Leadership Made in Africa: He who feeds you controls you

the fuel crisis

I have three children, all of whom are grown up enough to be allowed to vote in an election. Despite the fact that they are legally adults, my wife and I often joke that we only have one adult child. This is because of the three children, only one of them (our oldest son) is financially independent (ie, not dependent on disbursements from Daddy and Mummy).

As a result of this dependency, from time to time, we (the parents) have the luxury of informing our dependent children about changes in our policy and instructing them on what they will do. Despite the fact that they may occasionally disagree with our position, the dependent children typically have little choice but to comply.

Thomas Sankara once said, “He who feeds you controls you”. During his tenure as President of Burkina Faso, he resisted foreign aid and encouraged food self-sufficiency and financial self-sufficiency. Interestingly enough, so did President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo during his first term in office, coining the popular and visionary phrase ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’. Yet, after four years of leadership by President Sankara, Burkina Faso managed to reduce economic aid from France, its largest aid provider, by 80percent and wean itself off IMF borrowing.

Unfortunately, Ghana’s fortunes under President Akufo-Addo have trended in the opposite direction: the country recently accepted a US$3 billion bailout from the IMF and its economic decline has been rapid in 2022 and 2023, leading to protests around the country as the hardship of rising prices and falling currency value conspire to make everyday Ghanaians’ lives poorer and more difficult to manage.

Where did President Akufo-Addo go wrong and what can we, African Leaders, learn from this?

To find the answer, let us continue to contrast the two leaders. President Sankara and President Akufo-Addo both spoke passionately about reducing poverty and dependence on aid; they both advocated and promoted education and access to schooling for all of their citizens; they both denounced Western nations for policies that do not help African nations to thrive.

However, only Sankara chose to tighten his own belt and the belts of the government elites in the country. President Akufo-Addo chose to fly first class and his cabinet officials all fly first class in their many trips outside the country, while in contrast, Sankara banned first class travel for all government ministers, explaining that a country that depends on foreign aid should not have leaders spending money on luxury goods and services for themselves.

President Akufo-Addo’s administration spent millions of dollars on brand new large SUVs and luxury cars for the senior cadre of government officials while President Sankara sold off the fleet of government luxury cars and made the Renault 5 (the cheapest car in Burkina Faso at the time) the official car of government ministers. President Sankara reduced his own salary and the size of his staff and cabinet while President Akufo-Addo has overseen the largest administration in Ghana to date – complete with 120 government ministers and 1,000 Presidential staffers.

President Sankara banned the wearing of Western-made clothing at work by government officials and required the wearing of Burkinabe clothing sewn by Burkinabe tailors from cloth made in Burkina Faso. President Akufo-Addo’s administration officials are most often seen wearing Western-made suits in a country with a rich tradition of locally-produced fabric and excellent tailors and seamstresses.

The use and distribution of President Sankara’s picture was discouraged by the President, who said in response to a challenge about this policy “there are seven million Sankaras in Burkina Faso”, thereby emphasizing the value and relevance of each citizen and de-emphasizing the idolization of the leader.

President Akufo-Addo’s picture adorns almost every shop, store, and government office in Ghana. President Sankara encouraged every government minister and the people of Burkina Faso to personally engage in agriculture and during his tenure Burkina Faso achieved national food self-sufficiency in its primary food products. Meanwhile, Ghana is heavily dependent today on importation of rice and poultry, two primary products consumed in large quantities by Ghanaians.

In Kenya, in a recent book about the former leader of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Julius Kipng’etich, the author documents the journey Mr. Kipng’etich took over seven years to transform the service from a struggling government agency largely dependent on government subsidies to a healthy organization with revenues that grew by over 500percent over seven years. The Kenya Wildlife Service is the agency that supervises the national parks and has the mandate to conserve and manage wildlife in Kenya, and to enforce related laws and regulations.

It is also the employer of the Park Rangers, a paramilitary force that frequently has to battle poachers throughout the country. Mr. Kipng’etich, who was not a military man, was tasked at the age of 39 with the leadership of this agency and at the time of his appointment, most pundits in Kenya were confident that his tenure at the helm would be a failure. They were wrong.

Among the many decisions he made was the decision to make lean his leadership team, especially in terms of expenditure. He ensured that his official car was not a large one, but a small Toyota, and then he purchased new field jeeps for the Park Rangers who had to drive around the parks and do the difficult task of caring for the animals and fighting the poachers.

In New York City during the recent United National General Assembly, President Maada Bio of Sierra Leone recently criticized the United States for infringing on the sovereignty of Sierra Leone via the introduction of “unilateral coercive measures, including visa restrictions” on some Sierra Leonean citizens in the aftermath of the 24 June elections.

The United States placed visa restrictions on some undisclosed citizens after it expressed concern about the integrity of the elections that resulted in President Bio’s re-election to the highest office in Sierra Leone. He urged the Assembly to ensure that all member states respect the sovereignty and political independence of other states.

President Bio earlier urged the swift end of the Russia-Ukraine war, stating that that “we are all suffering as a result of the war in Ukraine” and “”It is not a pleasure to go begging around nations, when you say you’re a sovereign nation.” Despite this displeasure, President Bio’s decisions have more closely resembled the decisions of President Akufo-Addo than they have resembled those of President Sankara. The economy of Sierra Leone remains heavily dependent on foreign aid and food imports and the United States (one of the largest donors to Sierra Leone) has largely ignored President Bio’s claims of sovereignty.

Dear African Leader, what can we learn from these incidents?

If you want to earn respect as a leader, demonstrate your commitment to achieving self-sufficiency by being willing to sacrifice your personal pleasures and comfort and those of your closest friends/colleagues. A leader who cannot stomach delayed gratification and discipline his or her closest colleagues is not a leader that will succeed in achieving success and self-sufficiency.

In many countries in Africa (in both the public and private sector), African leaders have allowed our addiction to perks and salaries to become nooses around our necks that advanced nations and wealthy donors utilize to keep us enslaved centuries after slavery was banned.

During his final year in university, my oldest son worked part-time in a restaurant. By the time he graduated he informed my wife and I that he did not want us to continue subsidizing his existence by sending him money each month. This was the proudest day of my life, but it was also the day that I understood that I could no longer simply tell him what to do and expect his total obedience. I now engage him as a peer, rather than a dependent, negotiating with him and providing advice when he asks for it. It is a new relationship that was uncomfortable for me at first, but healthier in the long run. I no longer feed him; I no longer control him.

>>>the writer is a scholar and practitioner of organizational development and leadership and a leadership Coach and Facilitator. Over the past three decades, he has successfully coached and trained leaders in Africa, North America, and Europe. His passion for leadership enhancement was born out of his experiences as a cadet in the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) and as a military officer serving in combat in the Sierra Leone Civil War where he was shot twice. As the only Sierra Leonean with a Ph.D. in Leadership, Modupe was the founding Dean of the African Leadership University School of Business, an institution providing a Pan-African MBA degree to Africa’s mid-career professionals.  He is the Founder and CEO of BCA Leadership (www.bcaleadership.com), an organization that has impacted over 3000 African leaders with coaching and knowledge-sharing services. He leads a team of thirty-two Coaches across Africa and he is the curator of The Made in Africa Leadership Conference.  Contact Modupe through email at [email protected]

To register for The Made in Africa Leadership Conference scheduled for 12 & 13 June, 2024 in Nairobi in Kenya, visit www.bcaleadership.com


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