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Lessons from Hispanic Africa on African progress


This essay, which was originally titled, The Need for a New Kind of Leadership in Africa for the Emergence of the “African Dream”: Lessons from Hispanic Africa, was originally written and submitted as part of the requirements for the 2017 Tutu Leadership Programme. It looks at how a new kind of leadership in Africa can positively impact sustainable development on the continent.  A consideration is how leaders can use myth-making to establish commonality in order to harness collective agreement on progress.

I. Introduction

Soon after securing their independence, many African nations embraced the liberal or Marxist thesis to improve the life of their people. The policy objective was to fight “ignorance, poverty and disease”2 . Contrarily, they ended up implementing irrational fiscal policies with massive public investments and uncontrolled corruption. The consequence has been “low levels of development, characterized by high levels of poverty, unemployment, insecurity and general social and moral decay”3 . Currently, the debate about the potential options for the development of Africa seems to revolve around good governance.

This article addresses the controversial issue of leadership in Africa. It attempts to tackle the importance of new kind of leadership in Africa, in order to achieve higher and sustainable development on the continent by tackling crucial social issues such as disarrayed ethnic groups and the resultant lack of common purpose to achieve economic growth and restore the continent to a higher development pathway. By examining the experience of Equatorial Guinea (EG) and its social context, it is argued that a general lack of common purpose and ideals (from a set of agreed values) of the first group of leaders after independence, have not allowed for a more permeable process of realizing values (i.e. work ethic, meritocracy, the richness of diversity, the Bantu’s principle of obuntu based on its notion of human interconnectedness or the modern reformulation of cosmopolitanism), some of which have been central for successful development in other societies across the globe (e.g. USA, UK or even Botswana).

II. The Idea of Collective Memory

Collective memory or history is a concept that should help us to dive deeply into intra-group processes and personalities, at least in relation to group identity or affinities with others groups. The processes of collective memory during cultural formation is scrutinized here with the objective of identifying elements of expression for cultural specificity or signs of intra group bonds. In part, because “culture is as much a structure as the economy and politics; it is rooted in institutions such as families, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, and communication industries (television, radio, video, music). Similarly, the economy and politics are not only influenced by values but also promote particular cultural ideals of a good life and good society” 4. In that process, we are then connecting with Elizabeth Mudimbe in her quest to discover how nemesis counterbalances amnesia?5 What are the intertwined paradigms in time and space that unify people of diverse ethnic backgrounds of any given African country in their quest for common development objectives? And what should be the leadership attributes needed for such an endeavor?It is interesting to validate elements of national culture that connect people with their leaders (social, political, and economical leadership), and meet the challenges of time, given the direct connection between past and future; since, as can be seen from the proverb of the Oromo tribe, "recalling the past, the future is also remembered" 6. Therefore, the story becomes constantly remembered past, while the memory remains as the testimony of the past (a presence of the past) reformulated in the present. This is the reason why certain African and Afro-Caribbean writers such as Eduard Glissant have tended to always delete the dividing line between the two concepts of history and memory.7

III. The Cultural Myth of Lévi-Strauss Contrasted with the Idea of Collectivist Thought

The French anthropologist, Marcel Griaule, had a vision of history as not more than just history; i.e. a deterministic interpretation of the subjects that make use of it. A good starting point for us should therefore be an analysis of the concept of diffuse relativism of Lévi-Strauss as it connected to the peculiar reading of Marcel Griaule of history as a mean that recognizes and validates the meaning of reality based on the particular interpretation of it by the subjects. Particularly, it would be difficult for us to discuss the importance of history and the formation process of collective memory through history, without properly addressing the concept of myth and collective thinking.

When addressing the concept of myth or of mythical origin of the Dogon people, Lévi-Strauss starts by recognizing other systems of thought parallel to Europeans; in part, because he accepts that human language is nothing more than a particular and original expression of contract between those that use it to produce culture and to collectively reassert their existence in time and space. Thus, each language delineates its own concepts, classification, and knowledge systems. Traditionally, the tension between primitive and advanced ("instruction ") has been explained through the confrontation of two systems of order: magical and scientific. But for Lévi-Strauss, these two concepts should not be confronted. For him, the magical system postulates a full and global determinism, perhaps an unconscious apprehension of the truth of determinism, which is the mode in which scientific phenomena exists. Lévi-Strauss considers that science, on the other hand, relies on the distinction between levels of thinking or thought: only some of which support a form of determinism. Thus, he establishes a radical opposition between the science of the concrete against abstract science, which illustrates the reason for contrast between mythical thought and science or scientific thinking.

From this point of view, the concept of myth becomes even more relevant, at least to our subject of analysis. Mostly, because it forces us to think about the positioning of an individual in a pre-existing or already elaborated world (a nation-State, say, in our case, the Ecuato Guinean State, a pre-existing structure in a presupposed political and social context), in order to search for the elements that bind collectivity, elements that in conjunction, should have formed collective memory, as a consequence of collective thinking about the existence of the group in time and space.

The cultural myth therefore, and as understood by Lévi-Strauss, is a ratified territory for understanding the world. In it lies the path to strengthening collectivity: binding individuals into collective company while the community is not only presented with a code of conduct, but with a code of regulation for a previously agreed upon purpose (as a manifestation of the collective thought that should turn into collective memory, when exercising it, and history). The absence of a collective memory opens therefore the floodgates of an existential limbo, and in nations, can lead to a sense of rootlessness and apathy regarding the achievement of common objectives or goals.

IV. Incipient Process of Myth Formation for The Purpose of State Formation or National Independence

The process of independence of African nations has its mythical origins in the idea of cultural, social and political unity of Africa and its diaspora. Therefore, the ideas behind the liberation movements and their leaders are to be found on the Pan African and Negritute movements’ postulations. Their precursors are two Caribbean borne: Marcus Garvey (father of the Pan African movement) and Aime Fernand David Cesaire (father of the Negritude movement) respectively. Both philosophies were borne on the premise that all Africans and descendants of Africans belong to the same culture (the neo African culture) and continent with a glorious past, subjugated by external power, requiring them to fight it consequence in unity, for the betterment of their societies. However, after almost half a century since the independence, almost
“……all African countries are still experiencing low levels of development characterized by high levels of poverty, unemployment, insecurity and general social and moral decay. All these developmental problems are partly blamed on bad governance and more particularly, misrule and high levels of corruption.” 8

In sum, and to put it as Ali Mufuruki (Chairman & CEO, Infotech Investment Group LTD. Tanzania), during the Africa Business Leaders Forum, questioned whether all this should be counted as “a reflection of failure of leadership?”9 Indeed, the renowned, deceased Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, answered this question eloquently; one only has to replace where is says Nigeria with Africa:

“….The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership….”10

Achebe assessment of the quality of leadership in Nigeria echoes John Maxwell’s assertion about the effectiveness of leadership. For Maxwell, “Leaders are effective because who they are on the inside–in the qualities that make them up as people. And to go to the highest level of leadership, people have to develop these traits from the inside out.”11

In the same vein, Noble prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, when touching on the essential qualitative dimension of good leadership, asserts that “the meaning of earthly existing lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul”.12 Consequently, the right question should be to flesh out what really has been the main reasons for the failure of leadership in Africa after achieving independence?

The argument is that the liberators had one single objective in mind: to free the continent from the political and cultural dominance. The objective or need for an incipient myth formation that was inspired by myths previously set (i.e. myth set by the Pan-Africansim and Negritude movements) was not part of that objective. As evidenced by almost more than half of a century after, what did not happen was a completion of that process of myth formation. Consequently, there was never a clear plan nor a clear vision of the pillars that should have sustained these new African nations: a vision based on clear principles and ideals that should have trickled down to the populace. Two clear examples of this incipient formation of national myth can be found in the case of Ghana and South Africa.

Ghana is the first African nation to achieve independence, led by one of African most revered Pan-Africanist leaders, Kwame Nkumah. After a period of political turmoil, Ghana is one of the most stable democratic countries in Africa today; in part, because the first president of the republic served as a moral authority for his people based on a set of values, principles, and personal responsibility Achebe was alluding to; but above all, because of the incipient formation of unity based on the mythical origin of Ghana being the first proud, independent African nation. The existence of a Lutheran spirit that rewards hard work, voluntarism and material success (opposite of the afterlife of Catholics) and other virtues are contributors as well. The same thing can be said about the current political situation in South Africa where there seems to be a clear vision of reasons to fight the Apartheid regime but not of the principles and values that should have replaced that regime in the new South Africa. In that sense, the concepts of “rainbow nation” or obuntu should be linked to that incipient process of myth formation, led by value driven leaders like the Archbishop Desmond Tutu or the late President Nelson Mandela. The current debate and tension between President Zuma and corruption are clear manifestations of a mismatch between South African leadership and the ideals they should embody in a new era of the country. Nevertheless, South Africans remain fortunate in the sense that in that process of myth formation, they can still go back to personalities like Nelson Mandela as a moral reference and move the country forward. A luxury many other African countries lack.

The problem with the rest of Africa, however, is that many of our countries lack leaders of high moral stature or personal integrity nor do they possess the vision needed for a successful society after independence; independence based on principles that should provide the pillars for these new nations in their quest to achieve greater political and economic freedoms and stability.

Equatorial Guinea certainly never went through that process of myth formation as the country went from becoming a colony, an autonomous community within Spain Governing structure, and independent, without a clear reflection within the leadership (political, economic, religious and traditional leaders) about the foundational pillars (myth) of the newly created nation. In consequence, there is no real sense of social cohesion among the different groups nor the individuals feel equipped or compelled to make their contribution toward the development agenda based on a set of principles.


V. Conclusion: The Case for a Leadership Based on Common Virtues and Ideals

Equatorial Guinea is in a crossroad between his recent history of chronic or abject poverty after independence and the hyper-acceleration induced by temporal processes of the era of high fossil energy consumption and economic globalization. The country is presented therefore with the unique possibility of establishing foundations for the genuine social, economic and political transformation. And here is where one sees the problem: the lack of social cohesion needed to galvanize in a genuine way the forces and imagination of the society for such an ambitious goal. To put it bluntly, the country leadership seems not in tune with the general populace in terms of the vision for the future and the country’s development ambitions. Thus, to speak of a hypothetical development in a given country more than a mere declaration of intent by the executive is required. In any case, Equatorial Guinea is constrained by: (1) the need for a solid economic structure; (2) a minimal infrastructure or administrative structure and (3) a collective sense of development, or the desire to be developed by the people (from the top to the bottom).

The origin of the problem of lack of cohesion among citizens themselves and inability to identify with their ruling class can be explained from many perspectives, although it is not necessarily the reason for our reflection, which intends to offer an alternative to the present climate of individualistic attitude, widespread distrust and ethnic polarization. It can be said that it is extremely difficult if not impossible to establish a feeling of national pride and good civic habits without framing it in a process of integral development of said country. One has the impression that nowadays the pernicious impact of the recent history of the country in the collective imagination has been the only experience that has come to actually join the imaginations of Equatoguineans instead of positive civic values such as belief in hard work, equality of opportunity, meritocracy, family, patriotism... or even the concept of obuntu or cosmopolitanism. Equatoguinean collective imagination has yet to embrace “the idea that we have obligation to others, obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kin, or even the more formal ties of shared citizenship”…and come to grips with the notion of “that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance”.13 However, the lack of unifying sentiments and sharing values consistent with the history of the country could be a reflection of the failure of a political elite. Consequently, the leadership vacuum have created a climate of widespread mistrust and makes difficult the honest involvement of individuals in programs with common objectives.

The recent history of the United States (US) for example might shed light on this. Mostly, because the process of settlement of the economic bases was accompanied by a cultural configuration process based on the previously alluded myth.

In this way, US political democracy was born of the following basic elements that conform the country mythical origin: (1) individual freedom (religious freedom at the beginning), self-determination of communities to make decisions on issues affecting them; (2) the interpretation of community justice paired with what is or is not permissible and; (3) the obligation and need to participate in defense of the integrity of the community against external enemies.

The Protestant base, relatively Orthodox, Calvinist Court that made up the colonies of North America differs from the rest of Europe and especially from the Catholic World in its concept of defense of free will over predestination. This is critical, because it creates two concepts: that each person is responsible for their own destiny and that everyone can connect with God without intermediaries. The underlying idea is that each always harvests what he has sown. This has profound economic ramifications: it means that each individual is responsible for the results of his/her own efforts. To sum up, we see clearly the unifying substrate that forms the collective myth of US society: the desire to create a society in which each individual can develop their potential without exogenous noise, even the State itself. It is the ideology that lies behind the words of the so-called "American dream".

This unifying substrate in many instances comes as consequence of the prior emergence of charismatic leaders capable of capturing the imagination of a society and transforming it into concrete proposals that ultimately translate into the myth or foundational part of collective memory or thinking of said country.

Therefore, a sort of new kind of leadership for African countries like Equatorial Guinea, should go beyond focusing only on achieving developmental objectives; but more importantly, should address other pressing issues such as social disintegration, cultural, and moral decay, by capturing the imagination of the regular folks for a common goal of national development. The African American thinker, Cornel West, when addressing the issue of poor blacks in United States and their black elites, stated that “these communities are in need of cultural revitalization and moral regeneration”14 . Achieving that goal in our context, should put us on the path to realizing the pillars (ideals) of our modern African states and give birth to the emergence of a new kind of leadership that should better represents those ideals.

1I like to thank Peter Billingsley, Carl Maas, Carol Harkins and Cesar Mba for their contribution in insights during the process of written this paper. Any errors or limitation detected however in the document are entirely mine.

2Lumumba, PLO, “Leadership for Change” (2012), at the Archbishop Demond Tutu Leadership Fellowship Programme.


4Cornel West, Race Matters, Vintage Books, 1993, 19.

5Mudimbe, Elisabeth, Remembering Africa, New Hampshire, HEINEMANN, 2002, xvii


8Lumumba, PLO, “Leadership for Change” (2012), at the Archbishop Demond Tutu Leadership Fellowship Programme.

9By: Ali A. Mufuruki, Chairman & CEO, Infotech Investment Group LTD. TanzaniaAfrica Business Leaders Forum, Johannesburg, South Africa. October 17-19 2006

10Idem11John, C. Maxwell, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, Thomas Nelson, 1999, x.

12 Idem

13Appiah, Kwame Anthony, Cosmopolitanism, W.W. Norton & Company, 2006, xv.

14Cornel West, Race Matters,Vintage Books, 1993, 87.

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