from Africa in Transition

Poor Leadership in Africa

October 26, 2016

Blog Post

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Technology and Innovation

Zimbabwe

Heads of State and Government

Cameroon

Quartz Africa published a thought-provoking article by Lynsey Chutel titled “The Mystery of Africa’s Disappearing Presidents.” Her take-off point is Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika, who went to New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in mid-September and returned home only on October 16. His entourage refused to provide any itinerary. She cites other African leaders who take long ‘vacations’ or otherwise disappear from their countries for long periods of time: Cameroon’s President Paul Biya once spent three weeks in La Baule, France, at a cost of $40,000 per day and later spent two months at the Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva. With respect to the La Baule stay, his spokesman said, “Like any other worker, President Paul Biya has a right to his vacations.”

Other African heads of state disappear for “medical reasons.” Because of the general lack of transparency, absence for medical reasons leads to speculation that the president in question has died. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe’s regular trips to Southeast Asia routinely set off such rumors. Sometimes, as in the case with Gabon’s former President Omar Bongo, they do die, even as their spokesmen assure the public that they are in good health. Chutel summarizes: “it’s an all too familiar story for many Africans: leaders’ whose aides swear they’re fit as a fiddle, dying in office under a cloud of mixed messages. A politician admitting to ill health the way Hillary Clinton did during her campaign…is almost unheard of on the continent…”

Poor political leadership informs the bad governance that is Africa’s greatest barrier to social and economic development. Chutel makes an important point: the refusal of some African leaders “to be open and honest with the public further shows a disregard for the people who put them in power, and in turn erodes public trust in the leaders themselves.” She raises the hope that as Africa’s population becomes younger, better educated, and part of the information age, the leaders’ behavior that she chronicles will become politically unacceptable: “African presidents have to learn to talk to—and account—to their people.”

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Technology and Innovation

Zimbabwe

Heads of State and Government

Cameroon

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