The world is at a crossroads, with old recipes of managing public affairs and answering citizens’ demands contested by a generalised yearning for change. In 2011, Time magazine designated the protester as its ‘Person of the Year,’ and this embrace of transformation has not dissipated, but has seeped deep into every dimension of the state’s relationship with society. Managing the expectations and fulfilling the needs of the population has never been harder.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Africa. By 2025, half of the continent’s population will be under 25. A demographic and technological explosion has to be met by constantly high rates of economic growth, better governance, more accountability and responsiveness. But, beyond these aspects that could apply to other contexts of the world, what is felt as a necessity, both at the domestic and international levels, is the emergence and affirmation of a new African leadership, one that is rooted in local values but is also connected to the broader global trends.
The world is starting to pay more and more attention to Africa. And this goes beyond the old discourse about bad or weak governance, migration, civil wars, poverty, development, and sustainability. The new great power competition is global in nature and with countries looking at every opportunity for gaining a competitive advantage. And, for better or for worse, Africa is where massive human and natural resources are expected to come. A new battle over Africa is underway, with China in the driving seat, Russia seeking to catch up, the US a bit behind and the EU seeking to make the continent a vital part of its global strategy and stability.
In this context, Africa cannot be a spectator, a bystander, a rule-taker. It has to be part of a broader coalition that emerges in Asia, Europe or Latin America, and is challenging this new multipolar Cold War view of international relations. Countering the break-down of the multilateral order is not only in the interest of the world, but also a desired outcome for small or middle powers, emerging or on the consolidation path. The voice of the African nations is needed as part of this concert and a unified articulation of their interest is the task of the new African leadership.
But foreign policy can only be grounded in strong local sense of purpose. The Nobel Peace Prize won by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is a confirmation that Africa can take ownership of its problems, that it can be bold and decisive. Local issues require the integration of the local way of doing things, based on a deep understanding of the context of what should and should not be done. The international media is full of reports of a new wave of politicians challenging the old guard and seeking to project the legitimate aspirations of a generation that has high hopes, no patience and aversion to failure and mismanagement.
The crisis (or the collapse) of the old structures of governance will most likely be messy. Assembling coalitions for change that display a high degree of unity will not be easy, doing by keeping in mind the bigger objective of prosperity and societal resilience will require leaders with a deep sense of public service. Rather than always taking inspiration from the West, Africa can base its own answer to good leadership on similarly disruptive experiences that countries from Eastern Europe or Asia have gone through in the last few decades.
Making the best of the global Zeitgeist and successfully meeting the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century has to be grounded into a new type of African leadership, one that is a sophisticated answer to local struggles and demands, but also in tune with global evolutions. Finding the right balance asks for putting together a coalition of African doers and global friends.
- Radu Magdin is a strategic communications analyst and consultant, former Prime Ministerial advisor in Romania and Moldova
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