In the quest for good leadership and governance in Africa, few if any countries are more important than Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, and South Africa, the continent’s most advanced and industrialised economy.
Both nations can and should set worthy examples of internal domestic leadership. However, South Africa has been in a debilitating crisis involving President Jacob Zuma since he assumed office in 2009. Nigeria, like many African countries, has made progress, but is a long way from where it could be after 57 years of independence.
Nigeria’s case is especially disappointing considering its vast pool of human capital. Three statistics illustrate well the challenge that Nigeria faces. First, the country of 180m people produces only 4,000 megawatts of electricity. By comparison South Africa, with 50m people, produces 40,000 megawatts. Second, despite a GDP of around $345bn (down from $568bn in 2014 after the worst recession in 25 years), Nigeria’s 2016 per capita GDP was $2,260. The average for 1960, when Nigeria became independent, was $1,648. Among other large emerging economies, modern Nigeria compares poorly against GDP per capita in Malaysia of $9,360, $8,727 in Brazil, and $7,504 in South Africa. Third, the World Health Organisation ranks Nigeria’s health system 187 out of 189 around the globe.
Nigeria’s failures of leadership have led to slow progress, and many outright reversals, in the quest to build a united nation. Dependence on foreign exchange earnings relating to raw mineral and commodity exports, such as crude oil, has prevented substantive economic transformation.
Properly fortified democratic systems offer the greatest opportunity to solve these problems. Leaders shape nations’ destinies, but in functioning democracies citizens can scrutinise their leaders’ performance. Citizens in Africa must exercise their democratic rights more effectively and make choices informed by objective leadership selection criteria. Accountability by citizens and civil society, a real social contract between states and citizens, and an emphasis on leadership training for the youth of today are all required to achieve this goal.
The diaspora has an important role to play. Africans around the world must demand and secure the ability to vote in domestic elections while abroad. The institutionalised framework must be improved to ensure diaspora engagement and contributions to governance and economic life.
The oversubscribed issuance of a diaspora bond by the Nigerian government in June provides an important opportunity for diaspora engagement with economic governance. But more transparency of the bondholder base and the subscription process is needed to ensure the funds are used appropriately.
One of the ultimately beneficial outcomes for Africa of the rise of western populism and isolationist tendencies in some developed economies is that it will force the continent to take responsibility for its own destiny. Africa’s future is not the responsibility of foreign aid agencies, and Africans cannot continue to blame colonial powers.
The continent’s leaders have the responsibility to build institutions that can create equal opportunities, shield citizens from tyranny and achieve economic transformation.
Citizens have a vital role in this. As Ameena Gurib-Fakim, the president of Mauritius – one of Africa’s most successful countries – has put it, the onus is on Africans: ‘People have to start asking the right questions. Politicians, leaders, policy-makers in normal democracies are all accountable to the people.’
Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, chairs Sogato Strategies LLC and is Professor of Practice in International Business & Public Policy at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts University.