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A NEW NARRATIVE: THE RISE OF AFRICAN LEADERSHIP

Sarah J. Owusu [Ghana and Denmark, lives in Mozambique] is an award-winning Organisation Development practitioner, innovation consultant and coach with a focus on facilitating conversations for transformation. She is co-founder of We Will Lead Africa (www.wewillleadafrica.com) that collects, curates and shares stories of everyday African leadership. 

If one thing has become piercingly obvious as a result of the global pandemic, it is that everything and everyone is deeply interconnected. Whether we are talking about the invisible spread of the virus across borders and other imaginary boundaries, the potential domino effect when one link of a supply chain is unable to survive, or the contribution of the healthcare system to our entire social fabric, it is clear: we are part of (not separate from) a complex system. This is not a new realization, but never before has it so directly impacted so many people, in a way that is impossible to ignore. I believe that this reminder of interconnectivity points towards changes in the way we will lead; towards more connectedness, less individualism. It means the days of the Lone Ranger or Superhero leader are numbered, and the space for collective leadership opening up. It is in this space that Africa has a lot to share with the world.


For my co-founders and I at We Will Lead Africa, collective leadership means a leadership that is relational, human, empathetic. Grounded in dialogue and story-telling, it is deeply respectful of the unifying web that we all form part of. Across African countries and cultures, we see different expression of this we-ness. One example is the term Ubuntu, usually translated to mean “I am because we are”, that has become familiar globally.


Historically, African leadership has been portrayed as broken, corrupt, ineffective or even non-existent. Now we are seeing the decisive action of many African governments in the face of this pandemic paying off, and the World Health Organisation recognizing these efforts. A new narrative around Africa and African leadership is emerging. The hierarchical leadership model has been flipped on its head and replaced with something more inclusive and distributed. Across the continent, many locally-led and locally-relevant innovations are emerging, bottom up. Everyday Africans doing extraordinary things, together, demonstrating solutions to challenges are found through activating collective intelligence and collaboration. It is these stories that we collect, curate and amplify through the We Will Lead Africa platform. It is our contribution to shifting narratives and uplifting African leadership principles.


Despite the immensity of the current challenges still to overcome, one of the positive disruptions of this moment will be a return to the principles of what it means to lead as an African and that enable us to respond meaningfully to complexity. It is time for us to share this way of being with the world.