This year on Africa Day, my co-editors and I launched volume 1 of the We Will Lead Africa book project in Johannesburg. The volume is an inspiring collection of the real-life stories of 30 everyday African leaders, in action for the prosperity of the continent.
These 30 responded to our call out: Who Will Lead Africa?! In spite of the challenges, despite the bleak dominant narratives told by many of our continent, in the face of the actions of many that still disappoint us, these 30 are choosing to lead. They live all over the world, yet responded because they self-identify as African – by lineage, heritage, immigration/citizenship and agreed that Africa runs in their blood, their veins, their very being.
They are no longer interested in waiting for change to come from elsewhere. They are the exemplars of everyday African leaders. Today’s leaders, defying the narrative of impossible and working for the prosperity of Africa. These are but a sample of the movements we believe are already happening. People of African descent all over the world are packing up and returning to use their skills somewhere on the continent. Young Africans on the continent are innovating their own solutions. Many are giving up foreign aid and the handout mentality it created and are using their own readily available resources to move forward.
So why care about a bunch of stories? As one of the contributors, Mimi Kalinda, who was at the book launch aptly summarised it, “narrative drives perception and perception drives behaviour! ” That was the exact reason and spark for this project when I did a research paper for the Kwame Nkrumah International conference in 2014 and decided that we must go beyond the lament narrative of failed political leadership on the continent.
I wanted to share African leadership narratives like these 30 – transformational, yet marginalised. Because I also know from my leadership and systems change scholarship and work that albeit a slow process, shifting narratives – by telling more complete stories of our realities – will shift beliefs, will shift individual and collective action and will lead to change and transformation…and I know this is already true across the African continent. I know this, because by the end of researching and writing that conference paper, and subsequent research and work I’ve done, it is clear that there are alternative narratives of everyday leaders silently making a difference.
We Will Lead Africa contributes an open call to practitioners to further inform our conclusions of where we are now and what more is needed to attain the Africa we want. It is a shift from viewing leadership in Africa from the sociopolitical lens or theoretical lens, to a focus on leadership at every level. It neither denies the overemphasised challenges of the continent, nor privileges the Africa-rising narrative. It calls us to see beyond what the mainstream says and own our part of making the change we want. This volume simply draws on the power of personal narratives to highlight all the complexities of the challenges and inspirations of leading in Africa. It is about the power of storytelling to inspire even more change and shape the futures we want.
We received so much more interest than what is included here! One observation of note is that our target of practitioners meant that we were seeking doers, who often do not stop long enough to write and document the work they are doing. Many expressed intentions to write but ultimately did not find the time or space to do so or to be interviewed by one of us. We wonder whether our African bent to oral history is part of this pattern. Given this pattern, we feel compelled more than ever that we Africans must document our stories, lest they continue to be told for us by others. As the well-known African saying goes: Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
These stories confirmed what I’ve been finding in my research that where everyday African leaders are making a difference, it’s based on
We: Collaborative and accountable leaders, taking unified action.
Will: The leadership WILL, grit and courage to do something, anything, now and for the future, demonstrated through action-oriented and aspirational leadership.
Lead: Everyday leaders, motivated by service, in every sector, including emerging leaders from marginalised groups. All the authors who submitted stories shared a deep authenticity and integrity in their leadership. They focused on a values-driven path, even if it is challenging.
Africa: A focus on a prosperous continent, where divides are bridged and leaders work across boundaries and borders to achieve a broader success.
And for those of you thinking it, yes, these rumblings, these isolated narratives feel like drops in the vast oceans of our needs right now. But that is exactly why we must hear them some more, share them some more and disrupt the status quo narratives some more. Remember that saying? Little drops of water, make a mighty ocean. We Will Lead Africa is one way to start collecting the drops, to build networks, to share ideas and to further precipitate the en-mass leadership change already happening for Africa.
The collective of these inspiring leaders included:
● Eight on Literacy and Education – Chinezi Chijioke, Elizabeth Johnson, Frankie Kie, Mwalimu Musheshe, Cecil Nutakor, Chinyere Nwabugwu, Yeniva Sisay-Sogbeh and Modupe Taylor-Pearce.
● Eight on Social Entrepreneurship, Change and Policy – Adewale Ajadi, Ajarat Bada, Veronica Flynn Bruey, Chris Mulenga, Sal Muthayan, Daphne Nederhorst, Ndidi Nwuneli, Fatou Wurie.
● Five on Arts and Culture – Bolanle Austen-Peters, Liza Bel (on behalf of four Africans), Mina Girgis, Ricardo Pinto Jorge and Simon Okelo.
● Four on Healthcare and Wellness – Toks Bakare, LueRachelle Brim-Atkins, Pablo Imani, Robert Kalyesubula.
● Four on Media and Communications – Mimi Kalinda, Nereya Otieno, Adeline Sede Kamga and Julian Spezzati.
● One on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) innovations by Chuma Asuzu. It is worth noting that we were unable to get a similar submission about an all-girls code club and to acknowledge the focus and role of STEM in Africa’s sustainable development agendas.
My co-editors and I have embarked on this project to add our drops to the ocean and make ripples. Will you join in too? Let’s find our leadership and strength in working together.