Thinking Aloud: “The Leaders Who Ruined Africa and the Generation Who Can Fix It”

Oct. 22,  2014 by Darius 

In his TED Talk, “The Leaders Who Ruined Africa and the Generation Who Can Fix It,” Fred Swaniker discusses the enormous impact of individual leaders on Africa.

Swaniker’s life story illustrates the differences a good leader can make.  When he was four, his family fled a military coup in Ghana to the Gambia.  Six months later, there was a coup there, too, and his family fled to Botswana.  In Botswana and neighboring South Africa, though, things were very different: there was good education, infrastructure, and governance.

According to Swaniker, leaders matter in Africa more than anywhere else.  This is due to the continent’s weak institutions.  In places with strong institutions, like the US and Europe, any individual leader does not wield enough power to wreck the country entirely.  In Africa, though, the leader has almost complete power over the political system, economy, and everything else.  One leader can easily make or break a country.  Just look at Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe: he all but singlehandedly took a strong, developing country and annihilated its economy and potential through disastrous fiscal policies.  Nobody else in Zimbabwe could or would tell Mugabe that such actions would bring ruin.

Swaniker also discussed what he saw as the three generations of African leaders.  The first generation, typified by leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, freed Africa from European colonialism.  The next generation of leaders, unfortunately, wrecked the continent, bringing war, corruption, and ruin.  Swaniker cited Mobutu Sese Seko in Congo and Sani Abacha of Nigeria as examples of this second generation.  The third generation of leaders, like Nelson Mandela and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, have dedicated their time in power to cleaning up the mess made by the second generation.  These leaders are far from perfect, but they have stopped much of the violence, improved economic policies, and are more accountable to their people.

Swaniker feels the next generation, what he calls generation four, has the power and opportunity to transform Africa.  According to Swaniker, this generation must accomplish two things that previous generations have not.  First, it must create economic opportunities for Africa’s burgeoning population, else Africa and the whole world will be sitting on a ticking time bomb.  Second, this generation must build African institutions “such that we are never held to ransom again by a few individuals like Robert Mugabe.”

You can watch Swaniker’s TED Talk at

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