It won’t be an easy task to deny that there’s a wind of change blowing across the African continent at the moment. Africa, which has been for decades a cauldron of traditional politics, is presently at a crossroads and needs to make a crucial decision about the type of leaders it wants to shape its future. Thankfully, for the very first time, the conventional wisdom that has long relied on career politicians is increasingly being questioned. The new narrative emerging from the continent’s intellectuals, youth, and forward-thinking citizens is a call for a new breed of leadership – technocrats.
It was the late hero of the anti-apartheid struggle and highly respected cleric, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa who once opined that politics in Africa was too critical to be left to politicians alone. Perhaps, what the late anti-imperialist was also echoing was the timeless maxim that politicians in Africa always think of the next election while statesmen think of the next generation.
Generally, the thought pattern of an average career politician in Africa is how to scheme, strategise, outwit his or her opponent, and ultimately win the next political contest to continue to stay in power and further enrich himself or herself at the detriment of the public good. However, in the real sense, politicking should be more than that. It should be about the common good; elevating human dignity and ensuring that the people who gave up their rights and powers in a social contract are central to every decision which is going to affect them.
There seems to be a consensus that the bane of Africa is the leadership recruitment system. This system is what has ensured that for many decades, career politicians have remained the ones who are saddled with the task of governance and administration. These politicians are people who are only good at winning elections; whose only strength lies in their perceived ability to strategise on how to conquer political territories and win electoral battles. As a result of this, there is practically no governance blueprint and the people of the continent have painfully continued to pay heavily for it. As far as these politicians are concerned, the moment they get into office, the next battle they often busy their minds with is how to consolidate power and win the next election. What happens between then and those elections is none of their business.
It is for this reason that governance has continued to take a nose dive across Africa in countries that still have career politicians as their leaders. As far as these career politicians who occupy various government houses are concerned, the reason they were elected which is supposed to provide leadership and make life for the people is secondary while sustaining themselves till the next electoral battle remains their primary concern.
Because these career politicians have mastered the criminal art of how to help themselves to the public purse while in office, it is not surprising that they now can always find means of amassing enough financial war chest to prosecute the next election. That explains why what many African nations have had over the last few decades is nothing but leadership recycling that adds no tangible progress or value to her socio-political engineering. Due to the poor quality of leadership across the continent, the quality of life of the citizenry has continued to shambolically drop.
These politicians who go beyond the soap box, go all the extra mile, and do all sorts of things just to win elections hardly know the limit of politicking. To them, it is a life calling that they must perpetually obey. The implication of this is that they hardly know where politicking ends and governance as well as where concrete and decisive leadership is supposed to take over.
The alternative to these career politicians are people who are experts in their field and have added value to their endevours. They are people who are referred to as technocrats. These individuals are not career politicians, but rather experts in various fields such as economics, engineering, public administration, health, and technology. They are known for their practical knowledge, technical skills, and their ability to implement effective policies based on scientific evidence and facts rather than populist rhetoric. The truth everyone will have no option than to admit to is that these are the kind of people that should take charge of leadership positions in Africa if the continent is ever going to make it out of the painful shackles of underdevelopment.
Africa is a continent rich with resources, both natural and human. However, the challenge lies in leveraging these resources to drive development and growth. This is where technocrats come into play. They possess the technical know-how to design and implement policies that can harness Africa’s resources effectively, stimulate economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve the well-being of citizens.
In the realm of healthcare, for example, technocrats could apply their expertise to revamp the health sector, create efficient health systems, and respond effectively to health crises. We have seen the importance of this in managing the COVID-19 pandemic where countries led by technocrats or with strong technocratic influence, such as New Zealand, Taiwan, and Germany, have had more success in controlling the virus and mitigating its impacts.
At a time when the world is fast moving into the digital age, having analog leaders who know nothing but crude politics characterised by rigging and electoral manipulation should be a taboo. These kinds of leaders should not be found anywhere close to power. What Africa needs right now are technocrats who have what it takes to navigate the complexities of this new era. From implementing policies that promote digital literacy and inclusion, to harnessing the power of data for decision-making and improving public services, technocrats are better equipped to propel Africa into the future.
Everyone who desires the progress of the continent must realise that investing in education, technology, developing infrastructure, managing natural resources, promoting sustainable development, and addressing climate change are all areas where technocratic leadership could make a significant difference in Africa. These feats can never be achieved by glutinous career politicians who know nothing else but how to amass wealth and resources they don’t even need.
Undeniably, the evolution from conventional political landscapes dominated by lifelong politicians to a new era of technocratic stewardship, fostered by validated and accomplished technocrats, will not be an effortless process. It will necessitate profound transformations – cultural, systemic, and political – that Africans must eagerly embrace and actively initiate. The metamorphosis will demand a fundamental shift in the prevailing mindset: from the perception of politics as a mere numbers game to a deeper understanding of it as a platform for tangible influence and impact.
This progressive concept proposes a radical redefinition of leadership: moving away from the conventional framework that emphasizes charisma and oratory prowess, to a new model rooted in competence, specialized knowledge, and demonstrable outcomes. The aim is not merely to redefine leadership, but to raise the bar and redefine excellence itself within the realms of politics and governance.
The role of the citizenry who have for many years been fed with incompetence and mediocrity in this transition cannot be under emphasised. The electorate who decides these leaders with their votes must henceforth be willing to jettison party affiliation, populist promises, and more often than monetary inducements to embrace this change that will require them to vote for leaders based on their qualifications and track records.
In conclusion, while career politicians have played their part in Africa’s history, what everyone must now realise is that the future requires a different kind of leadership and these career politicians cannot afford it. The complexities of the 21st century require leaders who can navigate the intricacies of a rapidly changing world. Africa needs technocrats in politics, not just career politicians. Only then can the continent fully harness its potential and move confidently toward a prosperous future. Africa needs to urgently exit its present doldrums, and there is no better time to begin that journey than today.