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Africa's Remarkable Leadership

· Leadership

A crisis challenges leaders to move out of their leadership comfort zones and tap into their potential to engender trust, create great teams and communicate a vision. Pronouncements and accusations won’t make a leader better or more competent. Only actions matter. What makes leadership remarkable is the ability to make other-centered choices that, even in the face of life-threatening shortages and despite human and economic loss, will create the basic building blocks for recovery: collaboration, innovation, empowerment, and accountability.

African leaders are proving to be remarkable. While European leaders squabble and the European (dis)Union fails to build consensus, while the states in the (dis)United States go their own way in providing guidance and engage in cutthroat competition for medical supplies and drugs, while China clamps down on freedom of information and betrays Africa with xenophobic attacks on anyone who is black, the Africa Union has created the African Operational Coronavirus Task Force.

The task force is headed by Tidjane Thiam, a French-Ivorian banker who was the chief executive officer (CEO) of Swiss bank Credit Suisse, and includes Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of finance of Nigeria, Trevor Manuel, former minister of finance of South Africa, and Donal Kaberuka, former president of the African Development Bank.

The task force has been put in charge by the African Union to find a coordinated and continental solution to the coronavirus health crisis and to mobilize international support to help eradicate the pandemic and boost the recovery of African economies. Its members will be the interlocutors for international finance institutions, who are expected to provide support to Africa with a fully-articulated recovery plan for Africa, including differed debt repayment and corresponding interest.

It is important to note that the primary focus of the task force members is not to act as envoys to beg for money. It is to find a collaborative solution for the pandemic. This includes, but is not limited to, mobilizing (in the sense of engaging and committing) international finance institutions (IFIs) to provide constructive support to Africa, in keeping with their established mission: to support sustainable economic, social and institutional development and to promote regional cooperation and integration.

IFIs are not sources of direct or individual aid from national coffers or using taxpayer money. They were established (or chartered) by more than one country and are subjects of international law. This means that as interlocutors, the task members are what could be called “gate-keepers” for conversations financial aid for members of the African Union. International finance institutions will need to go through the task force, instead of pandering directly to individual African states or banks. What the African Union is requesting from international finance institutions is to cooperate and play from a team perspective, not as outliers or mercenary financiers.

So any news reports indirectly indicating or insinuating that Africa has created a group of envoys to go around begging for money are misleading and misinforming.

The African Task Force for Coronavirus is nothing less than a revolutionary initiative that translates remarkable leadership into concerted action. It will hopefully not fall prey to petty European or American or Chinese jealousies or predatory influence brokerage.

The future of Africa depends on the task force’s success. And its success will serve as a guiding light for all those leaders of the so-called developed world who are trapped in a leadership noteworthy for its indecisiveness, uncontrollable fear and judgmental attitudes.

What COVID-19 is making clear is how the unwillingness of the supposed world leaders to see their own failings and problems has created an extraordinary ability to indulge in self-deception and a false reality. Just like the roots of a tree, the strongest skills of a nation’s leadership are what will allow the nation to survive and grow. The stronger and deeper the authenticity of leadership is, the taller the national will stand after the crisis is over.

It’s time for all those leaders trapped in a box to get out of it by following Africa’s lead.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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