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Culture, democracy and good governance: Relooking the African Leadership Paradigm

Culture, democracy and good governance: Relooking the African Leadership Paradigm

By Grace Chirenje

Have you ever poised to think of how the traditional African Culture may be affecting the African continent issues around democracy and good governance? Well, last week I had an interesting time reflecting on this and I thought it would be a fascinating reflection to share. The way the African people are socialized to view leadership, leadership succession and terms of office is one that is deeply rooted in chieftainship and it seems as though despite the acculturation over many years, we still hold dear to the values we have on the aforementioned issues. Not that it is a bad thing to hold onto principles and values that belong to a people but it is also an essential bit of existence that we learn from some cultures and take with us into our very own culture that which we think will enhance our being. Let us see what this might mean for us!

The African mind is taught that leadership should be distant and that leaders should be strict, "uncommon" and tough. This has resulted in a high level distance kind of interaction with our leaders in government and thus the lack of relationship. This also has meant that we get to "interact" with the so called honourable when he or she is electioneering (at least in the Zimbabwean context). What this simply means is that for most of the people, they do not get to understand what exactly it means to hold leaders accountable who they have elected into office - after all, they are high and mighty, way up there for the ordinary person to comprehend. This has in the need resulted in many of these "honourables" becoming a little less honourable and people failing to hold them accountable in as far as their office and community development is concerned (in this regards, community means even a whole nation).

Two other key issues to note here are the term of office and succession in as far as the African Traditional culture is concerned. In this aspect, leadership is in light of family lineage and also has to do with targeted and defined structures that are privy to the respective family. Moreover, if one is not of that family lineage then the chances of inheritance, succession and leadership are almost always taboo. After all if they include any one else that is not within the lineage, then the wealth they have worked so hard to amass will be a benefit to misfits! This being said, the same psychology is then transferred to any office that an individual will hold and when looking at democracy and good governance, this presents many challenges. What does this mean?

Firstly, this means that people of this mind set - the traditional African context - will hold onto power no matter what it takes so as to ensure they "protect" what they deem to be rightfully theirs. This has resulted in many African nations suffering from poverty and many other mishaps because leaders are being selfish at the expense of a whole country and its people. Moreover, it means that many leaders in Africa will seek many terms of office because at the back of their heads, once one is a leader; only death can be the way out. Moreover, they do not have clear succession plans because all that will be figured out when they die! If Africa is going to be transformed, there needs to be a fusion of the traditional culture and the global trends so that we achieve true democracy and good governance"¦.just think about it in your very own context and start making that small difference!

Grace Chirenje-Nachipo is an activist. She also serves as Vice Chairperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

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