Leadership in the African Context: A Social Development Issue

Talking Points

Martha Harunavamwe

Creating a prosperous future for Africa has become even more difficult with challenges imposed by COVID -19 and adjusting to the VUCA environment resulting from the 4th Industrial Revolution. Leadership has a crucial role to play in the liberation of African societies from poverty and corruption. The recent economic performance of African countries has clearly not done enough to promote job growth and social development in order to lift millions of Africans out of poverty. While the world is racing against technology, most African countries seem to be struggling mainly with basic social issues. Communities and organisations look up to the leaders to provide solutions to the never-ending challenges faced by the general populace. There is no doubt that Africa’s main challenges include, poverty, unemployment, inequality, malnutrition, substandard housing, poor education, child abuse and neglect. In a society like South Africa, the social problems extend to issues of crime and substance abuse. These social challenges have been made worse by the Covid crisis which left many people unemployed (34.4%) and South Africa’s overall GDP declined by at least 5.1 up to 7.9 percent in 2020 and is only expected to recover slowly through 2024. This will lead to major setbacks in addressing poverty, unemployment and inequality.

African circumstances such as social ills, political diversity, corruption, emerging economies and social development crisis present unique challenges to the leaders. The book Leadership in the African Context (third edition) unpacks how over the years many African leaders have placed too much emphasis on abstract development paradigms and have adopted, generic development programmes from the West which have proved inapplicable in Africa. The book indicates the results of ignoring local issues and copying indiscriminately leadership approaches from elsewhere and how this has led to the failure to improve the quality of life of most Africans. The new edition clearly outlines that social and sustainable development cannot be conceived of in the abstract but it is only realisable if it is premised in the historically sustained cultures of the African people. Thus, Africa requires leaders that are more focused on social development issues than anything else. There is a quest to strike a balance between finding a leader with charisma and passion, and at the same time, a leader with people’s needs at heart to solve the existing social problems thus the book addresses servant leadership in chapter 10.

African leadership is about finding African solutions to local problems, focused on social development aspects reconscientising and rejuvenating the hearts and minds of people regarding independence, professional values, responsibility, accountability, a hardworking spirit of collectiveness, humanness and social cohesion, (Chapter 3 addresses these issues in detail). The new edition of the book Leadership in the African Context considers typical African circumstances, values and beliefs, designed for the development of leaders’ skills and provides practical, real-life examples, exercises and case studies. In addition to social capital, leaders in the African context should contribute more deliberately to the development of technology, and enhance economic institutions, thus, the new edition provides a reflection of the African social struggles as well as an overview of how African leaders can respond to the challenges and utilize the benefits of the  4th Industrial Revolution  (4IR) to fight some of the social ills experienced by the continent. New chapters addressing how 4IR may provide solutions and promote internal change, drive social transformation, and prepare the communities to deal with social problems such as unemployment, poor education and poor health in increasingly complex, and dynamic environments. The book provides practical, real-life examples, on how to deal with corruption through the development of moral values, accountability, tackling ethical issues in leadership and organisation (chapter 8) as well as how to improve individual skills to remain competitive in the world of technology.  The detailed insights and information provided about how leadership can be effectively applied in the contemporary African context should help to enhance readers’ leadership skills when operating in crisis and navigating ambiguous environments within the developing African context.

The true essence of leadership is problem-solving, and Africa’s problem is mainly social ills, if there are no problems and difficulties to overcome, and solve, then leadership is unnecessary, leadership has its genesis in problems and its success in solutions. The third edition of Leadership in the African Context is published during a period of extreme changes and challenges across the world. The new edition thus incorporates contemporary issues affecting African Leaders such as leadership amidst disruption and remote working, leadership during the 4IR and how Africa is adjusting to the demands of the 4IR on and it reflects on contemporary opportunities and challenges that will inform sustainable leadership in the middle of a pandemic.

Martha Harunavamwe was a Senior Lecturer in Industrial Psychology at the University of the Free State for 6 years. She has published in accredited journals and contributed to and co-authored various textbooks in the field of leadership

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