In an ideal world, leaders should typify ambitions and aspirations of the countries they lead. But since this ‘ideal world’ doesn’t exist here, several countries find themselves with leaders who seldom represent or espouse their countries’ needs. These leaders come ‘packaged’ as alpha males, new comers and populists.
A panel at the Kampala Geopolitics Conference held at Makerere University on 26–27 October 2018, explored this issue under the topic; Alpha males, new comers and populists: what leaders are we craving.
Milton Mutto, the Executive Director, Princer Training and Research Institute, Uganda, said populist leaders are becoming many because people are asking the tough questions.
“…people are asking, ‘why are we here? Why are we reaping little despite investing much?”
He said Uganda, and indeed Africa, is experiencing a generational transition in leadership, noting that it’s time up for leaders who took the mantle at independence.
“The people at the helm of power are afraid of what the future looks like and yet their ideas no longer work for young people. Our so-called leaders — what makes them strong is from elsewhere. These strong men have god parents elsewhere,” he said, adding that the influence of godfathers in the geopolitics of Africa cannot be discounted.
Mutto said Africa is rich but looting has reduced the wealth. “The narrative out there is that we are poor. We are poor but seated on gold.”
He added that as long as matters that are dear to the citizens are not dealt with, the voice of the citizen will find a way out.
Mutto rejected the idea of disaggregating the population as youth or women, arguing that doing so makes it easy for those in power to take advantage of such groups.
“Dismembering the population doesn’t work. The leaders of the system have cut a small cake and given to the youth. But we want the whole cake,” he reasoned.
Mutto said there is need to come up with a well thought out agenda for change.
Mareike Le Pelly, the Resident Director, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Uganda, noted that frustration with social economic factors is what drives the craving for populist leaders.
“At the core is poverty. Simple answers to complex questions are what populist agenda offers but not always what it seems. Look at Trump and his tax policies; it really benefits the rich.”
Education and putting power at the centre, are ways the continent can get back on track, she said. “Why are people not gathering around issues,” she wondered, and urged the youth not to wait for transport allowance before they can rally around a cause.
Samuel Carcangage, Researcher, IRIS, France, said we are in an ideological crisis “because people feel there are no alternatives”.
He cited the example of Russian President Vladmir Putin whom he said has his country’s interests at heart, even if he’s an alpha male leader.
“On the world stage, Putin is anti-establishment. He interrupts and questions world order. At home he is not anti-establishment because he is the establishment.”
Pascal Boniface, Founding Director, IRIS, France, concurred, noting that Putin has a long term vision of the world and his country. “Putin has given Russians national pride.”
Comparing Putin and Trump, Boniface said the latter doesn’t have a long term vision for America and is unrealistic.
“Trump is a sham. When he was elected, he was surprised. Trump is also nostalgic of the past. He is thinking of the 60s where women stayed home, didn’t have jobs and didn’t have a say.”
Boniface said if we are to fight populism, there’s need to understand the reason behind it.
Sarah Kasande Kihika, Head of Office Uganda, International Centre for Transitional Justice, brought a historical perspective to the issue.
“Politics in Africa has had a masculine face,” she said, adding that since colonial times, male leaders were projected as powerful.
Kihika said male leaders created a cult following using a rhetoric of anti-imperialism and preserving the African culture yet they were preserving their status.
“In Africa, the strong men have learnt to use democratic tools to serve their interests, e.g., holding frequent elections.”
However, Kihika pointed out that the continent is witnessing “a wave of young people rejecting revolutionary narratives and male deities”.
She decried the lack of representation of young people in politics and the regression of human rights across the world, something she says is an implication of populist leadership.
“We shouldn’t discredit the involvement of youth in decision making. It’s important.”