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Transformational Leadership And The African Identity

After a successful corporate career in the IT industry, Patrick Kuwana became a serial entrepreneur – co-founding various specialist media companies, and being involved in numerous business incubators and accelerators in Africa and Asia. He is the Founder and CEO of C3 Capital, a private equity firm that aims to create inclusive wealth and prosperity out of investment opportunities in select industries in Africa.

Every discussion on African leadership is typically characterised by negative words such as ‘corruption’, ‘nepotism’, ‘bribery’ and ‘dictatorship’. Why does a continent blessed with such an abundance of natural resources (in fact, more than any other continent) continue to be seen as the ‘begging bowl’ of the world?

Much of Africa’s natural resources have barely been harnessed. For a long time, the continent was colonised by powerful nations who exploited our resources. Some economists have referred to the ‘scourge of raw materials’ – arguing that it was the very fact of having these large quantities of rare, raw materials that put Africa in a position of continued conflict, leading to wars and slow development. Unfortunately, Africa’s natural resources are still being exploited today – causing most of the value and money to go to the West and to East Asia, further exacerbating the problems of poverty and inequality.

The African identity crisis

Africa has suffered from a prolonged identity crisis, and this is manifesting in its leadership. More often than not, the problems that exist in any organisation are a direct result of its leadership, and it cannot move beyond that constraint. The same is true for a country, and a continent – good leadership is the key to moving forward. Africans collectively have suffered from a negative identity for centuries, and the widely talked about leadership traits of corruption, self-enrichment, dictatorship and nepotism are the fruits of this root cause.

Most people recognise that due to colonialism Africa lost much of its natural resources, but what is often not understood is that the biggest resource Africa lost during that period is its dignity and self-worth. I would argue that no other continent has had its self-identity undermined (or stolen) as much as Africa, which is truly sad.

Even the pioneers of Christianity into Africa inadvertently brought colonialism wrapped up as part of the gospel. Colonialism effectively told Africans that we were not fit to rule ourselves and that we needed colonial masters to bring order. African people were treated like animals (at worst) and second class citizens (at best). The widespread slave trade further robbed us of our dignity and identity and confirmed in our eyes that we were nothing more than labourers for the people who brought ‘God’ to us. How could this ‘God’ possibly be a loving God to the African?

Leadership flows from identity

Three key factors that inform a person’s identity are:

  • Personal experiences: The thoughts they believe to be true about themselves as a result of their lived experiences.
  • Social comparison: The thoughts they believe to be true about themselves as they compare themselves to others.
  • Internalising another’s judgement: The thoughts they believe to be true about themselves based on what others are thinking of them.

In terms of all three formative experiences mentioned above, Africa has for centuries been called the dark continent and treated as such – one that is neither fit to govern itself nor come up with its own solutions.

Financial, educational and governmental systems during colonial rule did not encourage (and in most instances dealt harshly with) any leadership ambitions from indigenous people. The established colonial systems intentionally taught Africans to aspire to be good workers, but never leaders! They needed to be good followers who would faithfully follow instructions and never question authority. Unfortunately, as African countries have come into political independence, most have continued to use the same systems because they suit the selfish ambitions of those in power.

It typically plays out as follows. A negative identity results in an inferiority complex, which in turn results in seeking to exalt yourself in order to prove yourself to others. This leads to power-hungry behaviour to enrich yourself, because this is seen as the measure of success to strive for, in order to gain social approval and self-worth. For example, an African president comes to power in country X after having fought for freedom from the colonial power. He still carries a negative identity as a result of his experiences, and therefore feels the need to exalt himself through material gain and the excessive use of power, to prove that he can do better than his former oppressor. To achieve this, he embarks on corrupt activities that plunder his own country for the sake of fuelling his ambition to exalt himself, until the behaviour spirals out of control and personal greed takes over to the detriment of the very people he is supposed to be serving.

This loss of understanding of true identity and inheritance is similar to what happened to Esau when he sold his birth right to Jacob for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29–34). Sadly, the same spirit of exchanging a long-term inheritance for short-term personal gain is prevalent in Africa – a spirit that causes us Africans not to see the value of the inheritance God has given us collectively. Today our own leaders are trading away our continental resources to foreign governments for nothing more than ‘bowls of soup’.

From Egypt, through the wilderness, to the promised land

Africa needs to come to terms with its negative identity (and at times even self-hatred), which continues to hold the continent in captivity. All of Africa has crossed over the ‘Red Sea’ of political slavery and has been wandering for some time in the ‘wilderness’ – it is now time for Africa to cross the Jordan river into the ‘promised land’ of inheritance and economic prosperity.

The Exodus story of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt and their 40-year journey in the wilderness until their final crossing over into Canaan is one that provides many lessons.

Under the leadership of Moses, they departed from captivity laden with wealth after God had miraculously delivered them from 400 years of bondage. A few days later they were faced with their first major challenge – the Red Sea blocking their way forward with the Egyptian army fast approaching from behind. Good leadership was required to calm the people and help them re-focus on the promise God had given them. After God showed His power and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land (while the Egyptian army drowned), they entered the wilderness where they faced more challenges (including lack of water and food). Many wanted to turn back to Egypt, and some even resorted to abandoning God and creating idols as their faith failed them. Again, Moses as the leader had to re-focus them on the identity of their God and His promise to them – encouraging them to press forward despite the challenges.

What was supposed to be a 40-day journey through the wilderness turned into a 40-year ordeal as the Israelites wrestled with issues of identity, disobedience to God and unbelief. God allowed the old generation to die (except Joshua and Caleb, who were the only two of the original spies to believe that God would deliver Canaan into their hands). I believe the mindset of the older generation was so entrenched (slavery mentality) that God knew they would never be successful at establishing and building the nation if He allowed them to cross the Jordan river. And so entering into the promised land, taking possession of it and building a prosperous nation were tasks left up to the new generation, and only a remnant of the old (Joshua and Caleb) – those who had an overcoming mindset and a determination to take hold of their inheritance.

I believe the Egypt-to-Canaan journey (from the land of slavery to the land of promise) is one that holds many vital lessons for Africa – and perhaps one that God now wants us as Africans to learn from and use to shape our way forward.

Leadership and a transformed mind is vital

The Exodus demonstrated that godly leadership and a transformed mind are critical to the success of the journey from slavery to inheritance. Africa must focus on this.

We need to raise a new generation of African leaders who embrace and live out their true identity in a positive way. We need men and women who “in view of God’s mercy… Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but [are being] transformed by the renewing of [the] mind. Then [we] will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:1–2). Only leaders who have themselves been transformed, can lead the positive transformation of the continent.

The church can help the process of reversing the ‘mental distortion’ of African people by offering words of restoration and affirmation – proclaiming their identity as sons and daughters of God.

I have been told that when Kwame Nkrumah came to political power in Ghana (the first nation to gain political independence on the continent), he first went to the church seeking help on how to build a system of government and leadership that would shape the new Ghana. Unfortunately, the church did not respond, and Kwame turned to the Soviet Union, who provided him with the communist ideology which became the foundational ideological framework of Ghana. And, as many African leaders were influenced by the Kwame Nkrumah Institute of Economics and Political Science, they too adopted this ideology. Unfortunately, Africa has spent years lost in the ‘wilderness’ after following the route of communist and socialist frameworks that do not recognise the ultimate authority of God.

Restoration of identity

It is time for the identity of Africa to be restored. Only then can the continent redefine and rebuild its foundational framework of politics, government, economics and leadership. We need men and women “in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God” (Dan. 4:8) to be transformational leaders within their spheres of influence. Africa needs men and women who are prepared to speak truth (in love) to power. Daniel was one such person who said to king Nebuchadnezzar – “let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practising righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may be perhaps a lengthening of your prosperity” (Dan. 4:27).

Our aim is to see God restore African leaders, as He restored king Nebuchadnezzar after his period in the wilderness:

“I lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honoured Him who lives forever – for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing, He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honour and splendour returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Dan. 4:34–37).

What would happen if our leaders had this same revelation that king Nebuchadnezzar had?

What Africa desperately needs is transformational leaders who are prepared to ‘die to self’ (Gal. 2:20) because their identity is rooted in Christ. Leaders who can lay down their personal agendas and pursue the common good of those they lead or influence. This applies to all spheres – including families, church, education, business and government. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 we have a powerful promise from God: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

It is time for us to rebuild our beloved continent of Africa – with an identity rooted not on past experiences, social comparison, or other’s judgements, but on the rock that is Christ, trusting that God is well able to birth a new nation and new continent if we move in obedience to Him.

Patrick Kuwana

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