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29 - 06 December 2006 
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Revitalization of African Leaders

Africa has had problems with its leaders, a majority of whom were elected into power through popular revolution; but found no checks and balances for the misuse of power in place. According to George Ayittey, competent leadership is vital for successful economic reform and most African leaders manage their economies by threats of the minority white, decrees and orders. Zimbabwe is a typical example. Everything that does not work is because of Britain. The order of society is governed by Access to Information and Privacy Act (AIPA), regulation of the press and media through Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and all policies are enacted over-night to thwart the free flow of democratic forces.

Michael Beer in The Scarce Resource talks about the change in corporate management and sees it as a result of commitment and skill.  Leaders must have this desire if they have to change the status quo and raise issues of improving quality and high competence levels. Corporate revitalization is successful only by facilitating creative approaches to doing business. This philosophy must take root in modern organisations and must be spread to many organisations through learning, transfer and promotion of new managers who are committed to change.

Leadership is the cornerstone of all processes of revitalization. Leaders are in short supply and must be revitalized and produced. The unavailability of “good leaders” has led the African continent to develop slowly and languish in the primitive agricultural labour phase.

The Revitalization of Leaders

Revitalization and re-engineering of leadership has been traditionally seen as the role of top management. Revitalization is not an event, but a process that requires many committed divisions and effective communication. Success will depend on the ability to develop change-oriented leaders.

Persistence with belief 

Effective revitalization leaders share a common conviction. Zimbabwe is a case in point where the leadership of the war veterans were persistent on their belief of the land question. They did not shift in thinking, and had consistent pattern of work and behavior. Without that belief, the long-term agenda would not be fulfilled. Key issues here for leaders are conviction, persistence and conceptualization of issues.

Capacity to envision and articulate vision

Effective revitalization at all levels requires a vision of the future. A vision that aligns new patterns of management to do core tasks. Leaders need to be convinced if their employees have to commit themselves to change emotionally and become passionate to the idea. The difference of this process with the war veteran’s case in Zimbabwe is that the leadership had a well-grounded vision but was not able to read or envision the consequences of the proposed change action. The war veteran’s leadership as a case was weak in conceptualizing their organizational acts as a total system and part of the economy. 

Many African leaders provide examples of leaders who have lost the total system of their institution. The recycling of old guards and political allies is a sign of their inability to revitalize the political institution.  

The shift by many African countries between theories of socialist one party state, capitalist – structural adjustment programmes is a clear sign that Africa is led by a group of top managers, who at liberation time, had a persistent belief to liberate the country but totally lost their vision and have become inarticulate of their founding vision.

Implementing the vision

Most political parties in Africa have annual general assemblies, where they chart a new vision, revitalize themselves or assess their capacity to implement their vision. It is here that the commitment to the vision and the degree of tolerance is judged; hence we begin to see the inconsistency at the top. At an annual party caucus in Mutare in 1998, the late Zanu PF activist, Boarder Gezi, openly challenged the president and warned; “about land, comrade Mugabe, people say you have failed and they are not patient!.” This was to tell top management that the vision of the liberation struggle was not being implemented.

Operating Experience – How leaders develop

As a leader, you have to know your core business, how to make the product, the equipment to use and what it takes to run the business better.  Zimbabwe and other African countries have leaders who mourn everyday about lack of foreign currency. It appears they do not know or have no experience in the business of earning foreign currency. The president of Zimbabwe, for instance, lashes out venom to the foreign nationals everyday on TV and does very little to create ground for earning foreign currency. It is ridiculous. Lack of basic operating fundamentals fatally undermines the ability to govern or revitalize any leadership strategy.

Experience is a great teacher and has proved that it can surpass academic and technical training. Many leaders in industry house this self-revealing experience. In order for effective organisations to be developed, organisations need to develop effective leaders by creating an organisational context that encourages the development of leadership skills in its members. However society faces a dilemma, as current leaders are part of the process/context that needs to be changed. How can political leaders who have not leant new attitudes and behavior themselves develop a new corporate context in Zimbabwe?

The answer lies in the revitalization strategy that encourages innovation units and top managers to get progress started. If the most promising managers are recognized, they will shape the wider political context of the organisation. The process once started can be self-perpetuating.

By Phillip Bohwasi
Social Scientist, Civil Society participant
Founder of Zimbabwe Opportunities Industrialisation Centers (ZOIC).

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