Davos: is there responsive and responsible leadership in Africa?

By Janice Roberts

By Paul Clark, Africa Portfolio Manager at Ashburton Investments. 

This year the theme for the World Economic Forum currently underway in Davos is “Responsive and Responsible leadership”.

Following the news flow one gets the impression that Africa could do with a good dose of this kind of leadership. With 54 countries across the continent it is likely that some leaders will misbehave from time to time and unfortunately these are the stories that make the news and form most people’s point of reference.

Despite some really long serving leaders in central and southern Africa, West Africa is leading the way when it comes to improved democracies and leadership. The peaceful transition in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, in March 2015 was a great example for the rest of the continent and came just 16 years after their last military government.

In December last year we saw another peaceful transition of power to a new president and governing party in Ghana. And in Benin, President Boni stepped down in March after serving his two terms and the country elected an independent businessman, President Talon, over the ruling party’s candidate. It is against this backdrop that The Gambia has now made headlines with President Jammeh, who has ruled for 22 years, refusing to leave office after losing the elections in December. Although Jammeh initially conceded defeat to Adama Barrow, he has subsequently questioned the legitimacy of the vote count and instituted court proceedings.

So how have other African leaders reacted to Jammeh’s intransigence? The Economic Community Of West African States’(ECOWAS) leaders have insisted that Jammeh hand over power as planned on 19 January. Despite many pressing issues at home, President Buhari of Nigeria has made two trips to The Gambia to try and convince Jammeh to relinquish power, even offering him asylum in Nigeria and protection from prosecution. Morocco has similarly offered him asylum on condition he steps down peacefully. ECOWAS is even considering military intervention and is gathering a force in Senegal, while the African Union has said that it will no longer recognise Jammeh as president of The Gambia after 19 January. African and especially west African leaders have therefore responded quickly and responsibly to this crisis.

This improvement in leadership and democratic institutions on the continent has been ongoing, although unfortunately interspersed with issues like the current one in The Gambia. Using the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index data for last five years, the improvement in democracy across the continent means that less than 50% of Africans now live in authoritarian regimes, down from 73% in 2010.

As leadership improves across Africa the risks of investing are reducing and the much needed foreign capital flows should increase and add to the strong growth expected in many of these economies over the next five years.

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