The following was shared as a TED-like talk to open the Made in Africa Leadership Conference by BCA Leadership on June 14 at the Marriot Hotel, Accra, Ghana.
My uncle died. My mom’s youngest brother. He came over to Ghana from the United States, where he had lived for decades, and fell ill. He died in the very hospital I worked in at the time. In fact, he died on my ward. But I can swear it wasn’t his disease that killed him. It was leadership, or rather the lack thereof. Leadership is too important for doctors not to have it.
Some of the most important things in life are not taught in school, like leadership. When some of my friends from university got into government I did exhort them: “Nobody taught us Jack about leadership. LEARN LEADERSHIP! CONTRACT COACHES! Leadership is not just caught; it is taught.” Did they listen? Ha!
Ironically, communal, national, continental or even global leadership, is a deeply person-al thing. It takes deeply transformed leaders to deeply transform society. Authentic leadership begins with aligning what goes on in a leader’s head and heart with True North. Leadership principles or True North are no respector of persons—red or yellow, black or white.
Two days from now, we will be officially launching the 20th anniversary celebration of The HuD Group, a holistic leadership organization started by nine young Africans in Accra. From one country in West Africa, it now has presence in 24 countries, on all six continents. Out of Africa to the Rest. From a former Rwandan refugee now in executive leadership in Uganda to a former child soldier in Sierra Leone now a high-ranking bank official in his homeland, to a Chinese-Canadian who we trained via Skype when she was an international medical student in Australia, a lot of transformation and impact has been achieved but in Ghana in particular I feel much of our gains have been eroded by not giving adequate attention to political leadership.
So today is the first of two important occasions this week where I will be drumming home this point with all my heart, liver, spleen and intestines: “Leadership is too important to leave it to politicians alone.” AND with 90% of African businesses being SMEs, creating 60-80% of our jobs and accounting for 40% of our GDP, what we do here at MLC this week for African leaders and African leadership is wildly important.
When two 14-year old stowaways from Guinea, Yaguine and Foday, froze to death in the landing gear of an Airbus 330 from Conakry to Brussels, they had on them a hand-written letter labelled: IN CASE WE DIE… to the Messrs. members and officials of Europe.
They said, among other things, “We have the honor and pleasure and great confidence in you to write this letter … we appeal to your solidarity and kindness for help in Africa. …we, African children and youth, ask you to create a great, efficient organization for Africa to allow us to progress. …we want to study and we ask you to help us in Africa to study to be like you.”
You should find and read the whole letter here—it will thaw and tear your heart. And that was 24 years ago. Has anything changed?
It’s time for Leadership Made in Africa that makes Africa work for Africans. BEFORE WE DIE. Yes we can, partnering and collaborating to reimagine and reform the Africa that we want! Twende! Let’s go! Let’s do this!