Leadership & Governance Capacity Building in African Countries: Why and How Well-Off and Accomplished Africans, Especially “Brain Drain”/Diaspora Africans, Should Proactively Take Charge of Fostering African Progress
Michael J. Isimbabi, Ph.D.
Founder & Director
The African Leadership & Progress Network, Inc.
Principal, Capital Researchers LLC
733 15th Street, NW – Suite 700
Washington, DC 20005
A key challenge in many African and other developing countries is how to foster good governance and the evolution of the requisite investment environments for bringing about poverty alleviation through private sector-driven economic growth.
While the international community can provide much needed assistance, it is unrealistic to count on it to free African countries from bad leaderships and poor governance, given the hard realities of global geopolitics and economics. Whatever the underlying causes of slow progress in Africa may be, Africans themselves have to take responsibility for their own progress. In this regard, the development of indigenous capacity and homegrown policies informed by local knowledge and perspectives provides the best hope for poverty alleviation in poor countries.
The onus therefore falls squarely on well-off and accomplished Africans to proactively take charge of fostering good governance and the evolution of visionary and transformational leaderships in their countries. The financial, intellectual, and other resources of accomplished Africans, especially those outside the continent (“Brain Drain”, “Overseas” or “Diaspora” Africans), are yet to be fully tapped and effectively utilized toward fostering African progress, particularly leadership/governance capacity building with a strong private sector orientation. And, in most countries, much of the exceptional young leadership talent is wasting away due to under-investment in human capital development.
Therefore, rather than feeling helpless and hopeless and continuing to complain about poor leaderships and the international community, accomplished Africans must seek innovative ways to effectively harness and leverage their immense but largely untapped and under-utilized resources to implement leadership/governance capacity building initiatives in their countries. Such resource-pooling need not be financial–with the numerous options and possibilities provided by the Internet and advanced information and communications technologies, Overseas/Diaspora Africans can contribute substantial intellectual and other nonfinancial resources, even without being physically present in their countries.
ALPN’s leadership capacity building initiative includes:
- Public education, information dissemination, and advocacy, to educate, inform, influence, and change/develop mindsets
- Development of a global network of African & “non-African Africanist” professionals/experts/intellectuals/scholars, from which resources are pooled for capacity building and private investment
- Development of talented young people with exceptional leadership potential into future visionary and transformational leaders
As often noted, regardless of what the underlying causes of slow progress in Africa may be, Africans themselves have to take responsibility for their own progress. The key challenge in this regard in many countries is how to foster good governance and the evolution of competitive investment environments that are necessary for bringing about poverty alleviation through private sector-driven economic growth.
Given the unwillingness or inability of most African leaders to practice good governance, the onus falls squarely on well-off and accomplished Africans, both within and outside the continent, to take charge of fostering good governance and the evolution of visionary and transformational leaderships in their countries.
Clearly, in some resource-rich countries, efficient management of resources would obviate the need for foreign aid. Unfortunately, recent trends indicate that the “resource curse” will continue to hamper progress in such countries.1
As many Africa advocates have pointed out, even those countries with good leaderships that have managed their economies well still direly need substantial amounts of aid for building education, health, and physical infrastructures.2 Notably, such countries have qualified (or are likely to soon qualify) for assistance under the US’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) initiative, but it is unlikely that they will get enough aid under this initiative or from other sources to meet their needs.3
According to the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the MCA has already recorded some success, as a number of governments are responding to the initiative’s incentives by taking steps to implement the reforms that will enable them qualify for MCA funds.4 However, some governments are not so inclined, and will therefore only pay lip service as usual to implementing reforms.
Many African leaders have little incentive to practice good governance–reforms generally work against their self-interests, which they place over the national interest. Such leaders usually can achieve their personal goals – personal financial enrichment, unbridled power, ethnic/regional superiority or domination, etc. – by plundering their nations’ resources. Good governance, by requiring transparency, accountability, control of corruption, protection of civil liberties, political and economic freedom, etc., obviously works directly against the self-interests of many political leaders and their cronies, and ultimately results in loss of power. [For more information and links to several articles, papers, reports, etc. on African leadership and governance, see (on this site): “Perspectives on African Leadership/Governance, NEPAD, the African Union, Etc.”]
Whatever the moral obligation of rich countries may be to help poor countries, it is unrealistic to count on massive assistance from them. While rich-country governments are sincere about their desire to help poor countries get out of poverty — even if only so that they do not become havens for global terrorism — leaders in rich countries invariably will place higher priority on short-term domestic political interests, as politicians in all countries often do.
Thus, any progress on issues such as removal of protectionist trade policies, substantial increases in aid, etc. by rich countries will be quite slow indeed.
Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals, recently noted that “even in the cases of democratic, well-governed countries the international community still does not help adequately. … When we do not even help the well-governed countries in the world, what are we going to do about the most miserably governed places?”5
And, on the ongoing crisis in Darfur, Sudan, a recent Washington Post op-ed article observed:
- “Why has the world, with all its outpourings and Security Council deliberations, failed to tackle the Darfur problem? The main answer is straightforward enough: Major and minor powers alike are committed only to stopping killing that harms their national interests. Why take political, financial and potential military risks when there is no strategic or domestic cost to remaining on the sidelines?”6
Therefore, rather than succumbing to helplessness, hopelessness and passivity, and only complaining about African leaders and the international community, well-off and accomplished Africans must proactively take charge of fostering leadership/governance capacity building in their countries. Clear success, to whatever extent possible with limited resources — with or without assistance from the international community — will hopefully create the moral imperative for, and put pressure on, the international community to provide more assistance to those who are working tirelessly to foster good governance in their countries.
There are, of course, several civil society organizations (CSOs) in African countries and outside the continent that are working on capacity building. However, few have a strong focus on leadership/governance with a private sector orientation. Furthermore, many CSOs are poorly structured, poorly managed, and ineffective. And those that are well-managed and effective do not get enough support from those well-off Africans who can provide the resources that such organizations need to enable them have much greater impact.
It is obvious that the immense talents and resources of Africans, especially successful ones living outside Africa (“Overseas” or “Diaspora” Africans), are yet to be fully tapped and effectively utilized toward fostering leadership/governance capacity building in African countries. And, in most countries, much of the exceptional young leadership talent is wasting away due to under-investment in human capital development.
There is therefore an urgent need for well-off and accomplished Africans to pool resources to provide substantial support to organizations that are doing good work, and, where there are none, create new ones – in African countries as well as outside the continent — that can be highly effective.
There is a compelling reason why Africans themselves have to be more proactive in developing initiatives that effectively address good governance and private sector development issues: the development of indigenous capacity and homegrown policies informed by local knowledge and perspectives provides the best hope for poverty alleviation in poor countries.
One of the most important developments in recent years with respect to market-oriented policy prescriptions for developing countries and the so-called Washington Consensus has been the recognition that economic and institutional reforms have to take into consideration:
- the unique circumstances and needs of poor countries, especially with regard to social and cultural values and the plight of the poor, which free market policies sometimes cannot adequately address; and
- use of local knowledge and viewpoints–by virtue of their superior knowledge of their countries’ particular political, economic, social, and cultural environments, local experts are better-positioned to develop unique “homegrown” ideas and approaches that will best address their countries’ needs.
This point was recently underscored by the Nobel laureate in economics, Douglass North:7
- “In institutional analysis we have to recognize that we inherit laws, rules, norms, and beliefs from the past that we have to live with and cannot simply discard. Thus, they have to be built into necessary reforms, which cannot be borrowed from others. Here emerges one of the reasons that decades of Washington Consensus did not produce any results. The theory that was used to develop policies with respect to the rest of the world or the IMF or the World Bank, assumed that a neoclassical model of the world, in which people had perfect information and the institutions already existed. The assumption was that all you had to do was incrementally change things at the margins, and all would be well.
- Yet, to design effective reform policies, we must understand the cultural heritage and historical background. It is impossible to make sense out of any economy by just starting and looking at it fresh. It is the mixture of formal rules, informal norms, and enforcement characteristics that defines institutions and shapes economic performance. And although the rules may be changed overnight, the informal norms usually change only gradually. To be successful you have to understand the existing structure of your economy and the transaction costs. If we go to the developing countries and try to propose reforms without understanding their beliefs and therefore the incentives built into their beliefs, then the kind of institutional change we will be attempting to make is not going to work. To bring about economic growth we must know where we’ve come from and employ the local knowledge in developing institutions.”
Similarly, in their recent critiques of globalization, the Washington Consensus, and the multilateral institutions (IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO), financier and philanthropist George Soros and former World Bank Chief Economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, make the following points, among others:8
1. The institutions have often lacked detailed, hands-on knowledge of the poor countries for which they made prescriptions, often with a one-size-fits-all approach that failed in many cases.
2. There needs to be greater consideration of the social values and needs and the plight of the poor, which free markets may not be able to address adequately:
- “Both the provision of public goods9 and the improvement of internal conditions require some resource transfers from the rich countries to the poor. This goes against the grain of market fundamentalism which claims that markets, left on their own, will ensure the optimum allocation of resources” (Soros, 2002, p. 20).
3. There is a need for the development of domestic capacity and home-grown approaches to policymaking and implementation in poor countries:
- “…[Foreign aid] recipients rarely have ownership of development projects, which are designed and implemented by outsiders. When the experts leave, not much remains. Programs that are imported rather than home grown often do not take root …Even international institutions prefer to send foreign experts rather than build domestic capacity” (Soros, 2002, p. 23).
Thus, because each country is different, each should be allowed to consider alternative strategies for development and make its own choice–the task of the international institutions should be to “provide the countries the wherewithal to make these informed choices on their own, with an understanding of the consequences and risks of each” (Stiglitz, p. 88).
Such critiques (also made by many others in both developing and developed countries), as well as continuing economic and social crises in some developing countries, have led to a rethinking of the Washington Consensus and calls for alternative approaches to economic management in poor countries.
For instance, in the September 2003 issue of the IMF/World Bank’s own publication, Finance & Development, an editorial on a special focus on the Washington Consensus (“Redrafting the Reform Agenda”) notes:10
- “[T]oday, there is fresh debate about the way forward and the role of the international financial institutions. Many regions, including Latin America and Africa, have their own agendas, complemented by a complex international package of development goals and trade negotiations…”
In the same issue, an article by John Williamson, who coined the term “Washington Consensus”, notes that the term “has acquired such different meanings that it is time to drop it from the vocabulary and describes what the policy agenda should look like now, given the disappointing results of the reforms of the 1990s.” Among other things, he suggests a rethinking of the reform agenda that leaves behind “the stale ideological rhetoric of the 1990s.” And, with regard to the poor in developing countries:
- “[T]he key innovation for improving income distribution will come from empowering the poor by giving them access to assets that will enable them to work their way out of poverty: education to increase their human capital, titling reform to allow their micro enterprises to operate in the formal sector, micro credit to allow them to buy physical capital, and, in some places, agrarian reform to provide access to land.”
Clearly, initiatives conceived and implemented by nationals with local knowledge and perspectives are most likely to result in the policies and approaches that are most appropriate for a country’s political, economic, social, and cultural circumstances.
The obvious starting point in this regard is capacity building to foster good governance. The findings of the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s forthcoming African Governance Report 2005 show that “there is a pressing need for the implementation of a bold and innovative programme to effectively develop and use Africa’s governance capacity. We need to implement a bold, cross-cutting and comprehensive, Africa-led programme for capacity development, backed with substantial funding from our international development partners.”11
Capacity building programs should go beyond just technical training in narrow fields — which are, of course, necessary, but not sufficient — to also include the development of talented young and emerging leaders into future leaders in the political, policy, business, and civil society sectors who have:
- a global view and sound understanding of the realities and challenges of global geopolitics, finance, and economics;
- strong private sector mindsets–political & economic freedom, market-oriented policies, a competitive African investment climate, entrepreneurship, etc.
- strong leadership ability and dedication to good governance, in order to successfully bring about private sector-driven poverty alleviation.
Most of the existing capacity building initiatives are aimed at training technical professionals, and are not specifically focused on developing transformational leaders, i.e., those who will be able to deal successfully with the global geopolitical and economic development challenges of the coming decades.
Of course, some of the technically-trained professionals may eventually turn out to be (or will help to develop) national leaders who have the vision and commitment to lead their countries to rapid progress. However, existing programs are of such small scales and limited scopes that the extent to which this will happen is probably miniscule.12
Besides, the emergence of such professionals, who may have leadership potential but still lack the resources they need to enable them develop into effective national leaders, can easily be suppressed by repressive regimes.
A major hindrance to the emergence of transformational leaderships in African and other developing countries is that young people who possess the talent and qualities to become visionary, dedicated, and competent leaders hardly ever get a fair chance to compete for and attain top leadership positions.
Most countries’ education and information infrastructures are underdeveloped and, therefore, talented young people often lack the resources – requisite education/training, broad knowledge, superb skills, access to global information and support networks, financial and intellectual support, etc. – that they need to enable them develop into transformational leaders.
Thus, they are unable to compete with those already in power (and their cronies and proteges), some of whom have no qualms about quashing emerging leaders whom they consider to be threats to their dominance. Eventually, such promising young people, who often are struggling to make ends meet and are encumbered by various family and societal responsibilities, get frustrated, give up on their ideas, and relinquish their efforts. Quite often, they have little choice but to join the status quo and, even worse than failing to develop their leadership potential, some of them get sucked into the morass of corruption that is prevalent in the public and private sectors of many countries.
Accomplished Africans, particularly those who live outside the continent, who possess the requisite financial, intellectual, and other resources, therefore have a responsibility to sponsor leadership and civil society capacity development initiatives that will help to foster better governance. These resources, which are substantial, are yet to be fully tapped and effectively utilized in this context.
By developing strong and effective networks through which they can pool and utilize their resources efficiently toward capacity building, Africans can substantially help to foster rapid African progress. As is well-known, most accomplished Africans are deeply distressed about slow progress in their countries and Africa’s dismal image in the world, which some attribute largely to poor leadership and governance. From all indications, they are looking for effective ways to contribute to African progress and often feel helpless and even hopeless. Such resource-pooling need not be financial–with the numerous options and possibilities provided by the Internet and advanced information and communications technologies, Overseas/Diaspora Africans can contribute substantial intellectual and other nonfinancial resources, even without being physically present in their countries.
Clearly, an initiative that credibly demonstrates its ability to help foster good governance and develop transformational future leaderships will have little trouble attracting substantial support from talented, motivated, and dedicated Africans (as well as “non-African Africanists”).
ALPN is currently implementing such an initiative, whose key features are as follows:
- Responsibility for financing and implementation lies primarily with well-off and accomplished Africans, particularly “Overseas Africans”, from which financial, intellectual, and other resources are harnessed — through a Global Network of African & “non-African Africanist” Professionals/Experts/Intellectuals/Scholars — to implement the project in several African countries.
- Innovative public education, information dissemination, and advocacy — an Internet research/information portal, online forums, publication of original informational/educational briefs, essays, reports, articles, etc. — to educate, inform, influence, and change/develop the mindsets of current, emerging, and young (potential) leaders, policymakers, civil society organizations, researchers, educators, and citizenries in general. This is designed to foster good governance characterized by new ideas and innovative policy approaches that will bring about private sector-driven economic growth and poverty alleviation, within the framework of liberal democracy, freedom, liberty, rule of law, human rights, free enterprise, and the hard realities of global geopolitics and finance/economics.
- Leadership capacity building, with a medium- to long-term perspective, to develop talented young people (15-30 years old) with exceptional leadership potential into visionary, committed, uncorrupt, knowledgeable, competent, and transformational leaders with a strong private sector orientation in the public, private, and civil society sectors of African countries over the next ten to twenty years.
Additional information on ALPN’s network development and capacity building initiatives is provided at:
Of course, the international community – rich-country governments, multilateral organizations, the private sector, foundations, etc. – could assist with the requisite substantial investment that would greatly boost such capacity building efforts. With only a small fraction of the amount of aid that often ends up being wasted, under-utilized African human capital can be harnessed, developed, and leveraged to build the capacity that is needed to foster good governance and the evolution of transformational leaderships. As Jeffrey Sachs has also noted, “in every aspect of Africa’s complex plight an ounce of prevention will be worth a ton of treatment… Small amounts spent on promoting Africa’s economy can save billions and make the West more secure.”13
While the need for capacity building in poor countries has always been well-recognized and discussed, investment in this area by the international community has for decades been relatively miniscule. However, recent pronouncements by the US government and international organizations indicate that the urgent need has become more evident—for example:
- USAID’s recent White Paper (Jan 2004), U.S. Foreign Aid: Meeting the Challenges of the Twenty-first Century, notes:
- “the strength and performance of institutions, particularly as evidenced in the quality of governance and rule of law, are the primary determinants of development. Resource transfers in the absence of institutional capacity do not yield sustainable outcomes. …The primary determinant of progress in transformational development is political will and commitment to rule justly, promote economic freedom, and make sound investments in people. For foreign aid to most effectively contribute and support recipient self-help efforts donors should …[inter alia]… focus on strengthening institutional capacity and dealing with absorptive capacity issues …”14
Also, USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios has noted:
- “…Transformational change in a poor country cannot be imposed from the outside, not by the (development) Banks, and not by donor governments. There must be national leadership and local support for transformational change to remove the impediments to microeconomic reform, to clean up corruption in the political system, and to make public management more accountable and transparent. What causes this leadership to form and act should be a question of considerable interest to us. Part of the answer lies in the nature of the incentive system in the international aid community.”15
- The World Economic Forum/UN Financing for Development Initiative has also observed that “in many developing countries, improvement in the investment climate for domestic and foreign investors depends heavily on strengthening the public and private institutions of financial governance. Priority needs to be attached to building capacity in the areas of accounting, auditing, financial analysis, contract dispute adjudication, corporate governance, etc.”16
- Similarly, the Commission on Capital Flows to Africa observes that “without adequate human capital, FDI is of little value. Economic management training of and financial experience among Africans are in too short a supply.” It then recommends that:
- “The United States, in conjunction with other OECD governments and private-sector entities, should create an African Financial Fellowship Exchange Program that would send professionals with financial, capital markets, corporate finance, or economic policy experience to African countries to work in public and private institutions for a certain period. In exchange, each participating African country would commit two individuals for training for up to two years at qualified investment or commercial banks in the United States or other OECD countries.”17
- And, according to a recent World Bank report:
- “An effective poverty reduction strategy process and a productive partnership can be built only on a platform of strong public capacity: capacity to formulate policies; capacity to build consensus; capacity to implement reform; and capacity to monitor results, learn lessons, and adapt accordingly. Building the requisite capacities turns out to be a formidable challenge. For these reasons, enhancing the capacity of African states has risen to the top of the continent’s development agenda.”18
Perhaps the international community will soon match such pronouncements on capacity building with substantial investments in various initiatives, but Africans cannot afford to wait. They need to proactively take ch