Africa’s perceived leadership crisis stems from the fact that not all leaders of the liberation movements, whose revolutionary acumen got them elected into power, possess the qualities needed to run a country.
This is the view of Ambassador Ahmed Haggag, the former assistant secretary general of the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Haggag was giving a lecture to a group of 19 senior foreign correspondents from 18 African countries in Cairo, Egypt, this week, on good governance, respect for constitutional democracy and the current revolutionary wave sweeping across Africa, in which young people are demanding fair representation in government.
“Some of these presidents who won the elections were African leaders did not respect human rights,” he observed. Part of the problem, he says, has to do with the inherent nature of liberation movement leaders, who once assume the office of president, tend to disregard their constitutional mandate.
As a diplomat Haggag acted as special envoy of President Hosni Mubarak at numerous important African forums, but when the revolutionary wave of 2011 hit Egypt, toppling Mubarak’s 30-year old rule, it left in its wake a new government.
Haggag is perhaps one of the longest serving chief diplomats at the OAU, having served three consecutive four-year terms as assistant secretary general of the OAU from 1987 to 1999.
During this time he worked closely with a number of African liberation movements and governments and was no doubt in the thick of things diplomatically, as many of the liberation movements achieved their goal of independence and subsequently took on the role of governing and leading their countries.
“Old men, like me, held onto governments [for too long] and did not give a chance to young people, and women,” says Ambassador Haggag, who is clearly passionate about women’s rights and kept prodding women in the group to take charge of the discussion.
“As people, we deserve our rulers. Constitutions give terms of office, but [many] rulers do not respect this. They amend the constitution, because there is ‘a sweeping will of the people’,” Haggag says.
He adds that the constitutional proviso for a ruler or leader does not dictate that the country’s leader necessarily be the one who liberated the country or led the revolution. “We should believe in the transfer of power in a smooth way,” he says.
Nevertheless, Haggag is adamant that the media should not be pre-occupied with past shortcomings by leaders on the continent, while ignoring the positive outlook on the horizon. For instance, he says, gone are the days when political leaders could fool the electorate with sheer charisma.
“Despite the pessimistic attitude there is change in Africa, where rulers can no longer deceive the people. The awareness of the people in Africa has been strengthened, whether the media in that country is biased or not.”
“In the past we admired the charisma of leaders, but after a while charisma goes. Leadership now costs a lot. It’s not only a matter of monitoring the ruler for the way he spends or handles himself, but there is an aspect of regional and international accountability and development progress. Let’s not be so pessimistic, some of the past mistakes will not be repeated again,” he said.
If anything, Haggag is somewhat guarded in what he says, making it clear that he is not speaking about the political situation in any specific country, but in general about situation facing the wider continent.