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NEW CHALLENGES TO DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA: THE CRITICAL ROLE OF YOUNG LEADERS

2024 is a mega year of democracy with more than 65 countries across the globe holding elections for public representatives and leadership.  On the African continent, there are likely to be 20 or more countries going to the polls.  This Mega Year for Democracy is a year of great opportunities for fresh starts on our continent.  The nature of the fresh starts we need depends very much on you – leaders in this room!

 

Africa has struggled to shake off the colonial legacy of divide and conquer to become the continent that models governance as it should be.  Good governance in democratic systems must be imbued with the value system of the essence of being human – Ubuntu.  Human beings are created to be a relational species that thrive in environments characterised by love and support.  We are an interconnected, interdependent and compassionate species within the web of life.

 

What accounts for our inability thus far to shake off our ugly painful past?  Why do we seem to perpetuate the very ugliness of the traumatic experiences multiple generations of Africans suffered for centuries?  Why do we find it difficult to live the dream that inspired generations before us to make huge sacrifices to fight painful struggles for freedom?  Theirs was a dream of a free Africa united in its quest for a more human face - where equity, prosperity and good governance ensure the wellbeing of all on a healthy planet.

 

These questions are the challenges confronting you as young African leaders.  They are not New Challenges, but urgent challenges your generations cannot ignore any longer.  The world has become a more turbulent place.  Ubuntu is neither visible nor palpable even on our continent which is the cradle of humanity and the first human civilisation.  You represent the largest cohort of the first highly educated, technologically connected digitally capable and informed African citizens.  Why is the chasm between the majority population with an average age in Africa of 19 years, and that of its aged over 60-year-old leadership group so persistent?

 

I would like to make a bold statement to suggest that the model of democracy we have inherited from our colonisers is not suitable for our African traditional value systems.  It is a model of dominance.  Dominance is diametrically opposed to the collaborative imperatives that were wired into our genetic makeup as our ancestors evolved in the wild of the mother continent of Africa.   Our ancestors who emerged from the first human civilisation learnt that to be human is to be inextricably connected to other humans and interdependence is the only way for humanity to survive and thrive in a sustainable manner. 

 

The wisdom accumulated over millennia is captured in the simple but profound – motho ke motho ka ba bangwe.  We are probably the only species that cannot survive in isolation from others.  Collaboration not competition is what our ancestors learnt to embrace.  The contemporary political party system inherited from colonial Europe is fiercely competitive.  It is designed for the powerful to dominate and oppress the weak and vulnerable.  Its values are the antithesis of the collaborative instincts of our ancestors that enabled them to act in complementary ways to build bonds of solidarity across boundaries. 

 

Traditional governance in Africa is consensual to ensure the sustainability of collaborative relationships.  Consensus is an essential element of decision making at the personal, family, community and broader societal levels.   There was in traditional societies a clear understanding that investing time in reaching consensus saves time in the long run and prevents and/or minimises conflicts.  Sitting together in circles of conversations that sometimes lasted for whole days or more, was inherent in the relationships and governance practices of our ancestors.  Circles of conversations created conducive spaces for inclusion, levelling social hierarchies, eye contact, and listening deeply before speaking – it is not an accident that we have two ears and one mouth!!

 

We live in an interconnected and interdependent world.  Africa’s place in this world is not appropriately positioned for a continent that is not only the cradle of humanity and the first human civilisation, but also the continent with all the ingredients and assets without which our planet cannot make the radical transition to a sustainable future with global equity for a healthy planet.  Africa has yet to emerge from the imposition of inferiority to assert the richness of its heritage and wisdom of its cultural practices to contribute to the global discourses on better governance and socio-economic models to replace the failed ones of today.

 

Africa has all the assets one can dream of for success in the 21st century.   We have the youngest population profile with the infinite capacity for creativity, innovation and energy needed to craft a transformed socio-economic system that is ecologically sound and equitable.  Africa has all the natural and mineral resources needed for the ecologically sustainable energy, industrial and food systems of the 21st century.  Africa is central to any global systems change that is essential for the survival and health of our planet.

 

What Needs to Change?

We need to change.  Each of us in this room.  Self-liberated citizens and leaders are simply unstoppable.  Each one of us as self-liberated leaders in our families, our communities and societies become catalysts of liberation for all from all forms of oppression and deprivation.  Each one of our countries, regions, our beloved continent, and the world needs us to be the catalysts for transformation essential for the survival of humanity on our planet.  

 

70% of Africa’s population is below the age of 30.  The youngest population on earth is in Africa. 60% of the world’s best solar capacity is in Africa.  85% of the world’s manganese, 80% of the world’s platinum and chromium, 40% of cobalt, 21% of graphite, and 6% of copper are part of Africa’s enormous wealth.  How are we to convert these enormous assets into inputs for Africa’s success, not only economically, but as a model of what an ideal African political and socio-economic system should look like.

 

It all starts with reimagination.  We need to reimagine what it means to be human.  To be human is to be interconnected and interdependent within the web of life.  What does that mean?  It means we each have to travel into ourselves to re-discover who we really are.  Who is the real Mamphela?  Will the real Mamphela please stand!  Who do I stand as?  A proud South African citizen, all woman and all me! 

 

Why has it taken so long for most of us to stand and assert who we are?  I come from a generation of citizen activists who woke up to the essence of who we were, having been born into a socio-economic and political culture that defined us as the subordinates of our colonisers.  The journey from being defined as non-whites, non-Europeans to becoming black and proud was an uphill struggle.  But like much else once our eyes and minds become open to the joy of the magnificence of being who one is created to be, one becomes an unstoppable free spirit! Just look at my life.  Not a perfect one, but one that reflects the courage of a free spirit to live the dream that was burning inside each one of us!

 

How did my generation make the break from previous generations’ traps?  We invested time in asking a simple but profound question – how is it possible that less than 10% of the population could hold in bondage more than 90% of the population over several centuries?  It took us no less than 18 months to have the scales fall off our eyes!  A Damascus Road experience!  We realised that we were our own jailors! Our failures to define who we were disabled our ability to become agents of our own history!  We then embraced our identity as historical agents – black and proud! 

 

But there was also a ‘small matter’ of the feminine versus the dominant masculine culture of the time in the late 1960s!  I was accused of dividing the struggle by raising the gender equity issue amid a freedom struggle that was focused on defeating racism.  My answer was very simple – how do you divide me – all black and all woman?  Africa, especially South Africa, is experiencing unprecedented gender-based violence because of the unresolved matter of the indivisibility of freedom.  Human beings are born to freedom – we are all born as free spirits.  It is that free spirit that defines our being-ness that goes beyond any human constructs! 

 

The biggest change we need to make is to reimagine ourselves into the beings we have been created to be the best versions of who we are – men, women, intersectional, whatever our identity!  The most important identity we have is being human and being African.   We carry the responsibility to continually affirm what it means to be human and to model our interconnectedness and interdependence within the web of life.  The values of Ubuntu need to find expression at the personal, professional and political levels.  Values based leadership by each one of us is essential for us to be the leaders our times are waiting for.  We are the leaders to take Africa to its destiny as a great continent, not an emulator of dominant failed political and socio-economic systems, but transformative systems fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

 

 

What is the Way Forward?

The wisdom of our ancestors tells us that if you are lost, go back to the beginning.  We are lost as individuals, as countries, and as a continent.  We need to have the courage of our convictions for new beginnings to ask the difficult questions of ourselves as we did in the late 1960s – how do we understand the root causes of Africa’s failures to leverage its enormous assets and strengths including its youthful highly educated population? Transformative change starts from the acknowledgement of one's complicity in the failures to dare to reach for the dreams one has of the future.

 

As an Alumnus cohort, you are pioneers! You are the first fruits of a program to actively develop the capacities of each one of you, and your collective abilities, to find the pathway to a new beginning of leadership of Africa that is imbued with Ubuntu.  You are enabled by the technical and professional training you have had the privilege to receive here to rise to this challenge.  Embrace your pioneer status!  No previous leaders of our continent have had the privilege you have had.  To those much is given, and much is expected. 

 

I would therefore propose the following:

  • Please constitute yourselves into an active network to provide mutual support and a circle of solidarity for good and bad times.

  • Formalise an Alumnus community to become the supportive community of those who come behind you.

  • Develop programs of ongoing personal and professional growth to enhance your own capabilities and capabilities. Be compassionate to yourselves so you do not deplete your inner resources. Take regular time-outs to replenish the inner soul, so you can lead from a nourished inner place.

  • Invest in the use of circles of conversations embedded in the traditional governance models of our ancestors to build relationships of trust.  Trust is a rare commodity in our countries and within our continent of Africa.  As you know African wisdom teaches us that: if you want to go fast, walk alone, if you and to go far, go together with others.  Going on a journey with others entails taking the time to define where to, how you get there, and how you identify the destiny of the journey.  This requires investment in time to develop a consensus on all the key issues to build trust between you and your partners.  This is the missing piece in our governance and relationships. More investment is needed in this process of creating spaces for building consensus as a basis for  trust and collaboration in our countries and on our continent

 

You need to model what Pan-Africanism could look like and work together as citizens and public representatives across boundaries, to implement the many good African Union policies such as AFTA and African Peer Review Mechanism to promote good governance and a prosperous equitable Africa.

 

 

Conclusion

You are the makers of history!  Never have we as an African continent experienced being represented by public representatives who are trained for their roles.  For that, we have our very own pioneer and trend-setter leader – Lindiwe Mazibuko!  She not only wished for a different experience from the one she experienced as a young African woman leader in politics, but she is a leader who believes in the beauty of her dream!  That dream is in full view here with all 80 of you as Alumni!

 

You now have the immense responsibility to live this dream in your own personal, professional and political roles. You also have the responsibility to multiply the impact of this program by being its ambassadors through your practical example of the way you lead and inspire others to become the best versions of themselves.

 

I am confident that with you as part of our public representative leadership cohort, you will be the torchbearers demanding fundamental transformation of our political and socio-economic systems towards those reflecting the values of Ubuntu.  We stand to be better together by re-embracing our innate human essence – our interconnectedness and interdependence within the web of life.  That is who we are, let us re-embrace ourselves so we can become the shapers of the futures we desire for ourselves, our children and our children’s children!

 

Let's Go for it!

Mamphela Ramphele

Co-founder of ReimagineSA, Chair of Tutu IPTRUST, and Planetary Guardian

15/3/2024

 

 

 

 

 

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