Just under a year ago I volunteered for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in Sierra Leone, this experience taught me the value of leadership and how it is so integral to the success of development in Africa.
We often think of good leaders as people with vision, who can inspire us to strive for a better future. While having a vision for the future, good intentions and the ability to inspire others are important, they are by no means enough for good leadership and governance. Leadership is about getting things done. At its most fundamental level, the government's role is to provide its citizens with what they need. You need a vision, but you also need the capacity to achieve your vision. In addition to inspiring people to strive for a better future, you need to actually be able to deliver this future to them, or risk losing support and legitimacy. Leadership is about taking people from where they are, to somewhere they haven't been before. In order to achieve this, robust and accountable structures of government are vital. The international community needs to support the development of these necessary structures so African leaders can deliver on their promises and policies.
There needs to be an effective and accountable civil society to lead the ordinary people and give their aspirations a coherent voice. The provision of goods and services, such as education, healthcare etc is one of the most visible examples of governance for most citizens. In order for citizens to buy into the concept of a meaningful, legitimate government there has to be some evidence that the government is actually doing something. This is particularly important in post-conflict societies where governments are fledgling and lacking in citizen confidence. In addition, small local businesses need more support from bigger entities and multi-nationals if they are not to continue to be held back or crushed by incompetent bureaucracy and corruption.
But this is not just the responsibility of the international development community. Countries also need to take ownership of their development - to take the lead in defining, initiating and achieving their own development targets. However, in order to support this, the international development community needs to think about how it defines, supports and incentivises good leadership. Thought must also be given to how the development community can go about giving real substance to country ownership, so that it is integral to programmes and not merely a buzz word. In the past, actions such as attaching 'Programme Implementation Units' to development projects often undermined the leadership capabilities of recipient countries. More and more, development aid donors and policy makers are recognising the need for strong, functional local leadership. They are beginning to direct their programmes to support the development priorities identified by country leaders and bolster leadership capabilities and structures locally. This must continue and grow.
African countries are not, and should not be, content to survive on international aid, instead they want to thrive as a result of their own economic capacity. Botswana is often cited as a shining example of economic development for both Africa and the world. It is also, according to Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, the least corrupt country in Africa. At the time of independence in 1966 it was one of the ten poorest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of US$70, low levels of adult literacy and only three miles of tarred road. In less than fifty years GDP per capita has risen to over US$5,000, more than 85% of the population are within a 12 mile radius of a health centre and free universal primary education has resulted in an adult literacy rate of over 80 percent. The country also has a 4,000 mile network of tarred roads and a country-wide digital telephone network. While the discovery of diamonds (a year after independence) cannot be overlooked, there is more to Botswana's economic growth/miracle(?) than abundant natural resources. It is frequently argued that Botswana's success is a success of governance. In the post-independence years, transparent and accountable systems of governance were put in place by the government which allowed the country's resources to be exploited responsibly and the profits of this exploitation to be used to provide education, healthcare and other services as well as investing in infrastructure such as roads and irrigation systems. These investments are allowing Botswana to develop and diversify economically, so they need not rely so heavily on diamonds in the future.
Leadership and governance have always played an important role in development. Greedy, corrupt, incompetent and authoritarian leadership in the post-independence period have been blamed for much of the economic stagnation which has blighted the continent of Africa. Our goal for the future must be to move away from this - to create a situation where African leaders are able to deliver real improvements in their citizens' lives and the next generation of leaders have a real model of public service to follow.
For more on how leadership can play a role in development please visit the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative.