Elitism And The Future Of Africa’s Leadership: Will ALU Students Be The Leaders To Transform Africa?
Whether Africa is the way it is because of slavery or colonialism or not is the talk of another time. But what remains indisputable is African leaders played a part that set the final stage for the continent’s continuous misery. Key to this was the tendency of elitism. If slavery and colonialism were any gonorrhea that infected Africa’s growth, African elitism was the syphilis that made it perpetually impotent/barren. Given the catastrophe of it in the past, one would hope elitist life in African leadership ended with the generation of Mobutu and Jean Bedel Bokassa. But sadly it didn’t, and chances are that it will continue up to the distant future. Because of that, current institutional efforts are tailored towards producing leaders who would make a difference. Among such institutions is the African Leadership University. Born out of the imperative to transform Africa by 2050, ALU is doing a lot to educate leaders who would not only be transformative in what they do, but will do so through ethical and entrepreneurial leadership.
But whether these men and women will truly transform the continent is yet a reality TV Show with an unpredictable end. That is because, as early as it is, we are beginning to develop tendencies that are inimical to those of Mobutu and his likes. In Rwanda for instance, students from most other universities see us as rivals rather than friends. This is beyond the normal university student rivalry that we know. For most of them, they truly hate us and it makes sense. Why? Because we have created such an environment that isolates and elevates us above everyone of them. In public gatherings such as those at Kigali Convention Center, we rarely interact with students from other universities, and even if we do it will be with students from institutions of higher branding such as Carnegie Mellon University or ALU School of Business. It’s always the top bras. Our social media are flooded with such bios whose true qualifications we don’t have. To impress, we occupy them with credentials such writer, poet, researcher, when in reality we have not published anything beyond our required school assignments.
To a point of annoyance sometimes last year, a student of one of our sister universities in Rwanda tweeted “apart from Iphone users, ALU students think they’ve made it in life”. For most people, that might sound like a normal humorous tweets that should not be taken out of context. However, it was not. The tweet was an expression of a true disdain and one that reflects a growing perception of most students about us. Here is the point. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with elitism and personal branding, but that the intention with which we do them is not healthy. For instance, most of us would buy coffee from Java that’s 5 minutes away from school, instead of Scholar Coffee that’s right on campus not because the caffeine in Java’s coffee is any stronger, but simply because we want to be seen buying from there in order to get the default respect that comes with it.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s evident that we are doing a lot that reflects humility and authenticity as taught by the school. Just a few years into our studies, most of us are engaged in truly groundbreaking initiatives. From Zambian AgrilPredict that boosts agricultural productivity and food security, Tanzania’s PinkBox that promotes menstrual hygiene, to Liberia’s Afrique Accountability that seeks to make African governments accountable to their citizens, there is so much we are doing to drive impacts on the continent. Similarly, I am not against elitism or living expensively. I am also not against branding. They are beautiful things once we use them healthily.
I also recognize individual liberty and believe that at some point, conscious elitism is a requirement for transformative change in Africa. And with our mantra being “Do Hard Things, we want to shoot for the moon. But as a friend put it recently, elitism and branding in themselves are not the issue. The issue is what people do with them. In the case of most ALU students, we use them as a wedge than a mend. In that way, prospects are that we might end up being highly-hyped, bossy, and classy breed of desperate job seekers whose love for flamboyant lifestyle will cause us to sell the continent at any price as long as it affords us access to world-class boutiques, restaurants, and seats at high tables on matter related to Africa’s exploitation as opposed to the true problem solvers we are supposed to be.
If anything, ALU prides itself as a Pan-African institution. This bold proclamation sets it apart from and clothes it with tougher responsibilities than most schools in Africa. A key value of Pan-African is humility and love for others (Ubuntu). To make any change is to reflect those values. That is even so given that a huge portion of Africa’s transformation will be behavioral. In general, no economy can thrive, no democracy can flourish without a good conduct of those who administer them. And in the case of Africa, there can be no sustainable development without discipline in it’s developers. It is against these that we must begin to checkmate ourselves for good and for the better. More than most institutions of higher learning in Africa, we have every reason and resource to make the continent great. But toxic elitism is not one of them for now. Stuck to it, we will only change the clothes we wear and the food we eat and even that will be hard for us since we might want clothes and food that we can’t afford. Used appropriately, we are bound to succeed on a journey that was abandoned by men and women who believe that it wasn’t possible.