Leadership Ethics Africa: Research Network

 Leadership in and from Africa.

The questions we want to address can be divided into two broad sets of concerns:

  1. What would African accounts of the ethics of leadership look like, and how would they differ from mainstream accounts?
  2. How can we explain why leadership is so poor across contemporary Africa south of the Sahara?  
Africa south of the Sahara offers rich communitarian ethical traditions that could ground accounts of how leadership should be exercised, i.e. of Leadership Ethics, to rival or complement dominant Western counterparts. Conversely, the continent is plagued by poor leadership. This second observation could be seen to militate against the first. Some, for instance, could argue that we should explore these traditions independently of nefarious historical circumstances that have led to Africa’s current predicament. Others may think the historical circumstances responsible for the decay are irrelevant. And yet others could argue that the quality of existing leadership across the continent shows that African ethical traditions couldn’t ground alternative conceptions of leadership that could rival or complement the mainstream. 

A potential reply to this latter direction of inquiry is that the current state of African leadership is a function of slavery and colonialism that eroded the grounds upon which African ways of life could thrive. Another reply could be that, in addition to slavery and colonialism, or perhaps because of the psycho-ethical damage caused by these evils, African leaders have been dazzled by Western conceptions of leadership and have ignored indigenous alternatives. So, this line of reasoning could go, philosophies once richly embodied among Sub-Saharan peoples could no longer find themselves at home in a continent plagued by a nefarious legacy of dispossession. And it is these philosophies, it could be argued, that offer fertile grounds for exploration.

It is plausible to think that poor leadership across the continent is not a function of African ethical visions. Instead, it is a function of their decay brought about by Western greed and inhumanity. If so, the visions could be studied without necessarily dealing with the history of decline. But conversely, exploring the reasons for the decline may help us better grasp the widespread problem of poor leadership on the continent, potentially helping us get to grips with ways of further understanding alternative conceptions of good leadership to those offered by the West. 

Although the harm caused by colonial savagery is immense, we still need to explain how it is possible that decades after the end of colonial rule, African nations find themselves plagued by kleptocratic, unproductive, and altogether mediocre leaders that only confirm the West’s lingering suspicion that Africans cannot govern themselves. This, we think, is an implausible explanation, in addition to being expressive of nefarious essentialism, and further work is needed to understand the mechanism leading to the decay of leadership in Africa.

The Leadership Ethics Africa: Research Network is committed to investigating these questions, and  welcome contributions to doing so that fall within the purview of the two broad concerns mentioned above.