Can Africa’s Past Inform Modern Leadership?

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Critics might charge that Rukuni is trapped and is yearning for the past that will never come. His ideas sound too good to be true. But sometimes delving into the past helps you keep your sanity when the real world is too busy for good intentions

[Book Review]

For many decades Africans have been bombarded with mountains and mountains of books harping on the failure of African leadership and the numerous problems it has caused on the continent without examining the strength of the old African leadership ways in resolving some of Africa’s leadership problems.

Many scholars, both non-Africans and Africans, including African leaders themselves, for decades blamed the lingering effects of colonialism: slave trade; an unjust international economic system; and, he predatory practices of multi-nationals to explain the miserable economic performance of the continent.

Others went further than colonialism and western capitalism.

They argued that while colonialism and western imperialism did not leave Zimbabwe and most other African countries in good shape, the conditions were made immeasurably worse by internal factors such as misguided leadership, systemic corruption, capital flight, economic mismanagement, civil wars, political tyranny, human rights abuse and by what the call military vandalism among other issues.

In his second book titled: “Leading Afrika –Rebuilding Afrikan Leadership Across the Globe,” Mandivamba Rukuni illuminates the significance of ancient Afrikan leadership principles and systems as an important vehicle for African Renaissance.

His book qualifies as exceptional and explores how traditional African leadership principles, systems and approaches used by our ancestors for ages, built healthy and happy families and what he terms, “functioning communities.” The book provides both an instructional and inspirational tale to show that African traditional leadership principles can be applied everywhere in the world.

“By promoting love and trust amongst people, leaders are generally reinforcing the importance of strong relationship amongst people and different groups that then form a greater family, community or nation,” Rukuni writes.

“Strong relationships are the major currency on which the Afrikan society was built in the past. Successful leaders therefore had to develop the wisdom, art and skill to unite people through thick and thin. This was the glue that allowed our ancestors to develop a vibrant, dynamic society over thousands of years.”

Africa and the world today, he writes, is dominated by spirits of hatred, selfishness and confusion. He echoed the need for Africans to reinvent in “modern terms” the dynamic leadership based on the time-tested unhu-ubuntu-botho values of what it means to be human.

Rukuni puts his case clearly and underlines the promotion of human values as the basis for sound leadership in every sphere of life. “We Afrikans need to modernize our Afrika and our Afrikan culture, rather than to westernize it. We need to modernise Afrika on the basis of our cultural heritage and ancient wisdom,” he writes.

The overarching purpose of this book, Rukuni says, is to help paint a picture or a vision of what Afrikan leadership has to deliver in this new century using the values of our ancestors – sponsoring peace through love, creating an enabling environment for prosperity and creating a fertile environment for creative freedom so that people may experience more happiness.

“It is rather unfortunate that today in Afrika and in other parts of the world we now tend to overstate the importance of leadership at the highest echelons of society – Presidents, bishops, chief executive officers and so on. Traditionally, African society revered leadership at the most local level,” he writes.

Afrika, he argues further, is trapped in path of development that is not sustainable because "we confuse modernisation with westernisation."

“In many ways we are trying to build an Afrika based on Afrikan values and traditions. Yet at the same time we are burdened with western-style institutions in business and government. This Afrikan-Western Paradox prevents us from building a modern dynamic Afrikan society,” he says.

Rukuni tells of the African leadership in the past half century, its strength in attaining liberation, its weakness in translating political freedom to economic freedom and how now, it has overstated the importance of political and government leadership at the expense of family and community leadership.

He bemoans that today’s political systems inherited from our colonizers have completely severed the values around sacredness of leadership –the need to always demonstrate love, empathy and understanding to people and the continual need to unite and inspire the people in good and bad times.

As a result, he says, Africa is still producing uncaring governments and leaders. “There is no connection between government, politics and the collective aspirations of the people to see a peaceful, just and prosperous society.”

His book tackles debate on wisdom and spiritual leadership, applying traditional Afrikan leadership systems in a modern Afrika and contributing to global leadership in an Afrikan way.

The book in many ways seeks to spur dialogue in areas of leadership at family, community, nation and global levels using Afrikan traditional leadership approaches. In a chapter –The Afrika I want, Rukuni agitates for the return of power to the family and community, self-reliance, return to the village, promotion of the respect and appreciation of indigenous culture and cultural diversity and the engendering of the Unhu-Ubuntu-Botho spirit.

Critics might charge that Rukuni is trapped and is yearning for the past that will never come. His ideas sound too good to be true. But sometimes delving into the past helps you keep your sanity when the real world is too busy for good intentions. His lonely voice even though powerless in this world of greed and the powerful, is finding new ground as the consumerist world now feels the pain of modernisation –climate change, rise in diseases of affluence, social breakdown, hate, greed and war.

With the world in a crisis, how our African ancestors lived in harmony with nature - without crime, the police, nuclear weapons, disease and a whole range of social vices we see today,  traditional African ways of leadership could as Rukuni puts it, inspire the world on how to lead people better.

It’s a good read and a book worth adding into a treasured library. It rekindles the Pan African spirit and a burning desire to return to our own ways.
 
Book Details:
Title: Leading Africa –Rebuilding Afrikan Leadership Across the Globe
Author: Mandivamba Rukuni
Published by Mandala Publishers (2009) pp233
Reviewed by Sifelani Tsiko

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