It’s time to hold even African leaders to account

Friday, January 27th, 2023 00:30 | By
Delegates attend the opening session of the 33rd African Union (AU) Summit at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Feb. 9, 2020. PHOTO/AP

Jacinda Ardern, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, is out of the office. She resigned. Her reason for this would be strange to most African leaders. But, in her own words, she left because she “no longer had enough in the tank to do the job. It is time to go.”

African leaders tend to stay on and on, never looking at the tank to consider whether it is empty or there is still enough fuel to keep going. Cameroon is a good example.

Paul Biya, the president of the country, has been in high office either as prime minister or president since the 1970s.

Children born when Biya, now 90 years old, first occupied a senior office to offer leadership, will be retiring in another seven years. But Biya is still going on.

This past week, leaders from other parts of the world were being held to account in response to their acts in office. In countries where the leader does not consider himself synonymous with the government and where national institutions are not treated as extensions of his office, the checks and balance mechanisms instituted are used to check what their excesses would be.

In the United States of America, President Joe Biden is in trouble. He is accused of mishandling State secrets. The president carried some paperwork and left them in his home, where they were later found in his garage.

For that, the government has launched an inquiry into the president’s handling of security information.

Last week, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was in trouble for not wearing a seatbelt while the car was moving. The police swiftly charged him, and he was penalised for that. Rishi Sunak is one of many in this.

The Swedish Prime Minister is also in trouble. The Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, hired an officer to serve as his aide. The officer, Peter Magnus Nilsson, is accused of lying to the police. He had been found fishing eel and asked whether the equipment he was using was his. He denied. That has brought issues.

That such acts for which these leaders are being held to account are considered serious violations is, for most Africans, only amusing.

The standards of leadership, to which leaders in other parts of the world are held, are so high, making it inevitable that leaders in office need not equate themselves to the office they have or even hold themselves too highly.

Is Africa’s bane the blithe attention and responsibility leaders bring to their office? It does appear that the first duty of an African leader is to dismantle any structure that may be used to hold him, and it is usually him, to account. So while they would swear by the Constitution at the point of coming to the office, the document would be the first point of violation of the office.

The number of African leaders who have changed the constitution to enable them to stay in power beyond what is prescribed is too long to count. But that is not the only infraction that African leaders have. The others relate to their treatment of national resources.

In Kenya, for example, while it is a requirement to declare one’s wealth, it is unclear what the impact on society that provision has been. It is not like, over the years, the pilferage rate of public resources has decreased since that requirement came into place.

If anything, the opposite is true.

But more critically, the African public needs to hold leaders to account. Unfortunately, in the immediate post-election period, the number of leaders falling over themselves to praise the new chief makes nonsense of their perceived convictions.

These days, there are leadership programmes and training throughout the country that those aspiring to lead attend. Why they do not seem to make a difference in how leaders execute their assignments is one of the unresolved contradictions of the African.

Greater accountability among African leaders would only come about if the followers, the average citizens, begin insisting that their national institutions function appropriately and hold leaders to account so that their actions have consequences.

— The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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