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Title: Reforming Leadership in Africa
Author: J. William Addai
Publisher: Publishers Graphics Indiana, USA, 2009
Price: US$24.99 plus shipping

Reviewer: Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Increasingly, leadership has emerged as a key factor in Africa’s progress. Bewildered leadership schemes have seen a good part of post-independent Africa sinking, some leading to horrible civil wars and state paralysis. Africa’s leadership jam reveals that African elites have not understood their environment in relation to Africa’s progress, especially how to draw leadership materials from within their raw cultural values. Nigerians, Kenyans, Guineans and Central Africans will tell you they have everything but leadership.

This acknowledgement was revived when I read Reforming Leadership in Africa, a contribution to the on-going discussions continent-wide for the need to appropriate Africa’s cultural values and institutions into Africa’s progress, as a matter of psychology, confidence, dignity and logic. Such appropriation will help the continent’s progress by fostering the required self-assurance considered necessary for progress. The schism in Africa’s leadership organization has come about because the ex-colonial structures have not been harmonized skillfully enough with Africa’s indigenous ones, especially in the on-going decentralization exercises and the talk of developing new leaders for tomorrow’s Africa.

The propaganda have been that the ex-colonial structures are generally thought to be superior (though wrongly) to that of Africa’s, not only by the ex-colonialists of yesteryears but also Africa’s elites of today. Visit African bureaucracies and you will shocked whether they operate on African soil – the leadership organizational values (the nuances, for instance) are heavily non-African. The trick in resolving these contentious African leadership issues, argues the author, is to develop skills to appropriate the differences to bring out the best in Africa’s leadership potential. The author, an Ashanti himself, draws heavily from Ashanti traditional leadership values and institutions, which he describes as his “research test tube,” to explain the leadership reforms Africa feverishly needs to drive its progress.

In his bold attempts to locate where the African leadership-progress inadequacies come from (that’s lack of Africa’s cultural inputs), it is easy to see where Africa’s developmental troubles come from – leadership mired in the notorious authoritarian, individualistic Big Man Syndrome cooked in ex-colonial European systems against Africa’s traditional consensus building systems. If Africa’s development challenges are first and foremost leadership, then what value of leadership? Leadership that for historical and cultural reasons, flow from Africa’s innate traditional values, and simultaneously balanced with Africa’s ex-colonial heritage. The question is how African elites, as directors of progress, can draw from Africa’s cultural values to reform their trembling leadership tests today. And short of that; continue to suffer, as African leaders repeat the old mistakes that have disturbed them and their people’s progress.

Against the backdrop of global intercultural leadership studies, Joseph William Addai, an administrator, a religious and international development scholar, puts in extensive scholarly and practical work to provide matter-of-factly answers to Africa’s leadership predicament. These are enriched by his participation in diverse programs in North America, Papua New Guinea, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Of particular note is his drawing from the Ashanti Kingdom’s Manhyia Palace and the late heavyweight Ghanaian neo-liberal conservative political leader William Ofori-Atta (Paa Willie).

It is clear from Addai’s work that from scratch African states were in leadership dilemma – that’s if they are aware of that and that it is a pressing development issue, and how to reconcile ex-colonial Europe’s individualist-oriented leadership organization with Africa’s traditional group-oriented system. Underpinning all these systems are the foundational values of each society as drivers for effective leadership organization for progress. Africa has leadership difficulty at the moment because its foundational cultural values do not flow dexterously into its modern state organization, as the Japanese have successfully done.

In dealing with both inadequacies of the European leadership system imposed on Africa and the shortfalls of Africa’s traditional leadership organization, Addai compellingly discusses various leadership theories and practices (as an opener to Africa’s) and come out refreshingly with the view that some sort of hybridization of the European and the African systems is needed to make progress.

Perhaps, Addai’s thesis, with the prominent argument that an understanding of African cultural values is indispensable to Africa’s leadership organization and progress, will be of help to attempts to review Ghana’s on-going 20-year old decentralization exercises, which have been more about the “political and fiscal” without weaving into it Ghana’s cultural receptivity as an organizational necessity and progress mechanism.



Kofi Akisah-Sarpong, Canada. September 27, 2009




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