You might be wondering what is the relevance of the history of Europe to leadership problem in Africa. I think it is necessary to trace the problems of Africa as far back as we can in history if indeed we are sincere about finding solutions. The important reason for the brief excursion into the history of Europe flows from the realisation that Africa, as at today, has no original identity of its own. Since the Arabs and the Europeans came into Africa, the cultural values now in place are those imposed by these two races. There is nothing whatsoever indigenous anymore about the ways of life in Africa since Africans encountered the Arabs and the Europeans.
Most Africans, because of short memory resulting in the inability to look far back, have failed to realise that everything we now attribute to African way of life were cultural impositions from abroad. For example, the belief systems and the ensuing religious institutions, the most important spiritual commodity in the life of a people, have been exchanged for the imported beliefs and faiths brewed in the Middle East and packaged for export from Europe. It is on record that the foreign invaders ridiculed the age-long cultural institutions in Africa, which depicted and reflected the social, cultural, economic and political beliefs of the continent. The supremacist ideology of the foreign invaders categorically and recklessly denounced all the established cultures or ways of life in Africa as primitive, pagan and evil. It is unfortunate that most Africans brought up under this ideology have grown up to repeat the supremacist foreign ideas and even have accepted the propaganda fashioned and circulated by the foreigners that there is nothing at all of benefit to mankind in Africa’s past.
The brainwashed Africans even agreed that we should bury and forget our cultural past because they have accepted it was a past marred in idolatry and evil. These are the issues, which informed the brief historical antecedents highlighted above. The realisation that all the philosophical beliefs, institutional frameworks and cultural organisations presently on the soil of Africa were either borrowed or imposed by foreigners stimulated this analysis. Having identified one of the foreigners as Europeans it was therefore necessary to review the history of leadership in Europe in order to understand the underlying philosophy of leadership practices in Africa.
Before the arrival of the Europeans and Arabs in Africa, most African societies defined leadership status by age. The social units within a community were distinguishable only by the order of age grades. For example, a collection of male children born in a particular year in a community form a band or club with an identifiable name or other symbol. The members of the age-grade club that grew up together formed strong bonds of friendship or fraternity that often stand them in good and bad times throughout their lifetimes. It was from among the various age bands that each club chose leaders to represent the interest of the club in the affairs of the community.
The selection of who shall lead in a particular age-grade comes naturally. Since members virtually live under each other’s shadows, it was easy to identify those with natural leadership qualities and dispositions. In addition, each community, divided into sections or quarters, are made up of units of families who and most likely are members of one extended family. Leadership within an extended family was naturally decided in favour of the most senior member in the clan or section. In a section, quarter or entire community, the status that an individual member enjoyed apart from age depended on performance capabilities in a host of valuable skills necessary for the survival of the community. Skills like hunting, farming, artisanship, games, music, singing, dancing, oratory, good memory for oral history etc. could earn an individual a good standing within the community for leadership duties.
Every African society like every other society in the world naturally had some rudimentary knowledge or innate understanding of divinity. The African philosophy of life was rooted in the reality, which believes there is a power or force that governs creations. Africans had a sense that strongly believes that the power of life is never too far away. This awareness dictated the customary practice found amongst Africans to consult the power of life at times when they have to make important decisions. There was no other sensitive decision than the appointment or selection or election of a leader or of leaders in the community. Each society had well-established institutions for divine affairs. The priests, witchdoctors, medicine men, or women that tended to the affairs of the divine institutions were always available for such sacred duties.
These divine institutions made appointment and selection of leaders in a community credible because they would have consulted the governing deity or deities of the society before they confirmed leadership status on anyone. There was a big element of trust in the love and power of the deities and in the men and women of the priesthood. For example, members of community were aware that to become a priest was not a career path anybody would normally choose; and they were aware that only the gods/deities call people into priesthood. A priest therefore did not need to fear any member of the community but the deity that selected him or her into its service. It was therefore very easy for a priest to pronounce the truth on any matter as the supervisory deities of the community revealed them. Under this divine grace, the priests enjoyed a high social regard and respect. The pronouncements that the priests made when consulted on who should lead in a community were always accepted and remained binding on all concerned.
This was the serene social and political atmosphere in practice in Africa. Open community meetings were the norm and not the exception for decision-making. Every adult male member of the community had a right to participate and contribute to the deliberations and discussions on community affairs. The elders/chiefs of each of the composite extended family naturally constituted the supreme council or courts of arbitration, referencing and consultation on all matters of importance in the community. Among the elders were found the community historian, community encyclopaedia or library, the community sage or orator, community pharmacist or herbalist or medicine-man etc. who were always at hand to correct and check the exuberant excesses of younger members of the community on matters of tradition and custom. The age grade associations helped maintain a form of class differentiation. Deference to elders was a virtue expected of well-mannered young persons. Each child in a community was a child of every elder in the community. Each elder was a father/mother to every child in the community. Each member of a senior age grade was a sister/brother to every junior age grade.
This was the tradition that the Arabs and Europeans condemned to death and replaced with a monarchical tradition of leadership by imposition through a superior military force of occupation. The imposition of leaders threw over board the traditional checks and balances within African communities that ensured only the most qualified and the most competent person attained leadership status. The process of leadership selection in Africa moved away from a conceptual frame that had faith in the demonstrated innate abilities and natural talents of its members to a new concept that puts faith in book intelligence. It was under the aegis of this new faith that the Arabs selected new leaders for Africa among the new converts that showed fast tendency to commit to memory verses of Koran while the Europeans selected new leaders among those Africans who could learn and understand the European language. This historical development dictated that henceforth the selection of African political and economic leaders could only come from the pool of foreign trained and foreign educated Africans.
The local informal and seemingly unstructured traditional practices that served the purpose of education and training of the young persons were no longer good enough. Indeed, the missionaries conditioned Africans to believe that since they had no writing skills they could not transfer any knowledge to their wards. They condemned as pagan practices the historic ancient knowledge earlier passed down through religious rituals and the highly structured social and cultural customs. Neither of these two supremacist powers could see the sense and the wisdom behind all the elaborate ceremonies that accompanied birth, death, marriage, planting, harvesting, disaster, sickness and all other forms of cultural undertakings as a body of intellectual materials purposely wrapped and preserved in symbols. They could not understand the role of the medicine men/women, priests/priestesses and other local luminaries that formed the sacred and secret guilds for the protection of intellectual property rights of the communities.
It is true that superstitions, taboos and fear of the power of nature were effectively utilised by the sacred and secret guilds both as intellectual materials for teaching the society’s mores and as psychosocial tools to condition the psyche of the people into cultural obedience for political harmony. Yet, we could argue that this body of superstitious materials were indeed philosophical and pseudo-scientific materials compiled over the years by gifted and knowledgeable members of the society. However, since it was customary and of course sensible to guard jealously the modus operandi of the superstitions, the local intellectuals naturally refuse to divulge the full meaning of the superstitious ceremonies and taboos established for driving off evil forces or for solving social, physical, spiritual and health problems. Because of the pragmatic attitudes of the local intellectuals for secrecy, which served the illusory need of social elevation and power acquisition (a typical psychosocial need of all Homo sapiens), the successive generations could not grasp the scientific underpinning and the political imperatives of the cultural ceremonies, rituals and fetishes of their societies.
The need to protect and preserve the intellectual property rights of the community progressively led to secret associations or cults or what we call professional organisations in modern language. It was an established tradition for cult members to undergo elaborate initiation ceremonies; to swear on oath to be loyal; and to give solemn promise never to divulge the secrets of the cult to non-members. This tendency for secrecy was one of the practical manifestations of the universal human nature that strives at all cost to guard jealously any advantage that gives power over other lesser persons. It is a demonstration of the innate psychological need for self worth among one’s peers and the yearning desires for social distinction, prestige and recognition in the society to which one belongs.
The development of the institution of priest and priestess seem to take a similar route in all societies. Often, it starts with the experience of a reflective and gifted individual who through rigorous application of the mind to issues that pertain to his/her environment became awakened into special knowledge and understanding of some issues of life. It is again an added advantage when the discovered knowledge solved some welfare problems of the society. The gifted individual who declared a true revelation to the society would naturally draw people or believers, particularly those that witnessed the efficacy of the declared truth. There is no gain saying that the people would naturally accept this wise person during his/her lifetime as a worthy leader. Again, at his/her death a cult would likely evolve in his/her name to codify his/her habits and life styles into veritable rituals of faith and belief for others to emulate and follow. This process created every known deity as well as every religious faith in the world.
As earlier mentioned, the European values, styles and manners of leadership have dominated the African political horizon since the arrival of Imperial Europe in Africa. It is on record that the Europeans met thriving social and political institutions when they arrived in Africa. They saw communities that had geographical boundaries. They found that African societies maintained a relatively peaceful cultural and political cohesiveness within an ethnic group. Although, the forms of political organisation vary from place to place but the institution of kings/chiefs was a common feature in West and East Africa. Most communities were small but they were well organised around tribal chiefs/kings who were equally assisted by councils of junior chiefs. These minor chiefs were directly responsible for the organisation of political, cultural and social affairs of their society. The African communities had respect for property rights on products and commodities that an individual produced from the soil. The community held land in trust under family titles but open its usage to every individual member of the community. There was no obsession among Africans to secure and acquire land by force and plunder as practiced in Europe under a conquest and rent culture. These were the brief historical facts on the socio-economic and political institutions of life in Africa before the arrival of Arabs and Europeans.
A study of the political and economic history of ancient Europe showed that its social forces were couched on a value premise that puts high credence on the inalienable relation between land ownership and political power. It is a political economy, which associates war with riches and the belief brought untold hardship to the people of Europe for many centuries. It led to incessant wars between and within families, communities and nations for land acquisition, possession and control. The institution of royalty in Europe was based on the result of calculated heinous acts whereby the most eccentric powerful band of savages seized by carnage, pillage and plunder the possessions of their neighbours.
The aggressors often spiced these types of murderous expeditions with hideous form of ethnic cleansing of the conquered neighbours and the enslavement of survivors as serfs. The vestiges of this kind of culture are still very much around today in Europe, even in the 21st century as witnessed in the former Yugoslavia. The conquerors would then force the former owners of the land to eke out a living through an arrangement of levy or rent payment (in kind or cash) before the conquered people could have access to the use of their confiscated land. This was the factual historical genesis of how the modern sophisticated prim and proper royal nobilities of Europe acquired their wealth, power and enormous social ‘prestige’.
Furthermore, the conquerors in Europe established patriarchal dynasties rigidly based on the right of primogeniture. This is a tradition that recognizes an unjust legal principle, which established inequality among children since it allows only the first son to inherit all the family wealth particularly land property . In the case where there were more than one son in the family, the subsequent sons were turned loose and forced to fend for themselves as best as they could. It was therefore not a mere coincidence that most of the second or third or fourth sons of the powerful names in Europe were among the successful adventurers, slave merchants, missionaries, soldiers of fortune, pirates and colonial administrators. These were the men forced by circumstances of position of birth to look for their own haven or empires outside of Europe. Therefore, for the outcasts of Europe the colonial mission became a task of life or death. These men had nothing to lose anymore and so their commitment to colonialism was total and merciless.
The aforementioned were the calibre of people that forced their ways into Africa. They were the losers of Europe in search of land and fortune. They were the angry and bitter men who gladly took their revenge of deprivation on innocent Africans. They were happy to transfer all the barbaric cultures of their native lands into Africa. In the process, they captured land and slaves and following in the tradition and culture of the Caucasian race, they became new landowners and the uncrowned leaders of Africa. In addition, they managed to establish their own dynasty and mini-empires with all the social trimmings of the so-called civilisation. They displayed all the attributes of mini-gods as poor Africans hammock-carried (or is it chauffer-driven?) them across the jungles of Africa. In short, they transferred wholesale every ruinous idolatrous leadership practice of inequality of persons into Africa.
At the time the Europeans met Africans this barbaric value orientation was very strange to the culture of Africa. At this particular period in history, most African societies still held land in trust for the use of all and the leaders had no ambition to propagate dynastic rule under a particular family name. Since there was no aristocratic rent collector’s class in Africa, most African societies freely secured and assured the means of production for all. Therefore, wealth acquisition depended greatly on personal effort, skill and hard work. Africa had no such culture whereby one clever savage man would rent out pieces of stolen land to his neighbours for outrageous payment that takes almost 80% of the annual produce of the renter. The absence of this inhuman and callous culture ensured equality of persons in both spirit and practice in Africa. As a result, there was no great kings or nobles scrounging on the sweat of their neighbours. Each member and even the king of the community learned to fend for themselves as best as possible. Therefore, each member of the society had full control over the products of the fruit of his/her own labour.
The forceful incursion of Arabs and Europeans into Africa started a negative renaissance that succeeded in turning the age-long values of African societies upside-down. With the advent of slavery, Africans threw overboard the hitherto much-cherished value that accepts the philosophy of everyone being his/her neighbours’ keepers. The foreign invaders from the West and the Middle East taught the first African contacts they met rudimentary knowledge and skill of the then international trade particularly the one that pertains to how to lure, con and sell one’s trusting hinterland neighbours as well as family members to slave merchants. Some African societies are yet to cure themselves of the vestiges of the evil practice in human trade cultivated through the contact with foreign adventurers.
The age-long friendly exchange by barter in produce commodities changed to hostile exchange of human commodity for foreign luxury goods and arms. African coastal traders soon realised it was easier to con their neighbours into slavery than to engage in traditional strenuous activities of farming. It was not long before ethnic clashes began to rear their heads in the length and breadth of Africa. Thus, Africa received the brute end of the burst of enlightenment that the Italian renaissance of the 15th century gave to Europe as well as the perverted versions of the sacred teachings of equality of persons before God that Mohammed of Mecca gave to the Arabs in the seventh century. With the rich supply of guns, machete and other arms into Africa, each ethnic group moved against its near or far neighbour to hunt them down for the booming slave market.
The Africans living on the coast made the first contact with the Arabs and Europeans. They got, by exchanging their cousins, rich supply of guns and firearms to hunt the hinterland of the continent for slaves. The Africans that lived by the seashores became exceedingly wealthy in foreign money and foreign goods. Consequently, they gained political power over their poorer hinterland neighbours. They were the first crop of African ‘middlemen’ cultivated on the African soil by Arabs and Europeans. For over 400 years, they performed the intermediary’s role profitably well. In West Africa, they were the first to accept European religion and western education. The colonial managers through the missionaries trained their children to become interpreters, priests, teachers and lawyers.
As interpreters, they became corrupt as they swindled their own kind by misrepresenting issues to the disadvantage of their racial groups. As priests, they professed a belief in a doctrine to which they had no clear understanding of the true meaning of the concepts and symbols of the faith in question. They embraced and propagated fictions, myths and pure lies on the meaning of life. As teachers, they were half-bred in the knowledge they disseminated to their wards thereby leading their generation into the wilderness of ignorance. As lawyers, they found their true calling in the act of practical legalistic deception. They imbibed all the phoney habits – wearing wigs, dressing like masquerades, etc. – of learned men of law. They sat foolishly in the prosecution or in the defence of their kinds under every law of injustice instituted by the colonial governors. Since their understanding was limited, they failed to see the fundamental illegality of the whole institution of colonialism as well as the law that emanated out of such unjust imperial and feudal establishments.
Another ingenuous trick of the colonial administration was the recruitment of illiterate Africans from the hinterland as colonial territorial/frontier soldiers and security operatives. The peculiar requirements that qualified these men for recruitment into the colonial force were: tall heights, strong arms and broad chests but most importantly, small brains. As recruits in the colonial army, they regularly used them to quell every agitation that reared its head from the group or tribes of supposedly educated Africans. It was from these recruits that the colonial administrations fashioned out various Colonial Armed Forces. The services of these illiterate Africans as soldiers and gendarmes were utilised satisfactorily during the Second World War.
The colonial administrations later converted this crop of African illiterate soldiers into the officer’s corps of the Armed Forces of the countries on the eve of independence. The military personnel of the converted colonial territorial armed forces became the second joker after the one of political independence without economic independence that would eventually thwart the aspiration of Africans for true freedom. The colonial managers effectively called the military joker into action after a short period of independence to dislodge the pathetic political illiterates in power. The colonial governments all over Africa relied on these crops of Africans along with the ‘forward-looking’ traditional rulers that the white rulers installed or sponsored as aides for the direct and indirect colonial administration. These crops of Africans – illiterate soldiers, semi-literate teachers, lawyers, interpreters, priests and traditional rulers – were willing and they were ever ready to imitate as they aped every act, every imperial tradition or every snobbish mannerism of the white rulers.
Unfortunately, these misguided Africans were merely mimicking the white man’s way, as they had no conceptual understanding of why the white men did any of the things they did. The hypocritical habits and attitudes of this group of Africans irritated both the white men and their African brothers. As a result, they never received any respect from either the white rulers or the African folks. We found the evidence of this in the many cases of rebellion and disobedience recorded anytime the colonial managers appointed a black person to lead and direct the affairs of any unit of the colonial administration. The foregoing were the seeds of perversion that gave birth to a good number of the crop of latter-day leaders of Africa.
Raymond Leslie Buell in The Native Problem in Africa observed that, “Whether under direct or indirect rule, European officials are obliged to rely upon native subordinates and aides. These aides may be traditional rulers, or they may be educated clerks.” He added, “In many of these cases, the educated natives showed that they had lost all sympathy for the group out of which they came and that they had no compunction in abusing their power for personal ends. In all of these cases the educated class failed to command the respect of the people.” The Europeans who dealt directly with these Africans in Africa described them as half educated and as ‘likeable rogues’. To refer to these Africans as half or quarter educated was simply being mischievous. The only education the missionaries exposed these hapless Africans was the acquisition of literacy skill – the ability to read and write the European languages.
In addition, these Africans were shepherded to and rooted strictly in Bible or Koran knowledge that forced them to imbibe without questioning new hypocritical values of fake piety, holier-than-though attitudes and foreign cultures, the meaning of which they never understood. They foolishly and drastically exchanged the hitherto common native understanding on the meaning of life that had served the spiritual and social needs of Africa for centuries for those borrowed from the Arabian and Jewish philosophy. The missionaries forced fed, brain washed and made Africans to swallow wholeheartedly all the Jewish mythological stories of the Bible as the only historical absolute truth of life.
Under these innocuous foreign beliefs and their attendant cultural enslavement, the half-educated Africans threw away all the inherited indigenous socio-cultural knowledge, ancestral beliefs and religious practices of Africa. Their tutors encouraged them to wage war against every facet of African beliefs and cultures. They destroyed shrines, symbols, artworks, monuments and everything that have the slightest bearing on African indigenous way of life. This senseless display of religious zeal was possible because the half educated Africans accepted without questioning the embellished Bible stories and the recorded self-serving Jewish history as the beginning and the end of history of all humankinds.
The Bible stories that painted the meaning of life in Jewish xenophobic colours unfortunately have also became the foundation on which the moral and philosophical principles of the civilized world are established. The Jewish account of human history became, for the civilized world, the only acceptable binoculars for viewing the historical and anthropological farthest past of humankind. In accepting this Biblical account of Jewish mythology on the origin of humanity, the Arabs and the Europeans seemed to have totally prohibited all other equally probable dimensions of the origin of humankind.
Consequent to this mythological premise, compulsory association with the Church of England in British colonies became one of the criteria for the social elevation of any African that aspired to rise in the colonial society. Aspiring youth accepted the habit of compulsory Church attendance as part of the sacrifice that one had to make if anyone expected good recommendations for an overseas education and training scholarship. Because of the indoctrination, every pupil that passed through the Mission schools cultivated and imbibed the outward appearances of Christian living. However, the fruit of the teaching of Yeshua [Jesus] centred on love, justice, knowledge, rebirth and freedom was foreign to the products of the Mission schools. Similarly, the Mohammedans in Africa merely acknowledged but never practiced the teaching of Mohammed pivoted on mercy, knowledge, tolerance, justice and equality. Most of the Africans that passed through the religious indoctrination merely pretended to a form of godliness but they lacked godliness itself.
This development of locking up the minds of Africans with myths and fables satisfied the selfish designs of the colonial governments that wanted docile subjects, impeccable servitude and total obedience in their territories. The colonialists understood very well that too much learning was dangerous to the good governance of slaves or serfs. This was the trend of affairs until a few Africans began to stow away on American trading ships into the United States of America. These daredevil Africans on arrival in America made valuable contacts with the works of African-American thinkers, authors and philosophers. The exposure to the history of American democracy and particularly the history of American War of Independence and American Civil War greatly enlightened them. The veil of ignorance dropped from the eyes of these Africans as an unadulterated knowledge lighted the fire of freedom in their hearts. On their return to Africa, they established newspaper houses, organised political forum to enlighten the people on the principles of human rights to equality, freedom and justice. They also became vanguard that sowed the seed of independence in the minds of fellow Africans as they fought moral, ethical, political and legal battles for the full right of Africans to self-determination and self-government.
(To be continued)
Chinua Achebe, The African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, Arrow of God. Great Britain: Picador 1988.
W.W. Macmillan, Africa Emergent (Revised and Expanded Edition). Great Britain: Penguin Books Limited, 1949.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property? Trans and Edited by Donald R. Kelly and Bonnie D. Smith. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
James S. Coleman, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963.
Margery Perham, Native Administration in Nigeria – The Colonial Reckoning. New York: Knopf. 1962.
Raymond Leslie Buell, The Native Problem in Africa, Vol.1. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1928. p.718.
A Trevor Clark, ‘Eye Witnesses of the Coercion of the Old Guard Emir Yakubu III of Bauchi’ Africa Affairs 1995, 94 pp.399-406.