The concept of leadership in Africa has begun to gain more momentum than ever among Africans with everyone willing to cast their votes in electing leaders of their choice, removing mediocre leaders and standing up against long time autocrats.

After the wave of decolonization, states which benefited from the leadership of enlightened rulers experienced advanced development while those who had mediocre leaders were hunched down in misery and plagued with poor management. This is the reason why, after 50 years of independence, we cannot help raising this question of leadership; the future of the black continent will, in effect, depend on a proper understanding of this issue.

Since independence, there have been three categories of African leaders over the years. The freedom fighters, i.e. those that led the independence struggle for different African states and eventually led their countries; the military rulers; and the democratic rulers who came in as a result of the wave of democratization in Africa. But looking back in time and looking at the decadence of the African continent, there is a need for a fourth generation of leaders.

From 1960 to 1970 the management of political power was handled, on the whole, by people of different professions, from teachers to African union leaders. Despite their rather diverse levels of training, these first African leaders were all united in their clamour for the same demand, i.e. that of nationalism, which was considered to be requisite in order to free themselves more effectively from the colonial yoke and build the foundations of a true nation.

Even at a time different African political leaders believed and operated in different ideologies, they still had the interest of Africa at heart. Statesmen like Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d’Ivoire), Ahmed Sékou Touré (Guinea) and Modibo Keita (Mali), Obafemi Awolowo (Nigeria), Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Mau Mauof Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), Omar Bongo (Gabon) and Amadou Ahidjo (Cameroon), William Richard Tolbert (Liberia), Aboubacar Sangoulé Lamizana (former Upper Volta) Ngarta Tombalbaye (Chad) amongst so many others worked towards the realization of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Despite the difficulties that these first leaders faced in the management of their respective countries, they nonetheless left an important legacy that continues to serve as a reference today. This legacy is Pan-Africanism, which has become a major requirement to better confront the risks of turning Africa into a warring continent.

Also, it is worth noting that these founding fathers, in West Africa, worked towards the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The struggle started by these first leaders in support of building a nation and Pan-Africanism was still in its early phase when a new generation of leaders, i.e. the military, came and put an end to it. Thus, from 1970 to 1990 almost all African States, with some rare exceptions, fell into the hands of the military. This marked the start of autocratic regimes, even in those rare countries whose leaders were not from the military. This was characterized by the reign of single parties, bringing an end to the hope that was born of independence.

The period from 1980 to 1990 was particularly hard for African countries, as a result of widespread economic recession and high levels of debt. The search for a solution to this period of economic crises brought a certain generalization of structural adjustment programmes. However, such programmes can only be implemented properly against a political backdrop of freedom and a free market economy. Consequently, as from 1990, Africa was subjected to the democratization of State and society, with a return to multi-party politics and the arrival on the African scene of a new generation of leaders, made up of both “civilized” military officers, some old leaders of civilian origin and young politicians, many of whom had served as advisers to the military regimes between 1970 and 1990.

The arrival of democracy in Africa did not bring a radical transformation of the political classes. The combination of leaders during this democratic period, between civilians and military, did not allow democracy to be a true success or, more importantly, a factor for progress.

All told, African political leaders since 1960, whether nationalists in the first instance, military personnel during the autocratic period, or leaders during the decade of structural adjustment, have, with very few exceptions, failed in their mission, by making Africa the least advanced continent on the planet. So, since 1960 the State has never been adopted by the Africans. The State is the product of foreign powers and represents the passing of the baton of colonial ideology. Therefore, the political leaders that Africa has known so far are largely seen as mere puppets of the dominant powers.

This brings us to the next category of leaders. Leaders Africans need to change or are already changing the narrative of their countries and the African continent at large. These are transformational leaders. Young leaders who have the interest of the state they rule at heart and not their personal gains. These are people who understand leadership and know how to wield it with all humility, responsibility and accountability. These are ones who would cause a change and turn around the poverty of the continent, resist imperialism, bring back to reality pan-Africanism and ensure progress on the African continent.

The era of these set of leaders is fast approaching. Africans are more than ever interested in having competent leaders to lead them and take them out of the persistent hardship and poverty the continent has been experiencing over the years. The narrative of Africa is set to change in a number of years to come.


The Bridge Leadership Foundation is a non-profit leadership and capacity development Foundation established in 2011 committed to raising generations of transformational leaders.

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