You might have heard it said that politics is a dirty game; politics is for the corrupt; and nothing good ever came out of politics. Your parents may have drummed it up into your head as a young kid, or you may have picked it up by yourself, just scrolling through the headlines. You may have friends who are utterly brilliant and passionate about social change, but who will not move an inch towards the public sector. Or maybe that is you. Why do young brilliant Africans avoid politics altogether, and can that be changed?
Here are three reasons:
They do not know how it works.
This is perhaps the biggest problem of all. Growing up anywhere in Africa, you are socialized to equate political involvement with rowdy legislators, assassinated opponents, flouted rules and corrupt old men (and sometimes women). The image of politics has been so tainted that we perceive the whole system to revolve around crass electioneering campaigns and poor governance, with the same cycle repeating itself continually. But it is more than that. The true job of a government is to create an enabling environment for all citizens and entities to thrive. This is mostly achieved through legislation, policymaking and regulatory functions. Yes, all of these avenues are opportunities for corruption to happen, but there will be no incentive for corruption to end unless young brilliant (and ethical) Africans begin to approach the public sector with more determination.
2. They are consumed with the private sector.
Growing up, many people dreamed of achieving success in the private sector, primarily because the images of success that are promoted through the media are either those of entrepreneurs or corporate executives. At the very best, some of us dreamed of becoming “the president”, but we quickly abandoned those ideas in primary school and focused on pursuing corporate careers because…well, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey….you get the point. The more consumed we are with chasing corporate success, the less we are focused on that other massive aspect of our lives that needs fixing. Maybe we can do both?
3. They believe it is a long game with insufficient benefits.
This might be the trickiest to demystify. Looking at the current political climate in Africa, hardly any young person is thriving. It just does not look cut out for young, brilliant (and ethical) Africans. The space appears to be dominated by old folk who have access to all kinds of resources, so much so that a young person who was not born into a political family will be better off squashing their dreams of having any impact in the public sector.
Given these challenges, it is necessary to outline how our lives are affected by politics before imagining what a solution can be.
Firstly, public policy shapes the world of business. As much as we might see these two sectors as contradictory, with one being a haven from the other, they are actually more inter-twined than we want to admit. The key policy decisions that govern the operations of the private sector are decided by the public sector — tax policy, inflation rate, employment policy etc. The private sector is not so private after all.
Secondly, the private sector funds the public sector. All that money that politicians embezzle, much of actually comes from the private sector. Contrary to popular belief, governments do not generate employment — at best, they create the necessary enabling environment for private sector players to generate employment by creating new enterprises and growing existing ones. By getting more people employed and generating taxes through the productivity of those private sector players and the few functioning state-owned enterprises, governments are enriched to carry out their functions.
Thirdly, decisions made in the public sector affect everyday life. From transportation to healthcare, education to immigration, all the key decisions that govern everyday life are made by “those people” whom we are so desperate to avoid. How comfortable then are we, leaving the biggest decisions about our lives to people whom we will not trust with our personal finances or our family’s safety?
So, how can these change? What needs to happen for more young, brilliant (and ethical) Africans to consider public sector careers?
Take civic education mainstream.
The best civic education that most of us received might have been a module in primary school and nothing further since then. If children and young adults are not taught about the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, and the necessary functions of the public sector to govern daily life, they will be left to pick up fragments of that information from mainstream media and social media. And there is such a critical role for the media to play — rather than simply reporting on poor performance of current leaders, media professionals can do a better job of educating citizens on how things should work. The more informed we are, the better choices we make.
2. Get more credible public sector leaders to write and speak about what they do.
Looking from a distance, it will be hard to imagine that anyone in politics is competent or moral. The voices of negativity have dominated our public spaces so much that it becomes nearly impossible to imagine that there are credible humans in the corridors of power. How to change that? Get more public sector leaders to write and speak about what they do. They may write columns in newspapers to explain the critical functions of governments and the individual roles that they play; or they may publish posts on their social media pages or blog on sites like Medium.com. The more images of credible leadership to which we are exposed, the greater the desire grows in young people. After all, that’s how we learned to admire Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
3. Democratize public sector internships.
This could be a true game changer. In the United States, university students are able to apply for internships to work at the US Congress, either as an assistant to a Senator or a Representative, or a member of their research team. And here’s the interesting part — they do not need to know anyone! Making public sector internships available and accessible creates a viable pipeline of future public sector leaders, or better informed citizens at the very least. There is nothing better than introducing young people to the core functions of a government early; the returns could last for a long time.
So what role will you play in shaping the future of the public sector in Africa?
The author, Faith Abiodun, is Executive Director of Future Africa
African nations need young leaders in their governments, therefore, African citizens should promote the presence, participation and representation of youth in the government. More importantly, African nations deserve leaders that are there to serve with ethical leadership for their communities to advance, instead of pursuing a financially self-enriching scheme. However, being a young African is not synonymous with ethical leadership, particularly because very few predecessors have set such an example to look up to.
From the recent leaders, it has been clear how leaders take advantage of their roles to make personal gains. Already, there exists the high levels of corruption across States. According to a survey commissioned by Transparency International and Afrobarometer, 58% of African citizens said that corruption increased in 2015 and ranked government leaders, government affiliated officials and judicial leaders as 42%, 33% and 34% corrupt respectively. Even though these percentages may appear low, it does not account for events of money siphoning by leaders. This practice has continued to increase with leaders taking more audacious leaps to acquire undeserved wealth from state funds without any shame. As African citizens continue to be applauded for practicing their democratic rights by deposing leaders that have overstayed their time in leadership positions, there is also a concerning underlying message that being deposed is still not effective.
Former Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh. Image Courtesy: Benoit Tessier/Reuters
In 2017, former Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office after 22 years in power, he left office with a supposed $50 million from national funds. At the end of his second term in 2013, Kenyan former President Mwai Kibaki self-approved a retirement plan that awarded him several benefits such as a pension package of $266,220 and a monthly income of $73,80. This may appear to be fair, until citizens realise that Kibaki had rejected a similar bill for other officials because of the extreme cost on Kenya’s Treasury. By the end of 2016, Kibaki’s monthly package increased by 15.6% forcing Kenyans taxpayers to pay more to accommodate this increased benefit, which is more than the salary of the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Arguably, with the pressures that have arisen because of the high rate of youth unemployment across Africa, leaders such as Jammeh and Kibaki have presented governmental office as an avenue for personal money-making schemes. As a result, increased youth interaction with government affairs may appear positive, but to ensure that the intention behind such interaction is for the benefit of the community, citizens must continue to voice out such issues and hold all leaders accountable. One way to do this, is by demanding leaders running for elected office to demonstrate structures they have put in place to sustain themselves financially, and also prevent them from squandering national wealth. If any person pursuing office fails to provide such evidence, it is the citizens’ responsibility to guarantee they are not elected, through the same means that they have opposed of unethical and ineffective leaders. It is more than time for us to have actual leaders who serve the people and not those performing a pseudo-service in order to pursue profit.
Former Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki. Image Courtesy: AP
How are you holding your youth representatives accountable? What ways are you promoting ethical leadership? Do you believe in democracy?
Nteranya Arnold Sanginga is Director of Programs at Future Africa
In the end, he will not be remembered much for any of his policies or his Radical Economic Transformation agenda; it will be the scandals, as numerous as the alphabets in his middle name – Gedleyihlekisa – that will colour Jacob Zuma’s legacy. He was no Mandela, not even an Mbeki, but for nine years, he sat in the exact same seat as they did and presided over the beautiful nation of South Africa. In years to come, children will read about “Nkandla”, “The Guptas”, “Des van Rooyen”, “State Capture”, “Khwezi”, “Zuma must go” and many other infamous quips from the 2009 – 2018 era in South Africa, and those appellations will stand out because of the actions and inactions of the man whose suitability for the highest office was questioned by most citizens long before he was sworn in.
Jacob Zuma was a veteran of the struggle, having joined politics as a youngster and experienced the worst of apartheid. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1959 and lived through persecution as a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the South African Communist Party, spending 10 years imprisoned next to Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. His stealth and activism were sharpened during those years spent evading arrest and hopping between Swaziland, Mozambique and Zambia from 1975-1990. In that time, his stock rose drastically as he served as Head of Intelligence for the ANC and helped to build much of its underground structures. When the ban on the ANC was lifted in 1990, he was one of the first to return to the country from exile to commence negotiations with the government. It was little surprise then that he was quickly nominated by the ANC to be Premier of his province, KwaZulu Natal in 1994 before eventually being appointed by Nelson Mandela as a Member of the Executive Council for Economic Affairs and Tourism.
Jacob Zuma campaigns with Nelson Mandela in 1994. Source: CNN
In the shadow of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, Zuma continued to rise through the political ranks, eventually becoming Deputy President of the ANC in 1997. In June 1999, he was appointed Deputy President of the country and he served in the role until 2005, but by then the allegations of corruption against him were already extensive. In the infamous South African Arms Deal involving $4.8billion worth of purchases of weaponry by the ANC, Zuma was accused of soliciting bribes through his advisor Schabir Shaik who was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison. Under immense pressure, President Thabo Mbeki relieved Zuma of his duties as Vice President in June 2005, and he subsequently resigned as a member of parliament.
It is telling, both of his political prowess and the nature of politics in South Africa, that his popularity grew in sync with his recrimination – he drew crowds in the thousands to his trial cases in 2005, leading many to speculate that if the corruption charges against him were dropped, he would be unstoppable in the party’s 2009 elections. But then “Khwezi” happened. In December 2005, a 31-year old woman who became known in the media as “Khwezi” accused Zuma of raping her at his home. Being the daughter of one of his political comrades, it was said that she saw him as a father figure, and though he insisted that the sex was consensual, the media storm created was worsened when it was revealed that she was HIV-positive and he claimed to have not used a condom, but that he showered after the sex. As the then-head of the National AIDS Council, Zuma’s reasoning could not have been worse. He was eventually acquitted of rape by the court in 2006, but there was still the ongoing corruption trial and the upcoming ANC elections in November 2007. Somehow, the stars aligned for Zuma as he defeated Mbeki at the ANC elections on December 18, 2007, crowning him as the country’s de facto incoming president, but within ten days, the National Prosecuting Authority served him an indictment to stand trial in the High Court on various counts of “racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud”. In total, there were 783 counts of corruption levelled against Zuma.
ANC President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa Picture: Masi Losi. Source: SowetanLive
Jacob Zuma’s propensity for outsmarting opposition seems to be his signature skill. Against all odds, and mostly defying common sense, Zuma was sworn in as South Africa’s fourth elected president on May 9, 2009. If anyone had hoped that it was possible for a leopard to change its skin, it was evident that they had not met Mr. Zuma. Of all the things that irked South Africans about Zuma, perhaps none was as troubling as his relationship with the infamous Gupta family. Books might be written and movies might be made in the future about the special relationship between Zuma and the Guptas, but one cannot dismiss the level of rot in the country that permitted the Guptas to offer former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor the position of Minister of Public Enterprises if she could arrange for South African Airways to drop its India route so that Jet Airways (linked to the Guptas) could take on the route. Neither can we justify the shady dismissal of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in 2015 to pave way for inexperienced Gupta stooge Des van Rooyen to take over such a sensitive portfolio. Many more Gupta errors have troubled the country including landing a chartered plane on a military airstrip for a family wedding, collaborating with Zuma’s son, Duduzane, to influence the awarding of a R51billion contract for delivery of trains to South Africa, and buying up significant interest in the country’s mining, energy, transportation and media industries. And what is to be made of Zuma spending more than R246million of state funds to make upgrades to his private home in Nkandla, purportedly for security reasons?
Jacob Zuma announces his resignation on February 14, 2018. Source: AFP
Zuma could be forgiven by South Africans for having no formal education; he could be exonerated for fathering an estimated 21 children by 10 women; he could be pardoned for recklessly singing “shoot the boer” in 2012, and he could even be tolerated for claiming on February 14, 2018 that he had no idea why his party, the ANC, had decided that he had to leave office after extensive calls from opposition parties, friends in government, elder statesmen like Thabo Mbeki, respected organizations like the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and Nelson Mandela Foundation, alongside exhausted citizens like the three grandmas who stood in the rain on Beyers Naude road in April 2017 to craft the “Zuma Must Go” dance. With time, South Africans could attempt to blot out the memories of the past nine years, but they will not raise a fist in the air, as they did for Mandela, whenever Zuma’s name comes up in the future; at best they might raise a finger in the air and take a slight bow as they recall those cute gogos singing “Zuma must go! Zuma must go! Zuma must goooooooo…….”
PS: Isn’t it curious that Zuma’s middle name, Gedleyihlekisa, means “one who smiles while causing you harm” in Zulu? Hmmm.
Faith Abiodun, a resident of Johannesburg, is Executive Director of Future Africa
Just as the 30th African Union (AU) Summit was wrapping up in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia last week, news broke via some thorough investigative work by Le Monde, that China’s gift to the AU six years ago was serving more purposes than initially assumed. China, the darling of the continent, has tremendously grown in influence across Africa over the past two decades, and there is no bigger symbol of that than the sprawling complex which houses the pinnacle of the continent’s aspirations – the AU’s headquarters.
African Union headquarters, courtesy of China Source: http://www.zambianobserver.com
It has been alleged that in gifting the AU headquarters to Africa in 2012, China had cleverly left a “backdoor” into the computer network in the building, allowing it to access the AU’s data at will. This had been undetected since 2012, until it was discovered recently that there seemed to be a peak in data usage between midnight and 2am when no one was in the office, but daylight had broken in Shanghai. Of course, China denies that it had anything to do with this strange discovery, but the AU has moved quickly to install its own servers and carry out a clean sweep of its headquarters with technical expertise from Algeria.
Firstly, there should be no surprise here, though we are justified to be alarmed. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. The mere existence of the AU headquarters – the continent’s unifying symbol – as a “gift” from China has always been a puzzle; what was in it for China? The building is still maintained by Chinese workers to this day, and even its elevator symbols are written in Chinese. This is bothersome. The overt Chinese presence on the continent in construction and business has been attributed to the availability of generous loans with affordable interest rates, as well as willing partnership for development. After all, a bird in hand is worth 10 in the bush, since the West had started to play hard ball with African leaders. But to have an entire spy operation underway from within the AU’s internet infrastructure is another level of audacity.
Heads of State and Government at the 30th AU Summit. Source: UNECA
So, where do we go from here? I believe that this is time to re-assess Africa’s relationship with China, and capitalize on this breach of trust to re-write the modus operandi. China must be made to come clean with its intentions, and not explain this away with a slap on the wrist. This is major espionage! When the US government was caught red-handed spying on Germany and Brazil, a full apology was demanded; the US government (grudgingly by Donald Trump) has equally employed a special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in its last elections; Africa (an entire continent) cannot be seen to be dealing with this quietly. But do we really have the gut to call China out on its game? The same country that effortlessly exports ivory out of the continent in spite of numerous anti-poaching campaigns globally will likely get away easily with this major security breach. This is the biggest shame of all.
Until the day comes when we are truly independent of foreign interests, it appears that we will remain nothing more than a pawn in this global game of chess. We need to look inwards and think deeply.
PS: Who else found it curious that this investigative work was carried out by Le Monde (a French publication) and not an African media agency? Sigh!
Faith Abiodun is Executive Director of Future Africa
On December 28th, 2017, Equatorial Guinea confirmed that it had foiled a coup allegedly involving mercenaries from Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and Cameroon. In this intervention, one mercenary was killed and the others are yet to be captured. Since the mercenaries were found entering the country from the border with Cameroon, officials from Equatorial Guinea have accused Cameroon of supporting the coup, thus increasing tension between the two countries. These accusation are not unfounded as they stand on the basis that Cameroon had supported another failed coup in 2004. As a response to this, Equatorial Guinea blocked its border with Cameroon, which has left many people stranded for the past two weeks.
President Teodoro Mbasogo. Source: www.voanews.com
If Cameroon had any responsibility in orchestrating such a coup, then it could be perceived that Cameroon is intentionally undermining the sovereignty of another nation. By Cameroon meddling in the affairs of Equatorial Guinea, it conveys a message to citizens that the government is incapable of carrying out its duties. At the same time, it inhibits the government from having the opportunity of performing their responsibility in maintaining the functionality of an independent nation. The outcome of the coup has strained the relationship between the two countries, causing distrust and discord in their engagement. As a government, one of the primary responsibilities is to ensure the nation’s security and stability internally and across its borders. Therefore, Equatorial Guinea deciding to block the border shared with Cameroon, is the government ensuring the security of the nation from a neighbouring country it does trust during this period of time.
On the other hand, Cameroon’s actions should also be applauded. Even though the coup did fail, it did return the attention to the duration of time that Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been President of Equatorial Guinea. President Mbasogo assumed the presidential seat in 1979 and is now one year shy of four decades as President, which makes him the longest serving President on the African continent. President Mbasogo is not the only African leader that represents a practice of ‘President for Life’, as Uganda recently repealed the age limit enabling President Yoweri Museveni to seek another term. Ironically, other leaders that have retained power for decades are Idriss Deby (Chad), Omar al-Bashir (Sudan) and even Paul Biya (Cameroon). This may show that these countries were not in fact interested in providing democracy an opportunity to prosper. However, 2017 was a year that saw two long-time leaders lose their position of power. In Angola, former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos vacated his seat after 38 years. Then in Zimbabwe, a coup forced former President Robert Gabriel Mugabe to resign after 37 years. This may have been part of the inspiration for the coup. Regardless, of their own personal interests, Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan and Cameroon’s involvement in the coup has challenged a leadership that has undermined democratic practices and upheld the rhetoric of Presidents for life.
Ultimately, this coup presents concerns on how do other nations intervene and hold other countries accountable, without infringing on the targeted country’s sovereignty and imposing their own interests. It is disappointing that leaders across the African continent continue to follow in these democratic malpractices, with leaders such as Joseph Kabila (Democratic Republic of Congo) and several others joining this list as preventers of leadership transitions. However, the hope is that this failed coup in Equatorial Guinea exerts pressure on President Mbasogo, and by extension other leaders fitting the same criteria. Regardless of the outcome, it is without a doubt that the actions of every party involved will affect the citizens the most. Already, migrants, particularly merchants have voiced the damage the blockade of the border has done for their business and livelihoods. Eventually, the government will revert back to normal practices but the questions are burning: How long does President Mbasogo have left? Could 2018 be the fall of his regime? And which leader would be next?
Nteranya Arnold Sanginga is Director of Programs at Future Africa
When George Weah first ran for President of Liberia in 2005, the air of sentimentality accompanying his candidacy was palpable; after all, he was only the most popular Liberian citizen at the time and arguably one of the greatest footballers to have ever come out of Africa. His decorations on and off the football field preceded him and the world held its breath to see if Liberia will indeed elect an uneducated inexperienced politician riding on his footballing prowess to lead the country out of decades of civil war and into economic prosperity. In the end, only 40% of the country’s citizens were willing to take that gamble; the majority of Liberians voted for the experienced hand of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In 2010, Haitian singer Wyclef Jean also declared his interest in the presidency of disaster-stricken Haiti, and while comparisons with George Weah were drawn, George had made several big moves that had discredited any comparisons with Wyclef. George Weah had gone to DeVry University in the USA to earn a degree in Business Administration and he had dipped his feet into the political reality of his country. He got involved in the Senatorial bye-election in Monterrado County and later declared his candidacy for Vice-President with Winston Tubman in 2011 against Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Once again, he lost, and he plugged himself even stronger into politics and eventually won a landslide election in 2014 as Senator for Montserrado County before re-launching his presidential bid in 2017.
Now that the elections have been concluded and congratulations are pouring in from across the world, it is important to assess the importance of George Weah’s election as President of Liberia. Here are five key takeaways:
Popularity is insufficient
If popularity were sufficient, George Weah would have emerged as President 12 years ago. His prowess on the global footballing stage was second to none, and he was widely revered at home as a shining light. Since 2005, several more popular figures have attempted political careers with varying levels of success, but mostly popularity has not worked, otherwise Wyclef Jean will be running Haiti and Kanye West will be strengthening his campaign team for 2020. Yes, Donald Trump emerged president in the USA, but that had more to do with Hillary Clinton being equally unpopular, Vladimir Putin being very involved and portions of White America standing up for their values.
Credentials still matter
Standing next to Harvard-trained Ellen Johnson Sirlef, “Mister George” looked nothing more than an illiterate footballer in a suit. It did not help his cause that his best attempt at claiming an education was a phony degree in Sports Management from an unaccredited Parkwood University in London. When he returned with his degree from DeVry, there were no questions. So, education might not be all that, but it still matters.
George Weah at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Ceremony
Experience is invaluable
The best qualification for leadership is leadership experience. Beyond being captain of the Liberian national team and serving as its interim manager, there was not much else that George Weah was bringing to the table in 2005 or 2011. But his Senatorial experience, much like Barack Obama’s in 2008 made the difference in 2017. Grassroots politics might not be glamorous, but it counts.
Citizens still vote with their hearts
Contrasting George Weah’s credentials with Vice President Joseph Boakai’s reveals the wide gulf in governing experience between the duo. Boakai served as the country’s Minister of Agriculture from 1983-1985 and chaired the West African Rice Development Association during the same time. He subsequently served as Managing Director and later Chairman of Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company, then Chairman of Liberia Wood Management Corporation and consultant to the World Bank, yet he lost to George Weah. It can be argued that 12 years as Vice President had led to allegations of corruption and fatigue from the outgoing government, but Weah’s popularity still stems from the fact that people consider his poor background and lowly upbringing as endearing factors; they believe he is one of them.
Politics is still a dirty game
And while George Weah will be toasted at the Champs Elysees, more for his close connections to France from his playing days there and his dual French citizenship than for his political manifesto, it must be recalled that he has had to make political sacrifices to be where he is. His incoming Vice President is none other than the wife of disgraced former president, Charles Taylor, and one of his closest political allies, Prince Yormie Johnson, is known to have been a rebel leader during Samuel Doe’s presidency. Weah’s candidacy has not been viewed in the most favourable eyes by all.
George Weah, greets supporters during a campaign rally in Monrovia on October 8, 2017. Photo credit: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
For now, congratulations are in order for Liberia’s beloved son; George Weah’s election proves that deep commitment to a cause can yield great results. His commitment to Liberian politics has helped him to rebrand himself as more than a successful footballer; being a great president is his next big challenge at the relatively young age of 51. If he succeeds in giving a voice to the poor, investing in education, lifting Liberia’s struggling economy, advancing infrastructure growth, attracting valuable investment to the country’s manufacturing industry and improving the ease of doing business, he will be revered as much more than “Mister George”. He will be forever remembered as “Mr President”.
Faith Abiodun is the Executive Director of Future Africa.