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Elder statesmen anxious over Africa’s poor leadership

There’s no two ways about it: Africa’s leadership is in decline. Corruption and poverty remain high, data shows, while a small elite prospers and heads of state demand immunity from international justice. Suffering the most are the continent’s more than 1 billion people. “We don’t have enough good models of governance that is for the people,” Mary Robinson, former Irish president and UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, said during panel discussion held by The Elders in Cape Town, South Africa, this week.

The Elders are a group of 13 eminent, semi-retired leaders, founded by former South African president Nelson Mandela in 2007, who use their influence to challenge injustice. One of the biggest indicators of the continent’s negative trend in governance: the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was not awarded this year for the fourth time in five years.

While “overall governance continues to improve at the continental level,” the rule of law and personal safety had “declined worryingly,” the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said. It was also concerned about increasing domestic social unrest on the continent. The Elders seemed equally at a loss when asked to identify outstanding African leaders during the debate. “We do have leaders, but don’t ask me to name them,” said former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan.

South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu could only come up with one name: that of long-retired Nobel laureate Mandela. Since the anti-Apartheid leader stepped down as South Africa’s president in 1995, the nation’s governance has been on a downward trend, Tutu lamented. It was inexcusable that the emerging economy continued to seriously lag behind in poverty reduction, education and social service provision while having morphed into the world’s most unequal society, the archbishop said.

Unfortunately, Africa’s southernmost nation is not an exception. Many resource-rich countries south of the Sahara leave the poor behind, despite impressive economic growth figures of five percent or more in the past decade, according to this year’s Africa Economic Outlook, published by the African Development Bank with input from various other international bodies. Democratic consolidation remains fragile on the continent, with unemployment figures high, especially among youth, and the pace of poverty reduction in most countries falling short of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals targets, the report found.

“It’s not that we don’t have a solution (to problems). It’s a failure of leadership,” explained Hina Jilani, a well-known Pakistani human rights defender and one of The Elders. This year’s report of the Africa Progress Panel – a 10-member expert grouping chaired by Annan – confirms that inequality is reaching dangerous levels in many African countries.

Out of the twelve countries at the bottom of the latest UN Human Development Index, nine are in sub-Sahara Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a mineral superpower, is in the last place, with Chad, Mozambique and Niger in the last five. The poorest 10 percent of Angola’s population account for just 0.6 percent of national income and less than two percent in Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, according to the report.

Key reasons for the disparity are the enrichment of political elites, inequitable public spending and governments’ failure to use resource revenue to support wider development strategies. Solutions were there, “but we don’t get the political will to get them implemented,” said Annan. As just one example, the continent loses 16 billion dollars annually by mispricing exports due to backdoor deals between foreign conglomerates and governments, according to the Africa Progress Panel report.

Corruption has long been one of Africa’s biggest blemishes. Ninety percent of African countries scored less than 50 out of 100 points on global watchdog Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index. The continent’s average score was a poor 33, which means corruption hampers business and the provision of decent public services. But few African leaders are willing to be held accountable for their political performance.

Earlier this month, Kenya and Sudan were urging other African nations to quit the International Criminal Court in The Hague where their leaders are charged with crimes against humanity. The 54-member African Union promptly agreed that sitting heads of state should not be put on trial by the ICC. “Those leaders seeking to skirt the court are effectively looking for a license to kill, maim and oppress their own people without consequence,” Tutu warned in an open letter. Annan called the plan to leave the ICC “a tragedy for Africa.” “When we abandon justice to seek peace, we often get neither,” he added.

Kristin Palitza, "Elder statesmen anxious over Africa’s poor leadership," Business recorder. 2013-11-02.
Keywords: Political science , Political leaders , Government-South Africa , Social sciences , Social issues , Social needs , Social system , Economy-Africa , Crimes , Corruption , Poverty , Governance , Unemployment , Nelson Mandela , Zambia , South Africa