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Essay: Obama and the recipe for leadership in Africa

Essay: Obama and the recipe for leadership in Africa

This essay by Samah Salman uses U.S. President Barack Obama's 2015 visit to East Africa as a vehicle to uncover some of his observations on African leadership.  It is one of the many excellent essays submitted by Fellows this year.  The essays form part of the African Leadership Institute’s annual Tutu Fellows Leadership programme.

Salman looks at Obama’s admiration for and critique of African traditions through the lens of leadership. Using his visit as a point of departure, Salman argues that bad leadership in Africa is no longer political, but cultural. Conversely, good leadership can be fostered as a cultural opportunity. She makes the case that in order for Africa’s demographic dividend to materialize, the path to consistent, good leadership will require education to be a transformational element for this kind of socio-cultural shift.


She touches on socio-cultural elements such as disenfranchisement, low self-esteem, tribalism, and war culture, and argues that a change is needed from the stereotypical ‘big man’ leader in favour of education that nurtures a grass-roots generational moral compass in young Africans starting at a very young age.  As an example, she quotes President Obama when he addressed the elephant in the room among his audience at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa: “The old thinking..and ways can be a stubborn thing… but I believe the human heart is strong. I believe hearts can change. I believe that minds can open.”  As a son of Africa, Obama was able to say what could not have been said by any other.

Read a PDF of Samah Salman's entire essay, with its insights and humour, HERE.


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