John Hoffmire: Celebrating leadership and transforming governance in Africa

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 21 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Theories of governance generally suggest that patterns of rule arise as contingent products of diverse actions and political struggles, informed by the varied beliefs of situated agents. The rigorous work undertaken by the foundation in coming out with the index of governance will inform the diverse practices that people constantly build and rebuild through their concrete activity. There is cause to hope that the stunting narratives of mal-governance that Africa has created and inherited are transformed to more edifying versions as Africa rises up to respond to its dilemmas.

National identities, as Benedict Anderson argued in "Imagined Communities," are complex constructs. The webs of belief and the current governance structures are in some measure products of contingent historical processes. However, institutions and extant modes of governance are not condemned to be predetermined. New narratives are often forged by exceptional leadership and can be reaffirmed continually through enabling governance to bring about the psychological shift vital in creating new identities and attendant social expressions.

The indispensability of this transforming impulse is even more pronounced in the African context where the states are often merely superficially unified symbols ineffectually trying to harmonize ethnocentrism and disunity.

Significant transformations are seldom singular moments of transitions but are secured bit by bit when the fundamental value judgments of society start to cohere around a more desirable set of ideals. And the beginnings of the overarching coherence lie in winning the conversations at the street level. There is no doubt that the work of the Ibrahim Foundation is sensitizing the people around standards of governance. As Ibrahim asserts, “Governance has come out of the closet in Africa.”

One can only hope that these efforts can help realize the unfulfilled promises of the continent and help unleash forces whose ideals were extolled by none other than Nelson Mandela when he told a meeting of regional leaders in 1994 that “Africa cries out for a new birth. We must, in action, say that no obstacle is big enough to stop us from bringing about a new African renaissance.”

John Hoffmire teaches at SaÏd Business School at the University of Oxford.

Pankaj Upadhyay is a graduate of the MBA program at SaÏd Business School at the University of Oxford and is a development expert.

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