Editor's note: Azu Ishiekwene, a member of the board of the Global Editors Network, writes on leadership in the African continent. Using age as a barrier Ishiekwene considers the possibility of Nigeria and other African countries being saved by the leaders through Ghana's president, Nana Akufo-Addo's style.
It was the other way round. Just three years ago, my friend and publisher of the Ghanaian Chronicle, Kofi Coomson, had almost given up on Ghana. He wanted to move.
After only one term, John Mahama’s government had brought the country to the brink and Ghana was, once again, near its second major wave of emigration after the first in 1982.
Corruption was rife and poverty - worsened by the devaluation of the cedi and the fall in commodity prices – was widespread.
Coomson wanted out. A survivor of Jerry Rawlings’ dictatorship, during which period he was forced to go into exile for his uncompromising journalistic work, Coomson had seen hardship, but feared something worse was coming.
For some reason, the election of President Muhammadu Buhari reawakened in him hope for a revival in Ghana, where the general election was about 18 months away at the time.
Even before Buhari was sworn in in May 2015, Coomson would call me nearly every week and tell me just how Buhari’s post-election fever had caught on in Accra.
At last he would say, here was a man who would not only bring change to his country but one whose moral force would shake things up in West Africa and around the continent.
That fever is gone, disappearing almost without a trace as Buhari arrived in Accra on Tuesday to join celebrations for Ghana’s 61st independence anniversary.
Home and away, hope and expectation have been replaced by a nagging feeling of anger, regret and disappointment.
Coomson’s question, What happened to Buhari?, is not being answered in Abuja and might never honestly be. But by some strange twist of fate, that question is being answered in Accra, where President Nana Akufo-Addo is showing what is possible when preparation and effort meet opportunity.
It’s the other way round. I’m now in my Coomson season, wondering exactly what I’m doing here and whether I should not be going to Accra.
In just over one year of taking office as president, Akufo-Addo has inspired the sort of confidence that Ghanaians were looking for in Buhari; and Nigerians are taking lesson notes and sharing videos of what might have been, if Buhari had the quality they thought they voted for three years ago.
Even after he reluctantly visited Taraba, where dozens had been murdered in a farmers-herders clash months ago, to condole with the bereaved on his way to Accra, the dust stirred by his words unsettled the shallow graves of the dead, dispirited the grieving and trailed him all the way.
Sometimes you don’t know which one to choose: Buhari’s speech, his silence or his indifference.
It’s not just a Nigerian thing; quality appears to be missing around much of the continent. South Africa’s Jacob Zuma did not understand the difference between the state treasury and his own wallet; and until Robert Mugabe was led out like a bull out of Zimbabwe’s china shop, ordinary Zimbabweans bore the brunt of his misrule, including paying for the First Lady’s fake doctoral thesis.
Yet, if Zuma and Mugabe are past, a good number of such rulers are still present tense: from Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea to Paul Biya of Cameroun, and from Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo to Yoweri Museveni of Uganda – leaders who give old age a bad name and don't care by what name they or their countries are called.
In a recent video on leadership on the continent, Mo Ibrahim described them as leaders who are not only too old to lead but are also determined to take their countries with them to their graves.
At 74, age is not on Akufo-Addo’s side, but he appears to hold out a different promise from the club of gerontocrats. I’ve been following him with the same interest that my Ghanaian friend was following Buhari. It’s the other way round now.
I watched Akufo-Addo telling France’s President Emmanuel Macron when the latter visited Ghana in December, that even though Africa was grateful for the tons of aid pouring into Ghana and the continent, Africa should take responsibility for its own future.
The continent has had enough of carrying around a begging bowl for 25 percent of global development aid; its leaders must be held to account. His own stewardship in Ghana, he said, was not an exception.
Though Macron knows Africa well, the look of disbelief and shock and excitement on his face as Akufo-Addo spoke suggested that he had not heard an African leader speak with such candour for a long, long time.
The same thing happened during an international conference in Senegal on how to replenish funding for education, where Akufo-Addo narrated how his government’s free education programme up to secondary school level had led to 90,000 more children enrolling in high schools in less than one year.
While other African heads of state and government hardly noticed the passing away of Hugh Masekela during the January meeting of the AU in Addis Ababa, the significance of Bra Hugh’s contribution to global music, culture and entertainment was not lost on Akufo-Addo.
On his way back to Accra, he stopped over in Johannesburg where he paid his last respects to Hugh and other African greats, including Fela, who had gone before him.
It was the Ghanaian president’s speech at the US National Governors 2018 Winter Meeting in Washington in February, that cleared any remaining doubts that he was a serious guy.
In a speech that earned him a standing ovation and one that should have made every African proud in the same country where President Donald Trump had cast a slur on the continent only a few months earlier, Akufo-Addo repeated his theme of responsible and accountable leadership, saying in clear terms that trade was better than aid.
He has shown it in Ghana. The economy has grown from 3.6 percent in 2016 to 7.9 percent in 2017.
The cedi has stabilised and inflation reduced from 15.6 per cent at the end of 2016 to 10.3 percent last year. “Nuisance taxes” have been abolished and emphasis is now on production and improvement of infrastructure.
And without making too much noise, the Ghanaian president appointed a Special Prosecutor, the first in the country’s history, to deal with matters of corruption “and hold public officials, past and present, accountable for their stewardship” of public finances.
Ghana is small, and by comparison, far less complex than, say, Nigeria or South Africa. It’s not even among Africa’s Top 10 economies. If, however, size and complexity were disincentives to growth and development, then India, the world’s largest and arguably most complex democracy, would not be among the world’s top 10 economies.
With general elections coming up in 31 or so African countries in the next 18 months, from Sierra Leone to Gabon, from South Africa to Senegal and from Mali to Nigeria, the worst disservice citizens can do to themselves and their children is to stand idly by.
The Africa of Muhammadu Buhari, Paul Biya and Teodoro Obiang Nguema, is also the Africa of Nana Akufo-Ado.
Poor leadership deserves a red card: There’s no other way around it.
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