What do we celebrate on this particular day? I guess the answer will be different for different people. The more difficult question would be: what ought we to celebrate on Africa Day? These answers will most certainly reveal a variety of assumptions [about self, others and the environment] that underpin them, and will definitely lead to very interesting and most probably intense conversations.
I choose to celebrate the many positive changes I see happening on the continent; the fact that the world has at last woken up and is starting to take us seriously. However, what I celebrate most of all is the opportunity to, with many others who love this continent and its people, to respond to the multiple opportunities Mother Africa is offering us. One, in particular, is the opportunity to harness the changes and push the continent towards transformation, moving from what was once named a ‘hopeless continent’ to Africa, the Tree of Life.
Change on this scale, whole system change, takes years to happen; and it is most definitely not a project or an event, but a process. Wanting to contribute to the transformation process, I am of the opinion that we should start at home [self, organisation, society and country] and increase the urgency first to change the governing ethos.
I want to share a story: a traveller once walked down a lonely street at night. In the distance, under a streetlamp, he saw some movement. As he came closer he noticed someone on his knees obviously looking for something on the ground. When he reached this man, he asked him what he was looking for; upon which the man said he had lost his key and needed to find it. The traveller then asked if he could help to search for the key and his offer was gladly accepted. After several minutes of unsuccessful searching, the traveller asked: “Are you sure you lost the key here?” The man instantly answered: “No, I lost it over there”, pointing to a very dark part of the road. The traveller was astonished and asked why the man was looking for it here, while he lost it over there. The man answered: “Because here, there is light!”
We can search for the key to change and transformation where we think ‘the light’ is, for instance in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), in the deliberations of the World Economic Forum (WEF) or the activities of the African Union (AU), etc. We, however, may have to start looking where we have lost it: in our ethos.
Ethos informs the aims of our society, its processes and its structures, and it is a significant element in the structuring and governance of an individual’s growth and development. Our Constitution, to a great extent, describes our country’s ethos. It is our espoused ethos. If, however, we observe the ethos in practice, as reported by our media, our artists’ social commentary, and many of our leaders’ subtle patterns of reasoning which underlie their behaviour, and how these patterns continually end up as trouble for them and for us, then we realise that we have serious gaps between our actual behaviour and our espoused ethos.
The African continent faces enormous challenges. Lofty goals are being put forward and there is a call for engagement going out to all to participate in achieving this and to contribute to the transformation of this beautiful continent, a continent referred to in the anthem of the AU as ‘Africa, the Tree of Life’. It is my opinion that one of the key levers for transformation of the continent lies in the development of a critical mass of new-era leaders, who through their leadership will contribute to the betterment of humankind – on the African continent and globally. This resonates with the EFMD initiative to develop ‘globally responsible leadership’.
These new-era leaders will be characterised by a different ethos. It will be an ethos that transcends caring just ‘for my own and my own kind’ to caring for the whole. The mental models we will see in action will engage others to build, in a society, a set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that will encompass ways of living together, performing art and literature together, and espousing value systems and beliefs that care for others and the environment (UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted in 2001).
Such an ethos will inform our aims of how to deal with poverty reduction, child and mother mortality, the environmental sustainability of development, the empowerment of women, combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic, creation and sharing of wealth, etc. Such an ethos will define a national identity that will go a long way (it is not presented as a panacea) to attract business and FDI, and contribute to economic and social innovation. These new-era leaders will beam this clear ethos to their stakeholders through consistent messages, verbally and behaviourally.
An ethos driven by a need to care for the whole – self, others and the environment – finds it rather easy to flow over into sound governance practice by ensuring wide participation, insisting on transparency, being responsive to the needs of others and the environment, abiding by the Rule of Law, developing a culture of accountability, structuring for equity, seeking significant consensus, managing effectiveness and efficiency, and staying true to the strategic vision. This is governance which does not respect any sacred cows of policy, practice, procedure and assumption.
On Africa Day I do not celebrate a single recipe, I celebrate ethos as an excellent place to start to close the gap between what we have and what we truly can have: a continent where the incredible violence against women transforms into deep respect; malnourishment transforms into the peaceful laughter of children; jobless youth into productive youth contributing to the economic growth; communities living Ubuntu instead of throwing stones at each other; modelling humanness to a world gone slightly mad; political leaders ethically debating the ways to care for the continent, and smoothing the way for business to act with sustained initiative – everyone diligently focusing on the sustainable growth of the Tree of Life, Africa.
Transformation as a journey into the future demands leadership with a particular ethos and this leadership is a responsibility shared by all members of society.