The frame of reference has to remain what our likely moves would be if the girls were our daughters, sisters. It might be a necessary evil to negotiate with these terrible men.
Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin are all members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria. And yet, France had to be the entity to do what should have been a rational move. Well, maybe France should also tell our leader that making pretensions to courage at this late stage would only cost us more lives.
The Nigerian government must do all that is necessary to save those girls; including negotiations. What is the alternative? A “commando” offensive against a bunch of lunatics who have no qualms with self-annihilation? I wonder if such bravado would be convenient if one of their daughters was in captivity. Didn’t they negotiate when the relative of a minister was kidnapped? How did all the prominent people that were kidnapped in the past get rescued? Negotiation is not weakness. It is simply wisdom. You do what you have to do within reason to achieve your objectives. Right now, it should be to #BringBackOurGirls.
This ugliness is spreading. It is alien to our culture. Why is this happening just as Africa’s promise seems likely within reach? There must be #NoPlaceForTerrorismInAfrica.
What do visionary leaders have in common? Trials. History’s greats went through travails unimaginable. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela quickly come to mind. They are fabled as much for their triumphs as well as their travails. Their lives and deaths were dominated by strife. It is the preparation they needed to lead. Providence forces strife and loss on the chosen precisely because a leader’s sense of empathy and responsibility is never genuinely felt otherwise. Mandela is perhaps exceptional in that he had the good fortune of both preparation and good luck. To reach his destined height in history, providence sent him to the one place he would be protected from his own weaknesses. And in that period, the memory we had of him was, as he would have liked to be thought of. He certainly wouldn’t have been able to achieve such a stature bordering on sainthood without those troubles. His greatness came at great personal costs, however. Costs that only the leader must bear; alone. That great African icon must have gone through unimaginable tribulations. One is not talking about his well-known long stay in prison. I refer to the other prison. The prison of the mind; that inner sanctum where the greatest battles are fought. For the naiveté of youth (no relation to age) to give way to the maturity that is required of leadership, the mind requires molding. That process is unbelievably difficult and lonely. A leader must contend with the lifelong loneliness that is his/her fate. The neophyte leader in error thinks company means shared responsibility. Leadership is lonely. The maturity of the leader happens when he masters his loneliness; a process that starts with first realizing it is lifelong. A leader reaches his own when he realizes his true friend and enemy is himself. To one’s mind, all of the leaders in history that have failed or triumphed know that their success or failure first happened in their minds before its eventual projection on their cause or responsibilities.
It is why people who aspire to leadership for its potential glory never achieve it; because that covetousness is precisely what makes leadership elude them. You can easily pick these types of “leaders” from a mile. They are the types who are particular about the pomp and pageantry of their offices. They are those who worry about how they are perceived on an issue not for its strategic necessity (since that is required if your leadership relies on interest groups, a voting public, etc.) but for its vanity. The kind of vanity that comes naturally to all of us. It is thus why men and women who make the ascension to leadership are those who finally happen on their purpose and go headlong with determination, passion, and wisdom towards achieving it. That triumph of self is often achieved through spirituality; but never without preparation. A leader must first define his essence before determining if and when he has the firmness of mind to achieve what providence lay in his path. A leader must first master his mind before even contemplating the thought that he may be deserving of followership. Guardians of the Abrahamic faiths when in possession of political power have always found it necessary to block the path of those covetous of leadership positions. The leaders we celebrate today, our heroes, never wanted power for its sake. Of course, they understood its utility. But they also understood its failings and what it does to a man. It is the reason guardians of institutions (kingmakers of monarchies, human resource units of corporate organisations, leadership scouts) look for leadership potential early on and then mold their potential leaders over time. Countries, kingdoms and institutions that don’t make their leaders go through this painstaking process almost always pay for it in the long run; often at great costs. Unfortunately, a lot of institutions today are mostly structured to notice what could be called “chronic perception managers”. The shallow and insecure types who know how to say the right words to the hearing of power. The types that make the strenuous effort to be liked for its sake. Of course, it is often too late before their character deficit becomes writ large; often in the most public way at great costs to the equity and reputation of their institutions.
The focus of this article is on the leader of a country, however. That President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria is a man of tremendous good luck is widely known. That is, if your interpretation of good fortune is the ascension to opportunities for leadership. Tribulation is as much a common experience of great leaders as it is the reason for their metamorphosis. Periods of crisis in a leader’s stewardship call on his lifelong preparation. The benefit of experience is often that you know when action is an absolute necessity no matter the consequences. The followers of such a leader become the fortunate beneficiaries of the leader’s earlier trials and tribulations. A leader’s evolution must thus first start with those earlier troubles; the costs of which are usually inconsequential during those early years. A student prefect, a local councilor, manager of a small unit, a squadron leader; all these are leadership opportunities that provide preparation for the budding leader. They provide him/her the opportunity to make mistakes; lessons from which become invaluable when the cost of a mistake could mean the difference between life and death. President Jonathan’s naiveté in the face of Boko Haram’s brazenness is a cost all of Nigeria’s 170 million people must now bear. When a people elect a leader, they must live with his failings as well as his strengths for the term of his/her mandate. That it took three weeks for President Jonathan to express a view (or show empathy) on the over two hundred girls kidnapped by Boko Haram borders on the highest level of recklessness. And now it seems the whole incident could have been prevented. Never mind how our national security and sovereignty have perhaps now been compromised. After all, a man who does not mind his house inevitably gives room for the nosy neighbor to adjudicate his affairs. Help that we could have discreetly asked for and accepted is now being symbolically and publicly offered to us; at great cost to our national pride. As a people, we cannot escape blame, however. Our culture of self is partly responsible for our current travails.
“Leaders” are products of their followership. At any time there is a major negative event, the average Nigerian picks up the phone to call his/her family members and that is it. Once we find our family members are fine, we go about our businesses as if nothing happened. We forget how randomness is a crucial factor in the governance of God’s earth. Anyone of us (or our family members) could be a victim of these attacks. When our sisters and daughters are finally rescued, Nigerians must go beyond #BringBackOurGirls and begin to require leadership of our public officials. We should speak up when our elected leaders take on stupendous allowances. We should refuse to renew mandates of those of them we believe have failed us. It is hard to say what prevented President Jonathan from demonstrating leadership in regard of our kidnapped sisters; for he was certainly quick to visit the Nyanya bombing site near Abuja. It is perhaps because of this that a lot of us are beginning to believe the President and his officials considered this matter too trifling. Make no mistake about it, the contemplations of those of us who have not lost loved ones before or haven’t had our dear ones kidnapped before pale in comparison to the anguish of those whose daughters are perhaps going through unimaginable traumas at this time. Their troubles are the culmination of our failings as a people. Our taciturnity in the face of the brazen recklessness and insensitivity of our leaders is finally costing us in the most painful way. #BringBackOurGirls must therefore be the beginning of the regeneration of the soul of our nation. It must mark the beginning of a realization by all of us that our individual actions and inactions inevitably bear upon our commonwealth. President Jonathan may have failed as a leader in this instance; but his failing is also a reflection of our own failing as a people. We, all, are bearing the costs of our passivity in the face of the corruption (in character and in office) and sense of impunity of our elected officials. If after our sisters are rescued (and they will, God-Willing), we all go back to our passive ways; we would have no one to blame but ourselves when our leaders fail us again.
A dimension to this debate that is not enjoying, as much attention is the possibility that perhaps there has been more economic growth inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) than the data suggests. Perhaps, it is not only the GDP data that hitherto weren’t reflective of the actual size of some SSA economies. Poverty statistics may very well be inaccurate on the upside as well. Of course, more could be done to accelerate poverty alleviation. But if the data doesn’t reflect more accurately the true state of affairs, some winning strategies may be unknowingly jettisoned as a result. Thus, as mundane as it may seem, getting the data right is a crucial step towards increasing economic and financial inclusion on the sub-continent. The IMF/World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have been working with some of SSA’s statistical bodies to improve the accuracy and promptness of data coming out of the sub-continent.
A case in point is Nigeria (a discussion on Africa inevitably leads back to its largest and most intriguing economy). According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, 72.3% of the country’s households buy mobile phone recharge cards every month. The only other non-food items that enjoyed such a priority in household expenditure were kerosene (72.7%) and soap & washing powder (90.9%). With more than 50% of Nigeria’s populationreported to be below the poverty line, it begs the question of where more than 70% of its households find the money to buy that much recharge cards or even find it in their budgets to purchase them in the first place. Much more revealing is how much they spend.
The mean expenditure on phone recharge cards by more than 70% (about the same percentage of its population supposedly living below the poverty line) of Nigeria’s households is 20,874 Nigerian Naira (140 US dollars). Isn’t the much-touted poverty line 1.25 US dollars a day and thus 37.5 US dollars a month? So if we summed up those non-food items that more than 70% of the country’s households spend money on (soap & washing powder, kerosene, and recharge cards), one gets a sense of the typical expenditure of the average Nigerian. The NBS reports monthly mean expenditure of Nigeria’s households on those items as follows: kerosene (6,660 naira (US$44)), soap & washing powder (5,510 naira (US$37)), and as earlier highlighted, US$140 on recharge cards. Thus, Nigerians spend more than 200 US dollars (US$221) on non-food items every month. That is approximately 6 times the poverty line. And one is not aware that they’ve gone hungry as a result.
A consumables, services (or in fact aspirational goods) multinational company thus looking to invest in the country (or sub-continent) before the above data was available would have come to the most erroneous decision that there was not enough consumer spending power to warrant a major capital allocation. This is why some of the international corporates already invested on the sub-continent do their own consumer research; earning bountiful profits as a result of course. And who in their right minds would make it widely known that there was such bountiful harvest to be had in what one widely read magazine once dubbed “the hopeless continent”. Well, the cat is out of the bag as they say. The world now knows of the opportunities that abound in Africa. The narratives (or questions) therefore these days about SSA opportunities are not so much if? But where? When? How long? Is it sustainable? How do I manage risks? So if the world is genuinely determined to reduce inequality and increase economic and financial inclusion on the continent, simple! Invest more. Increased investment in the various sectors of the continent’s economies is definitely one way to increase the inclusivity of its continuing high growth.
A point to note, however, is how the Africa’s economic evolution has been counterintuitive. Typically an economy should evolve from a primary extractive industry base to manufacturing & construction (secondary industry) and eventually services (tertiary industry). In Africa, the extractive industry remains dominant. In countries where some progress has been made, it has largely been in the services sector (with relatively fewer jobs created). The development of a manufacturing-led economy thus remains a continuing struggle for most countries on the continent. It is a significant factor in one’s view for why SSA’s high growth has not been as inclusive as it could (or should) be. So, another measure to addressing the inclusion question is for African governments and their partners to implement policies aimed at building a strong industrial base. The one policy area that has the most potential of achieving this would be a disproportionate focus on ramping up the continent’s power production capacity. No amount of investments in the continent’s power sector is too much. Of course, it needs to be pointed out that it is the labour-intensive type of manufacturing that is pertinent for Africa at this time.
Better late than never.