In the tumultuous history of Africa over the last half-century, a recurring theme has emerged — the battle between those fighting for freedom and those craving power. With over 30 interventions in the governance of most African states and the adoption of various political experiments, including systems imported from France, Britain, Germany, and the recent emulation of the United States’ presidential system, the result has often been a never-ending cycle of leadership changes that leave nations stagnant.
In my book “Hunger for Power,” I eloquently describe the paradox of power. “Power is like fire; it can keep you warm and it can burn you. It can cook you a meal or raze your house. It can purify your gold or calcify a human being. Ensconced deep within its core are elements of good and evil. It all depends on the choices you make when you handle it.” Unfortunately, the insatiable appetite for power among many African leaders has frequently led to the continent’s backwardness.
There have been a few visionary political leaders who recognized the detrimental impact of external influences on their nations. These leaders sought to break free from the shackles of foreign control. However, these invaders, often orchestrating coups or wars, used divisive tactics to turn the people against such leaders and eliminate them.
One of these visionary leaders, President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, emphasized the interconnectedness of African nations during his Independence Day speech when he declared, “The freedom of Ghana is meaningless until the rest of the continent is free.” Kwame Nkrumah (1968). “Dark days in Ghana”, Lawrence & Wishart. He also foresaw the need to bridge the Sahara Desert, stating, “The continent of Africa will remain in darkness until the Sahara desert is bridged.” Of course he didn’t mean an actual construction of a bridge what he meant was, Africa was one from East to West, North to South therefore the Great Sahara Desert should unite us and not divide us. Remarkably, even after 50 years, the Sahara remains one of the few active deserts globally, despite the abundance of valuable resources like clean and renewable energy, gold, diamonds, oil, and gas awaiting exploration.
Our natural resources are being siphoned off to foreign countries, leaving African nations bereft of the wealth that should be driving their development. The situation contrasts sharply with the transformation of China’s Gobi Desert into a thriving agricultural hub, with settlements and millions lifted out of poverty.
In my recent three part publication of this series, “Before the Invaders and Before the Occupancy,” I stated that the root causes of Africa’s struggles are traced back to the invaders and occupiers who imposed their names, cultures, and norms on African societies. This forced assimilation stifled indigenous development, perpetuating a cycle of perpetual catch-up that seems insurmountable.
Leaders like Patrice Lumumba, who recognized these issues early, were either killed or removed from power, often replaced with puppet leaders incapable of effectively managing their nations. Patrice Émery Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as the Republic of the Congo) gained independence from Belgium in 1960. He played a significant role in the country’s struggle for independent, but his time in power was short-lived, and he faced
political turmoil and ultimately tragic circumstances. Lumumba’s legacy is associated with his fight for African independence and his tragic assassination in 1961. Lumumba’s case is but one example and here are a few others.
Tragically, there have been several political leaders in Africa who were killed by their own people or in internal conflicts. Thomas Sankara, the President of Burkina Faso, was assassinated in 1987 in a coup led by his close associate and friend, Blaise Compaoré. Muammar Gaddafi, the long-time ruler of Libya, was killed in 2011 during the Libyan Civil War by opposition forces. Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique, died in a plane crash in 1986, which some suspect was caused by foul play, although the exact circumstances remain disputed. Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who succeeded Mobutu Sese Seko as President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was assassinated in 2001, leading to further instability in the region. These examples highlight the complex and often turbulent political history of Africa, where leaders have faced challenges from within their own countries and have sometimes met tragic ends due to internal conflicts or power struggles. This raises the question: Is it democracy that is failing Africa, or are African leaders simply intoxicated by power?
In this ongoing struggle between freedom and power, the continent continues to grapple with the legacy of colonization and the challenge of forging a brighter, self-determined future. It remains to be seen whether African nations can break free from this cycle and truly harness their potential for prosperity and progress.
Across the vast and diverse continent of Africa, one common thread has marred its progress and development over the years: the unquenchable thirst for power among its leaders. This insatiable appetite for control has, more often than not, led to a painful cycle of backwardness and stagnation.
In many African nations, the pursuit of power takes precedence over the genuine desire to serve the people. Leaders often prioritize personal gain and political survival over the welfare of their citizens. This prioritization of self-interest manifests in various ways, all of which contribute to Africa’s struggles.
Economic Exploitation: One of the most glaring consequences of power-hungry leaders is the exploitation of a nation’s valuable resources. Africa is rich in minerals, oil, gas, and fertile lands, but too often, these assets are mismanaged or plundered by corrupt regimes. Instead of benefiting the population, these resources end up in the hands of a privileged few, leaving the majority in poverty.
The hunger for power fuels political instability, frequent coups, civil wars, and conflicts are often triggered by leaders who refuse to relinquish their grip on authority. These conflicts disrupt societies, displace millions, and hinder any chance of progress.
Genuine development and progress become challenging when leaders focus on consolidating power rather than implementing policies that foster growth, Infrastructure projects, education, healthcare, and other essential services take a backseat to the pursuit of political dominance.
The lust for power encourages a culture of corruption and nepotism. Leaders often appoint family members and loyalists to key positions, regardless of their qualifications. This erodes the meritocracy needed for a nation to thrive.
Power-hungry leaders frequently employ divisive tactics, such as tribalism or ethnic favouritism, to maintain their hold on power. This not only fractures societies but also hinders unity and cooperation, essential for progress.
Leaders driven by the desire for immediate power often lack a long-term vision for their nations. Policies are crafted for short-term political gains, neglecting the need for sustainable development.
Africa’s struggle with power-hungry leaders is a complex issue, and there have been exceptions where visionary leaders have emerged. However, these exceptions are often overshadowed by those who prioritize their own interests over the well-being of their nations.
To break free from this cycle of backwardness, Africa needs leaders who are committed to genuine progress, transparency, and the welfare of their people. It requires institutions that can hold leaders accountable for their actions, and it demands a collective effort from citizens to demand better governance.
The continent’s potential is immense, and with the right leadership, Africa can overcome the shackles of power-driven politics and finally realize the prosperity and progress its people deserve.