By Kemi Osukoya
March 2015


A few days ago, I woke up early [a little before 4 a.m. EST] in my home in New York city to watch a live video press conference announcement of the 2014 Mo Ibrahim Presidential Prize Award winner. The award was given to former Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba.

During the Q&A session that followed shortly after the winner was announced by Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, a young African man in the audience (from the pool of journalists and civil society leaders) raised his hand, stood up and asked the panelist this question: why give the money to African leaders?

Members of the panelist gave viable and sufficient answers. But just as the moderator was about to take the next question from the audience, Mr. Ibrahim, who sat inconspicuously in the audience in the front row of the room, stood up, requested for the microphone, and pivoted his attention in the direction of the young man. After he asked the man’s name, and a few other questions, he challenged him and the rest of the audience in the room to change the Africa’s story narrative.

Which got me thinking about my role and this publication’s role as a narrator of African stories.

Although we already had our editorial calendar planned and I had written an editorial on Women’s Empowerment in Africa though education, for the relaunch of our website, I decided to postpone it for later.

Why is an editorial about leadership in Africa more important than women’s empowerment you may ask. The truth is if you had asked me that same question prior to me making that decision, I most likely would have answered and chosen to proceed with the editorial on women’s empowerment, after all, the timing couldn’t be perfect: March is international women’s month. I am a woman, a mother, a daughter, among many other roles that I play, and I clearly identify with my gender.

However, the more I thought about it and since we were planning on doing a story about this year’s Nigerian Presidential Election, and on the increasingly important and over arching roles and functions that African presidents and African civil society leaders should play in Africa today to secure the continent and its people’s future, the more sense it makes to write about leadership.

We have written stories about leadership in Africa (See story: “African Leaders Look to Craft a Better Future”). Last May, we covered the Mo Ibrahim Foundation meeting that took place in Kigali, Rwanda, where current and past African leaders, and African presidents mulled the current state of leadership and presidential term limits across the continent. It was the first time that I could recall ever seeing a group of prominent African leaders speak truthfully and publicly about the atrocities that they and their peers have committed against the people of Africa, as well as held each other accountable – at least to some minuscule extent without losing their political self worth.

It was unexpected but a welcomed sight. It was the first time that I had seen all the political correctness stripped away from a meeting. I was hooked and wanted to see more of that raw honest exchange and dialogue among African leaders and the people they serve, hoping that such exchanges will catalyze a major shift that will lead to more positive presidential leadership and transformation across the continent.

So when Mr. Ibrahim stood up and took the microphone to address the young man who asked the question, my interest was piqued and whatever sleep dusts that might have been slightly weighing my eyelids down at that moment quickly blew away and left me wide awake.

It’s easier to find stories about corruption in African government or of African leaders engaging in atrocious acts against the people they are supposed to serve. Stories and news coverage of war, war-torn nations, piracy, terrorism, poverty and diseases too often litter pages of newspapers and other media platforms both on the continent and the rest of the world, as real news coverage of Africa.

The recent Ebola crisis produced abundant stories – both truth and untruth – that quickly spread like wild fire across the world, creating in some cases unwarranted fears that led to ostracization of people, and healthcare workers in their communities. I am not saying these stories and news coverage shouldn’t be told. They needed to be reported and kudos and many gratitude to everyone – including reporters, healthcare workers, NGOs and government officials- who risked their lives to report on the Ebola crisis.

However, relevant stories about national leaders and presidents who have not only faced seemingly insurable challenges when they arrived at the office and during their presidential reign to bring about positive changes, and economic transformation in their respective nations, – more importantly have helped their countries emerged better, stronger, refined and prosperous, are grossly under reported.

It’s easier to find stories about corruption in African government or of African leaders engaging in atrocious acts against the people they are supposed to serve.

Granted, there’s no question this could be a huge undertaking and it may end up seemingly a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Since knowledge brings about discernment and a greater appreciation for self and the society, we decided to take up the challenge to find some of the unknown African Presidential “heroes”, that have exemplified excellent leadership on the continent.

We were pleasantly surprised by our findings, but due to time constraints, we narrowed the list down to five leaders but plan to do more series on leadership in the coming months.

During our process, we reached out and asked those with far greater domain knowledge of the continent’s political and cultural history than ours about their thoughts on these leaders and overall leaderships on the continent.

I hope in us writing and highlighting these political heroic leaders and in you reading about them on our page or whichever platform you subscribed to, you can view the continent and its people through a new lens to find a form of inspiration and hope for Africa’s future. More importantly, we hope that those leaders- national and local- who are currently in office will use these heroes as a form of inspiration and measurement tool or status to help develop their own leadership growth and transformation and to make the necessary changes that need to be done to move their countries forward, making the continent better for the next generation of leaders.

(For a list of the leaders we picked, check out the second part of this story at Five African Political Pioneers)

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