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Friday, 5 December 2014

STEP DOWN OR BE FIRED, THE FUTURE OF AFRICAN LEADERSHIP



Mr. David Kimaiyo resigned as the Police Inspector General of the Kenya Police Service on a Tuesday afternoon. The clamor to have him resign had risen to a crescendo in the wake of continued and unchecked excesses of Al-Shabaab in the northeastern region of Kenya.

This week I wanted to investigate a number of questions arising from this event.

Why have political leaders in Africa been steadfast in refusing to resign when all else pointed to their ineptness? Is this situation changing? What power has social media given the masses? What is at the core of leaders not wanting to resign their positions? What can alleviate this anxiety?

We start this piece at Tahrir Square the epicenter of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. It is from this location that Egyptians actively participated in unshackling themselves from Hosni Mubarak’s rule while using social media and its omnipresent ability to disperse information instantaneously, in real-time, across the world. A revolution was born that shook age-old political foundations in its wake.

President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso finally resigned in late October amid growing public anger that was fueled by the same social media that was used in the Arab Spring.
 
Protesters filled the streets of Ouagadougou in mass demonstrations against the president’s attempt to change the Constitution. Credit Joe Penney/Reuters
The reason why this event is symptomatic of what is going to be seen across Africa, has a lot to do with some central changes in societal communication that are being necessitated by social media. These include:

1.     The near absence of traditional methods of regulation that has allowed social media to become the source of uncensored and un-sanitized news and information.
2.     The different roles played by the users in the generation of information allow it to grow organically, locally and divergently. And gives it richness and diversity.
3.     The relationships between users, the lack of a clear hierarchy in social media and how fast information disperses on the back of these relationships.
4.     The omnipresence of social media driven by the mobile revolution across Africa and a growing population with increased access to the Internet.
5.     A move from confirmed, responsibly generated information that allows for objective communication to the generation of anonymous, rumor-driven information that is subjective and in some instances toxic.

As all this is happening you wonder how it has affected the ruling styles of leaders, and how responsive they are to the onslaught of social media.

It is at the back of this that hashtag #WhyKimaiyoMustResign began trending on twitter driven by Kenyans on Twitter (#KOT).  Eventually the Government of Kenya known for its prolific use of social media had to respond to the negative feedback it was garnering with every turn it took. In response, Kimayo resigned and Internal security cabinet secretary Joseph Ole Lenku was fired.

For the longest time, political leaders in Africa have been steadfast in refusing to resign when all else pointed to their ineptness. Why was this the case? To answer this question you have to look at how most of these leaders gained power and retained it .
 




There is no full democracy in Africa and countries like South Africa and Botswana are termed as flawed democracies in a 2012 democracy index done by the Economist Intelligence Unit.  The vast majority of African countries are either authoritarian or hybrid regimes. Only Mauritius is a full democracy.  

So an African leader gets into office by hook or crook (read corruption or force), most of them have retained their power though the same manner and created systems that essentially cascade down to the citizens. Where merit is shunned upon and transparency is an unknown concept. What is paramount is the need to enrich one’s family and self at the expense of the citizenry.
 
longest serving african leaders. Source rappler
It is in this context that resignation is a foreign concept. Indeed why should one resign when there is no mandate or measure thereof to curb the excesses of power. And when one is not answerable to the citizenry.

In fact in the past, subordinates have been fired (either with a bullet or literary) because they either did not offer their allegiance to the leader or they mistook their mandate to be one of serving the people.

In Kenya, president Uhuru no longer has this privilege a preserve for bygone presidents mainly because he was elected on a mandate and he and his team are measured on how they perform on a year-by-year basis.

As social media establishes itself across Africa, the citizenry is discovering its voice, and placing certain demands cohesively. 

News in Kenya is news in Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad and Sudan in the same level of appreciation. Even as the government of Sudan has taken the attack on social media using a ‘Cyber Jihadist Unit’ that curtails social media’s efficacy; with its ability to hack emails and social media accounts, as well as monitor online activity, cracking down on those it considers to be the most dangerous activists. The tide is turning.

I believe part of the solution lies in having a democratic system of electing leaders, devoid of corrupt practices during the electioneering period and subsequently during a leader’s rule.  The appointment of leaders has to be based on merit and strength of character. These hopefully will supplant a system of cronyism, where on appointment, leaders seek to payback favors rendered.

A culture needs to develop that will measure these leaders based on service rendered and frown on those who result to political wizardry to hide ineptness.

If such a caliber of leaders is elected into office, and the citizenry keeps a steady watch of their performance record, with the understanding that they resign if they don't meet set expectations, then it will be more likely that resignation will not be an anathema for them. 

Or so I hope.

For the leaders who came into power by force, the only way to make them resign or leave is through mass action, a revolution led by the masses and ultimately driven by social media.

Khaled Said and Mohamed Bouazizi would have been proud.