Picture credit: Bible Society / Andrew Boyd
‘Before Biblical leadership models can be applied to Africa there must be an understanding of the culture that is ingrained in the continent.’
The Bible must inspire Africa to break free of the cycle of bad leadership, argued one of ABLI’s keynote speakers, Professor Mumo Kisau. Yet to do so, Africa will have to overcome entrenched elements within its own culture which foster corruption.
Professor Kisau made his address to the 8thAfrican Biblical Leadership Initiative Forum, held in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). This is an edited version:
‘Africa is ready to embrace biblical principles in her endeavour to break free from the cycle of ‘bad’ leadership,’ Professor Kisau told the ABLI Forum.
‘Leadership is the process of guiding people to a desired outcome. A leader directs the led towards a vision and influences others to achieve an objective.
‘As John Maxwell puts it: “Everything falls and rises on leadership”.’
But before Biblical leadership models can be applied to Africa there must be an understanding of the culture ingrained in the continent.
‘Ubuntu is the African concept that ‘I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am’.
‘All transactions in life are based on this concept of others – whatever is said or done, the other person is always in the background.
‘The Ubuntu philosophy is integrated into all aspects of African daily life.
‘It has had a negative impact when it comes to accountability, since those practising the Ubuntu philosophy are protective of their own.’
They would be reluctant to demand integrity and transparency even from thieves among them, he said.
Another key element of African culture that must be understood is the status of elders who guide the community.
Elders are afforded the highest status in the African culture.
‘These elders are selected carefully and represent the interests of all. They are seen as above reproach and their decisions are final.’
African hearts, he argued, are conditioned by these elements of culture.
‘So, for us to hope for any meaningful change in leadership in Africa, this cultural layer has to be understood and dealt with by the transforming word of God.’
African spirituality is another factor shaping leadership in the continent.
‘All of life in Africa is wrapped up with religion. From birth to death, an African life is celebrated religiously.
‘In leadership circles, some seeking political power or position will visit witchdoctors.’
The lines, he said, were becoming blurred between the world and the Church.
‘The fear of God and the prophetic voice has been watered down by unhealthy compromise. It is often difficult to distinguish between politicians and the clergy.’
The next significant cultural layer to address if leadership is to change is African adaptability. This is the readiness to accommodate that which Africans cannot change.
Some argue this is an unwelcome legacy of colonialism.
‘There is a famous Swahili proverb: "mkono usiowesa kuukata, ubusu: a hand that you cannot cut, kiss". Any situation that you can do nothing about, accept it.’
Finally, Professor Kisau identified the decision-making layer, which is heavily influenced by all the other factors in African culture.
‘This is the layer that needs to be transformed by the word of God for there to be transformative leadership in this great continent,' he said.
‘Someone recently remarked that what others consider as corruption, when seen through African eyes, is simply accumulation for the purpose of caring for the community.
‘The challenge in Africa is that leaders enrich themselves, leaving the masses to languish in poverty.
‘Worse still, the so-called developed countries encourage African leaders to run up huge loans in the name of development aid and charge high interest rates.
‘While all this is happening, the Ubuntu concept, the ‘our person’ syndrome, protects the thief in our midst so there can be no accountability.
‘The shame culture does not allow us to deal with corrupt officials, since they use their acquired wealth to drop crumbs to the masses and buy out anyone seen as a threat to their corrupt deals.
‘Governments set up anti-corruption agencies that only end up consuming resources with no tangible results.
‘Most recently, African leaders have devised a clever way of doing business with public resources, the so-called “government capture”.
‘Government procurement has fallen in the trap of African culture. It might require God himself to disentangle it from the "big man syndrome".
Professor Kisau concluded: ‘For Africa to become known for prosperity and opportunity, rather than poverty and despair, African leaders have much to learn from the Bible.’