Africa And The Burden Of Leadership

Aigboje Imoukhuede image via The Guardian

NOVEMBER 7, 2018

The challenge and the opportunity that Africa represents of the 195 countries in the world today, 54 of them are in Africa.

That is 30% of sovereign states and with a population of 1.3bn people, 16% of the world, Africa, my continent can’t be ignored.

Take our medical professionals out of the United States medical system and see whether you can ignore Africa. But Africa is the worst performing continent by almost any index that measures quality of life.

Whether we look at wealth or health; access to shelter; access to electricity; access to finance and basic financial services like pensions and insurance; access to food or the availability of basic infrastructure.

It is not just the worst performing, it is worst performing by a relatively long way. We experience the problems of the world, at their most extreme.

The vast majority of the rest of the world have solved most of the basic challenges I just listed, and most nations operate at well above the minimum standard of living.

But the minimum standards acceptable in most of the world tend to be beyond the grasps of most Africans.

When we add in the demographics of the continent, and we see the pace of population growth, the scale of our challenge becomes even greater.

While I’m alive Africa will double from 1.3 to 2.6bn accounting for ½ of world population growth from 16% to 26%.

By 2100 Africa is projected to be home to one third of the world’s population. That will be 4.1 billion people.

Addressing the needs of the existing population and having the resources to support the pace of growth is the greatest challenge Africa faces. I dare to suggest that it is one of the greatest challenges the world will face over the next century.

An adverse outcome for Africa is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for us as Africans, and it should be unacceptable to the world.

But while I think it is important to be clear about the challenges that we face, I want to be equally clear that I view this as a unique opportunity. No where in the world is it possible to have greater impact than in Africa.

My investment theory is aligned with this. I believe the concept of impact investing is do or die in Africa.

Investing itself, so long as it follows acceptable global standards and is done with integrity, will always have impact. Africa is where both the challenges, and the opportunities are at their most extreme.

Africa’s reality today, is that the most fundamental living standards remain out of reach for the vast majority of our people, some of basic things still work as well as they did 50 years ago when the gap was not so wide, and some things, unfortunately few and far between match or even exceed global norms.

Perhaps the starkest example of an unacceptable inequality, is access to electricity. Out of the 195 countries (World Bank data), 100 of them have 100% electricity coverage.

The next 95, 30 of them have 90% electricity. Then when you get to the poorest performers, you get to Africa. Out of the 34 worst performers, 32 of them are in Africa.

In percentages, 85% of mankind has electricity. Of the 1 billion or so people that don’t have access to electricity, 57% are in Africa.

The impact on daily life, let alone on wider economic productivity, is catastrophic. Think of the barber on the streets of Lagos, beyond his skill at cutting hair, he has to be skilled at power generation and transmission, this constrains his competitiveness against his peers in, say Laos, Vietnam.

Hurricane Maria (2017) caused mayhem in Puerto Rico which used to be one of the 100% electricity performers, the lack to access to electricity led to spikes in mortality rates that are deemed unacceptable.

Wouldn’t life be good if we could turn on our light switches and they worked 100% of the time. For most of us in the world, it is an assumed norm.

Electricity is such a fundamental thing. Giving reliable electricity should not be a feat of magic. It should be a globally accepted standard.

Why is it that 95% of African countries are struggling to provide it between 10 and 50% of the time. It should NOT be a big deal. These are questions that the fine graduates from this school must be capable of answering.

Thankfully, there are some things that evidence the impact of good leadership in the past, or systems that have remained largely unchanged over the years.

I like to give the example of when I received my first pair of glasses. I had just turned 11, in Kaduna.

I went to the local general hospital, saw the optician, waited a couple of hours for my eyes to be tested and then returned two weeks later to collect my glasses.

Last week I sent someone to that same hospital in Kaduna to understand whether that was still possible. I was delighted to be told that glasses are now issued within 7 days. A simple process, repeated over time, can be maintained.

But we are also able to go beyond the norm when people like you put your abilities to work for Africa and exceed global standards. It is this that creates the opportunity, and which gives me hope.

Come to Nigeria today and you will find world leading mobile banking applications, sometimes beyond the scope and capability of those here in the UK.

Go to Kenya, and you will find the home of the concept of mobile money, which has become a global norm. Technology disrupts, wherever you are, and I believe it sits at the heart of Africa’s future.

My background, and core experience is in finance. For over two decades my core focus was on mobilising capital towards the opportunities I think Africa represents. Building sustainable and strong institutions.

But one of the most important lessons I have learnt on that journey is that capital will only go where it makes sense from a return perspective, the policy context is appropriate, and predictable.

Where the right conditions are not in place then capital will look elsewhere.

That is why, after those three decades in finance, I have turned my attention to the role and capacity of the public sector in Africa to provide the environment needed to facilitate our economic and social development.

To ensure that the signature of a public servant does not result in negative outcomes but positive results.

It is clear to me that the scale and scope of grand corruption in Nigeria has fundamentally obstructed our nation’s economic growth, has eroded public confidence, legitimacy and transparency, and also limited the ability for businesses to reach their maximum potential.

The fact is, more often than not, that the issues that plague our core sectors — inefficient power supply, poor food distribution, access to clean water, provision of quality education and healthcare services, etc.— stem from poor leadership and governance in the public sector.

It is the disconnect between the aspirations of Africans and the capacity of leaders to govern that has led to the level of dysfunction that we face.

This is the reason why so many African’s do not have access to electricity, and why the level of inequality on the continent is growing.

This is a challenge that we have no option but to overcome. We must minimise the negative social impacts from becoming even more catastrophic as our population grows ever larger, and ever younger.

This challenge was the reason that I established the Africa Initiative for Governance (or A.I.G.), as a way to channel my support for public sector reform in Africa.

AIG was established as a not for profit company in Nigeria in 2014, with a mission to be a catalyst for a high performing public sector in Africa.

We believe that the civil service is the single most important institution in the country.

If we can enable it, enhance it and help it to operate to the same standards as some of our global contemporaries then it will drastically increase the chances of achieving every other reform required to drive development and growth.

Without doing so, we will struggle and continue to experience the challenges of the past. And the prospects of a great future for AFRICA become very bleak indeed, but we can’t let this happen. We MUST work to support and empower the civil service to achieve that.

We MUST find a way to ensure that they are adequately compensated for the work that they do, and fully enabled to deliver the value that we need and we MUST ensure that they are trained to the same level, and using the same metrics, as their private sector counterparts.

As well as working directly with national (and hopefully state level) civil service, AIG is also working to attract, inspire and support future leaders of the public sector. We believe that with continuing support, these high-calibre individuals will drive best practice standards of governance across Africa, ensuring sustainable economic growth and social justice.

Today, we have a number of initiatives already in operation to achieve this goal: We provide scholarships for outstanding candidates to undertake post-graduate training in governance and public policy here at the Blavatnick School of Government.

We fund fellowships for accomplished public servants who are developing transformational initiatives.

We are also partnering with government to support public sector reform. We offer grants, and technical support to public sector institutions to help them achieve their reform objectives.

Currently we are working with the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, who we have signed a ground breaking public-private partnership with to help them transform the Nigerian Civil Service.

The main project in this partnership has been our work to facilitate the development of a Prioritised 2017-2020 Nigerian Civil Service Transformation Strategy and Implementation Plan.

This is the contribution that I have decided to make to try and contribute to a more positive future for our continent.

For those of you here today who are Africans, and who now have decisions to make about where and how to apply the skills you have acquired at Oxford, I say to you that those skills and capabilities are a gift. You are in the privileged position to be able to go out and do anything that you want.

But I also say that a part of your conscience should be telling you that you have a responsibility, a burden perhaps, or an obligation to use those skills to impact millions of lives. They are skills that Africa desperately needs and you must use them well.

For those of you who are not Africans, I make the same request. You may not have family or interests in Africa today, but I believe that the future of Africa is inextricably linked to the future of the world.

We see that everyday already, as the global debate about migration becomes ever louder. It will only become more relevant over the coming decades.

Every person and government in the world will be affected by how Africa performs. If you are not affected today, you will be tomorrow.

I believe that every Class at Blavatnik has the potential to graduate evangelists who will save these lives. You carry a unique burden, the blessing of light. Intelligence and capability come with expectation.

I urge you to bring the skills you have acquired to support us as we seek to overcome those challenges and build an Africa that will not only survive, but thrive.

I sometimes look at my generation and think; are we going to be remembered as one that provided poor leadership and destroyed the hope for future generations.

I am absolutely and completely committed to ensuring that does not happen. I hope that today, I have persuaded some of you of the merits, and the urgent need, to do the same for Africa.

Africa’s fire is burning go and get your buckets!
Aig-Imoukhuede delivered this speech at the Oxford University Blavatnik School of Government 2018 graduation.