I am an avid follower of the TED movement. Since 2009 when I first stumbled on it, I have watched more TED Talks than I can actively remember. If you’re reading this and don’t know what TED is, here’s the simplest way to explain it: “TED is a forum where smart people share interesting perspectives and ideas.” If you’ve never watched a TED Talk before, you should after reading this article! You’ll definitely encounter something that’ll change your life.
Back to the topic of today’s article…
A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a TED Talk by a young African. His name is Fred Swaniker. Over the years, I have watched several TED Talks that share ideas and perspectives about Africa but none has amazed and inspired me like this one. His message is so powerful that I have played Fred’s Talk over and over again. I have lost count of how many times I hit the replay button.
In this article, I’ll introduce you to this inspiring young African and the way Africa’s leadership has evolved through the years. I have also included some of my research and personal insights. It’s quite a revealing article. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
Who is Fred Swaniker?
Fred Swaniker is one of Africa’s leading serial entrepreneurs and educators. Born to Ghanaian parents, by the time he was 18, Fred had already lived in four different African countries – Ghana, The Gambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. This continent-wide experience exposed him to the serious leadership challenges facing Africa. As a result, Fred nursed a passion to promote good leadership in Africa that will bring long-lasting peace and prosperity to the continent.
In 2004, Fred co-founded the Africa Leadership Academy (ALA), an organization based in Johannesburg (South Africa), which aims to catalyze a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial African leaders. Every year, the ALA selects 125 young people across Africa and puts them through a full-time residential program for two years. Fred’s vision for the Academy is to nurture 3 million leaders and entrepreneurs who have the potential to develop and implement important new ideas that can transform Africa over the course of the next 50 years. (photo credit: africanleadersacademy.org)
In addition to several other organisations he has co-founded, Fred is also the co-Founder of the Africa Leadership Network, a community of dynamic and influential leaders in Africa.
In recognition of his work in developing Africa’s future leaders, Fred was one of several young leaders selected to meet President Barack Obama at the first-ever President’s Forum for Young African Leaders held at the White House in 2010.
An MBA from Stanford Business School and a former Consultant with McKinsey & Company, Fred Swaniker has also been recognised as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, and was listed by Forbes Magazine among the top ‘10 Youngest Power Men in Africa’ in 2011.’
He is currently 34 years old.
The 4 Generations of African Leaders
The main point of Fred Swaniker’s TED Talk is this: ‘Because Africa has weak institutions, African leaders have the power, like in no other place in the world, to create a huge difference in society.’ Fred described how Africa has gone through three generations of leaders who have caused high-impact change on the continent. Each of these generations have contributed in either a positive or negative way. Let’s meet them…
Generation 1 Leaders – “The Founders”
The first generation of African leaders, who were largely active in the 1950s and 1960s, laid the ground vision and foundation for a peaceful and prosperous Africa. The biggest achievement of this generation of leaders was their contribution towards freeing Africa from colonialism. Most of them were founding fathers of their countries which they led to statehood and independence from foreign powers.
Generation 1 Leaders. From left to right: Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Patrice Lumumba (Congo DRC) and Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria)
The most common trait of this generation of leaders is their intellectual strength. Many of them were distinguished scholars in their professions. Most of them were educated in the world’s best schools. Several of them had PhDs and strong philosophical leanings. They firmly believed in the principles of ‘Pan-Africanism’, an ideology and movement that encourages the solidarity of Africans worldwide. They believed that Africa’s unity is vital to its economic, social and political progress.
As you may have guessed, most of these leaders are no longer alive but their legacies live on across Africa.
Generation 2 Leaders – “The Dictators”
This is the generation that negatively changed the image of Africa. They were responsible for unspeakable human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement. They created the stereotype of the ‘African dictator’ by which most of the world still characterizes leadership on the continent.
Generation 2 Leaders. From left to right: Idi Amin Dada (Uganda), Mobutu Sese Seko (Congo DRC), Sani Abacha (Nigeria) and Charles Taylor (Liberia)
Unlike Generation 1, this generation doesn’t have any strong intellectual or idealogical foundations. Most (if not all of them) were soldiers and had some form of military background. Their interference in leadership almost totally destroyed the foundation and vision of the first generation of leaders. Under their dictatorship, the economy suffered. Entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation during their time was all but non-existent.
Thankfully, a large proportion of this generation have moved on, but regrettably, remnants still exist in a few countries on the continent.
Generation 3 Leaders – “The Stabilizers”
According to Fred Swaniker, this generation of leaders can be regarded as the ‘stabilizer’ generation. They have cleaned up much of the mess created by Generation 2 and are leading the continent towards stability and economic growth. Africa’s Generation 3 Leaders are not perfect leaders but they’re the best the continent has seen in the last few decades.
Generation 3 Leaders. From left to right: Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Ian Khama (Botswana) and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia)
Except for Nelson Mandela who passed away in 2013, most of Africa’s Generation 3 Leaders have been active since the early 2000s and are still alive today. They have encouraged favourable economic policies that have led to growth and increased foreign investment in Africa. Under their leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation is flourishing and Africa is now the second fastest growing economic region of the world.
Generation 4 Leaders – “The Transformers”
Fred Swaniker believes that this generation has a unique opportunity to totally transform Africa. This generation is expected to grow Africa’s economy at a pace that will create enormous prosperity that will provide jobs and livelihoods for the continent’s one-billion strong workforce. They will also work to strengthen Africa’s institutions and create a system that ensures fairness, accountability and transparency in leadership.
As Generation 3 gets old and retires, the time has come for a new generation of leaders (Generation 4) to take Africa to the ‘promised land’ of prosperity, peace and abundance. Generation 4 Leaders are expected to recreate the miracle that China, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand used to transform their economies and move billions of people out of poverty.
This generation is here already. We are the ones Africa has been waiting for!
This Is An Exciting Time To Be In Africa
There is a renewed zeal for prosperity in Africa. The continent is about to take the kind of transformative leap that China, and several countries in South East Asia, took a few decades ago. With its extensive natural and mineral resources, large consumer population, and a young and vibrant labour force, all that remains to keep Africa on the right path of economic and social development is leadership.
The growing influence of the internet, social media and globalization has increased the participation of young Africans in public and leadership affairs. There is a gradual but silent revolution that’s happening on the continent. Africa is now producing more entrepreneurs unlike anytime in its history. It won’t be long before this great continent becomes the powerhouse of the world.
Like Nelson Mandela once said:
“Every now and then, a generation is called upon to be great. You too can be that generation”
Here’s the full TED Talk by Fred Swaniker. Enjoy…