘Change Begins with Me’ campaign, and a lot of his critics mocked him as it was perceived to be a drift from his pre-election promises. I was one of those who did, but on a second thought, after a while, I could feel that the campaign makes sense because change actually begins with everyone. When the government says, “change begins with everyone,” the public feels it is a shift in responsibilities, but that is a wrong conclusion because the government of the day will one day go, and some members of the public will take over as new government. If public attitude changes, the governments will eventually change – change is a process and progress which eventually ends up in success. Having said that, where does holistic change in Africa truly begin in 2017?

The Will and Assertion

True leadership comes with the will. The Will is the readiness to do. The Will is the heart, the thought and the conscience to make things happen. Many politicians in Africa don’t have the will. They lie to the people, deceive them and take advantage of their ignorance. Before election, there wasn’t an intention to do, and after election, there isn’t an intention to do. A thousand years of opportunities aren’t enough to convince a leader to genuinely serve his people when he hasn’t got the will to do it. 2017 will be another wasted year for someone without the will

Developmental changes begin from within, and within, is the heart and the will. When the conscience to bring true change tops the motives, nothing can punctuate its metamorphosis. Change shouldn’t be about promoting the selfish agendas of partisanship, but should be about recognizing the plights of the people, the needs of the society and the infrastructural deficiencies that require urgent attention – it is about putting a square peg in a square hole.

It’s apparent that leadership isn’t about one head that acts like it doesn’t have a body; any head without a body is a monster. Democracy has various branches that network as one, holistically. It is well noted that every branch has its agenda, and for each branch, there are decision makers; each decision maker wants his opinion to be supreme; good or bad. In such situations, a leader with the will but lacking in assertion becomes weak. There are a number of African leaders with the heart to serve their people but the fifth columnists behind the shade prevent them from doing so because of their selfish expectations. Making African Vision 2017 real wouldn’t come on a platter of gold- you may have to offend some high powers to make life meaningful for the people. If you aren’t assertive, your good intentions are nothing. It is only the doing that brings a change – the heart is useless where positive actions aren’t taken. Leading is a privilege; a one-stop chance to make a difference. Any good plan you have after that rare window of opportunity to influence change is rubbish. I have seen ex-presidents talk good after leaving office, but did nothing while in office – what difference does that make?  Absolutely nothing!

Assertion is the ultimate key to making 2017 conspicuously beautiful. If you have a big plan, make it happen against all odds. It isn’t honky dory to turn your back on the gods that line the route to power, but if there’s a need to better your nation with those projects, do it. Be assertive. Be bold. Be strong. Des’ree, in one of her songs says, “You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to be bold. You’ve got to be wiser.”

Engage the Best Brains

My ignorance was exposed when I read in the papers about Tony Blair having a dinner with Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and it was insinuated that Donald Trump might be offering him a position in his government. I was asking myself why a US president-elect would give a former British prime minister a job when he isn’t an American citizen. It was then it began to dawn on me how the west works with the best brains even if they aren’t their citizens. African leaders, probably do not recognize that aspect of delegating responsibilities in spite of sovereignty. In Africa, a president hardly offers positions to those outside his party. Sometimes, even if they’re within his party but not in his caucus, they get nothing.

To be more result oriented in 2017, you need the best heads – heads of experience, heads that can think and heads that do innovate.

It’s time to realize that to bring about purposeful leadership, you can go headhunting. You may not have the best think-tanks in your team; you don’t always have to, but quality leadership goes looking for how to fill the gap – quality leadership is able to identify that there’s a need, where the need is most urgent, and the skill to source for how to plug the gaps.  The best leaders aren’t the best brains; they are simply those who can easily sense and identify urgencies and imperatives.

In deciding who joins the team, some leaders make errors in following a rigid generational trend. Some feel experience is the only road to success, while others sack every experience and go for the new generation, but at the end, they lose out on a major trend because they didn’t know how to blend the old and the new. To make the continent more purposeful, history must connect with the future – the old have the history, while the new have the future. Without history, there is no foundation, and without the future, there is no advancement.

Institute a Systemic Change

A change that isn’t a system will only find a home in a handful of individuals. In 1985, the War Against Indiscipline Campaign in Nigeria was a systemic change; it was bought by the general public, and it truly worked until another government came and destroyed the system. And a system, when destroyed becomes difficult to rebuild.

One weekend, I was heading to honor a friend in a surprise birthday party. As I drove through a road, there was an unusual traffic. In that part of London, at that time of the day, there was typically a free flow of movement. Bit by bit, we crawled like snails until we got to the cause of the congestion. At the cause, we saw workmen fixing a part of the road. To be candid, what they were fixing, I saw not. I was enraged by their presence, for the reason that they were causing unnecessary delay to motorists until it came to my consciousness that it doesn’t have to be broken for it to be fixed – to those who did the job, fixing was a culture instituted by a system, and if the culture isn’t maintained, they are adjudged not to be doing their jobs.

The expectations of 2017, no matter how sincere they are, can become illusion if there isn’t a culture of system to make it compulsory. To make things work, there should be a checklist of rules that must be religiously adhered to, and without ticking out the checklist, job is assumed not to be done. A system that produces measurable, accessible and substantial tangibility is what will move Africa forward. Anything that isn’t accountable will make us look like bed-bound idiots that can’t lift a single finger to support self.

Having a system that works will make everyone more productive because a good system will build the support skeleton and define the baseline, below which is unacceptable. To succeed in 2017, there is the need for a disciplined structural efficacy and a tradition that maintains a revolutionary routine.

Initiate Programs that Self-Propagate

When mobile communication technology took over Africa, the people began to birth entrepreneurial initiatives. With little amounts, they would buy top up cards (recharge cards) in bundles to resell, and by reselling, they made profits to take care of families, bodies and souls. In the west, top-ups aren’t just done for phones, they are also done for gas and electricity and transport fares, among other things. Many shops make profits from topping up energy (gas and electricity) and travel cards.  This has helped create businesses for the ordinary people, and these ordinary people in return, pay their taxes.

If in 2017, the governments in Africa provide only electricity for example, the people will on their own accord, come up with creative self-sustaining ideas. Initiating an electricity program in a community will naturally boost the economy of that community, and bring money into the government coffers. A seed is a tree, but until it is planted, it is vulnerable to a tiny bird. It is time to plant the seed so that is can show what potential it is made of.

Encourage Entrepreneurship

Many times, I have emphasized the need for entrepreneurship, and I will continue to. No developed world is built on employment-seeking mentality – it is entrepreneurship that drives the growth of any economy. 2017 must be tagged the year of entrepreneurship, and to achieve that, the policies that will help it work must be in place and if already in place but dormant, they must be activated or reactivated. The people must be encouraged to dream their own dreams and become their own dreams.

Youth entrepreneurship is a huge source of economic growth which must be given close and urgent attention. Any arm of government must encourage it and take away every bottleneck bureaucracy that strangulates it. Rather than suffocate the young people who strive towards economic independence, there should be policies put in place to motivate them; otherwise, they may end up revolting against the system. The Arab Spring began with youth revolution due to government highhandedness against unemployed young people who were striving to take care of themselves. The Arab Revolution actually began with a 26 year old Tunisian street vendor, Tarek El-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself ablaze on 17 December 2010, according to Wikipedia, in response to the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he said was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. Bouazizi was an entrepreneur, managing to take care of himself and family, but his wheelbarrow and goods were constantly seized by local officials that claimed he didn’t have a permit to be a vendor – they usually demanded bribe from him until he was fed up. He went to the governor’s office to complain but no one gave him attention, and so, he set himself on fire as a protest. His death angered the Arab youth, and their anger led to the Arab Spring.

If you can’t take care of the people, don’t stop the people from taking care of themselves. Most young people interested in entrepreneurship are often frustrated by too many demands from government officials, and this should be unacceptable in 2017, if there must be headway!

Managing the Trump Card

How will Africa deal with the emergence of Donald Trump in 2017? The unexpected awaits us – our leaders, must from now begin to strategize, and not wait for eventualities before searching for solutions. If we play well, we win; otherwise, we lose. With this man, there is a long road ahead – where it ends, we do not know, but we know there’s a road, and we hope it ends well.

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