America’s first African President

“He speaks, and his people sit up at attention,” said Donald Trump of North Korean despot Kim Jong Un in an interview with Fox News, “I want my people to do the same.” These are musings of a dictator and Donald is surely showing signs and symptoms of despotism.

“Donald is America’s first African president”, a statement coined by The Daily Show’s presenter, Trevor Noah.  Noah likened Trump to African dictators, Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe. I pondered the assertion made by Trevor and it dawned on me that he was right. Using different metrics to compare Donald Trump’s leadership style to most African leaders, Noah and I have come to the same conclusion.

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate, mainly fueled by technological advancements thus it is important for leaders to keep abreast of these developments. The acceleration of technological advancement and its subsequent diffusion has brought about many complexities and disruptions to society’s way of life in an unimaginable manner.

This has led to a global proliferation of transactional leaders who are inclined to take protectionist views that are based on retrogressive industrial-era philosophies. In other words, we have seen a rise in African leaders across the world and Donald J. Trump is the poster-boy of this revolution. He has managed in his short stint as the US president to sell the African brand of political leadership to the world with exceptional vigour.

My declaration in this essay is: “African leaders are transactional leaders”.

I know you are already questioning my integrity accusing me of treating Africa as a monolithic territory. As a mathematically trained individual, I concur that a blanket statement about African leaders is different from the truth and I deserve to stand accused of the fallacy of hasty generalization. Even my mathematics professor would not be proud of me for forgetting that if a counter-example or contradiction exists then the statement is not a theorem, it is definitely not gospel.

For clarity and consistency, I will argue my point using the law of averages. An arithmetic average is resultant from dividing the sum total by the number of entities. In this context, the quotient takes in all entities in the leadership spectrum from the most transactional leader to the most transformational one. So let me rephrase my declaration for your appeasement. “On average, African leaders are transactional”. For brevity, I will focus on political leaders and not business leaders but these principles apply across the board.

For the purpose of my argument, Donald Trump is the SI unit for transactional leadership. Every other leader will be measured in “trumps”. The “Trump Scale” spans from zero to one. If a leader has zero trumps then that leader is purely transformational and a score of one trump implies pure transactional leadership, for example, one could say Paul Kagame is 0.8 trumps and Nelson Mandela is 0.01 trumps.

Leadership style is not necessarily a function of the country of origin, ethnicity, gender or any other attributes pervasively used to classify human beings, but is dependent on the philosophical underpinnings of one’s education. Education is the knowledge that one has acquired and is not restricted to formal education.

What is a transactional leader? According to Wikipedia, transactional leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on supervision, organization, and performance.  Leaders promote compliance by followers through both rewards and punishments.

The transactional leader’s view of the leader-follower relationship is one of quid pro quo. If the follower does something good, they will be rewarded. If the follower does something wrong, they will be punished. This style of leadership is dominant in both the private and public sectors. Examples of transactional leadership include cronyism in the form of deployment of allies into key positions.  The main argument for transactional leadership has always been given as meritocracy, but no universal standard unit of measuring meritocracy exists, it is highly subjective thus prone to manipulation.

So why would I say that Donald Trump is a transactional leader?  Trump’s business and political careers serve as standards for reward-punishment leadership style. From the way he attacks opponents and unconditionally praises those who agree with him, his leadership style is distinctly transactional.  If an official disagrees with Trump, then that official has failed and will be punished accordingly. As an example, Rex Tillerson was fired for holding a different view on the Iran deal.

Transactional leaders tend to be managerial in nature focusing on the “how”, as opposed to the big picture philosophy and vision that drives an entity within a complex ecosystem. These leaders are mostly tacticians who use their intellect and abilities for process refinement and short-term goals. Most of the reforms undertaken by Trump have been process-related and do not inspire further discourse about the past, present and future. Some would argue that his transactional nature is inspiring people to really think about how we got here and what the future holds. I can bet my last dollar that he is not intentionally using reverse psychology as some would like to believe.

Take, for instance, Donald Trump in his obsession with US trade imbalances with the rest of world is forgetting that globalization is fact, technological advancements have led to a more fluid exchange of value regardless of geographical location. He is concerned about how to get short-term wins and look good on the ratings at the expense of the bigger picture. His trade deal interventions are underhand and bully-inspired tactics that lack a holistic view of the global village.

The denialism of climate change as a hoax is an attempt by Trump and like-minded people to optimize on dirty fuel profits in the interim whilst totally disregarding scientific evidence of global warming. All in the name of expediency, self-aggrandizement and short-term successes.

 

Taking into consideration that most African political leaders were child soldiers who were conscripted into liberation struggles across the continent, it is clear that the transactional leadership style is what they know best and have gone to lengths to protect the status quo.

The hierarchical nature of armed forces coupled with patriarchy and other cultural burdens has led to the emergence of “big men” in African politics and business. This phenomenon has infiltrated every facet of society and stifling the continent’s growth and prosperity.

In the army, the leaders monitor subordinates carefully to enforce rules, reward success, and punish failure. They do not, however, act as catalysts for growth and change within the organization. Instead, they are focused on maintaining things as they are and enforcing current rules and expectations.

No one would argue that there is nothing wrong with this type of leadership, in fact, the efficiency of the army as exemplified by fluid drills and discipline is needed to overcome challenges faced by African countries. The question is, who has changed the course of history? Was it the drill sergeant or the non-conformist thinkers and tinkerers who dared to be creative within and without their trades?

If African leaders are transactional then the performance of inherited economies from the colonial past should be high. Why is it that implementation is Africa’s biggest nemesis? I would like to point out that the narrative that implementation is poor in Africa is false.

On average African leaders who emerged from the liberation struggle are driven by the quest to consolidate power. Accumulation of state power is the sole objective, and these leaders do it well. In tandem with their objective, their performance is very high at the expense of holistic progress. This is akin to Donald Trump taking his personal hate for Barack Obama too far, at the expense of the American public who were benefiting from Obamacare. Trump’s sole objective is to crash whatever Obama came up with.

In Nigeria, for example, the politics revolves around a “godfather” who sits at the top of the pyramid and feeds off a patronage network that cuts across the entire fabric of society. The consolidation of power in Africa has led to a spoils-oriented form of reward system which manifests, mostly in the form of cronyism and nepotism. The beneficiaries of the self-centered system know fully well that they have to play their part in the mobilization of the masses to keep the incumbents in power thereby ensuring that they continue to benefit. Some eminent thinkers have called this, “the politics of the stomach”.

So it can be seen that African leaders are ruthlessly efficient in executing their objective unfortunately at the expense of the ordinary citizens. To achieve success, African leaders can channel that efficiency into worthwhile projects that grow their economies. They should do away with bubblegum populist policies to appease their supporter base. Donald Trump is doing his best to make the white supremacists and billionaire friends happy given that they got him in power. This is at the expense of the environment, scientific research and global cohesion.

As mentioned before, one of the biggest hurdles that Africa has to jump is the highly patriarchal culture. This practice is a worldwide problem but rife in the mother continent. Research has shown that productivity increases where diversity exists and gender diversity is a low hanging fruit for success. A study conducted by Northwestern University with respect to transactional, transformational, and laissez-fair leadership styles revealed that women are more likely to use transformational methods than male leaders. This means most women were more interested in working with people holistically, not just making deals.

The study also found that when female leaders used the transactional style, they were more likely to focus on the rewards component. On the other hand, when men utilized the transactional style, they were more likely to focus on the punishment aspects.

If you take a closer look at the current politics of Africa, you will see that there is a rise in transactional leaders in the form of dealmakers. They do not necessarily inspire growth in the people but are good at signing deals with foreign powers like China, Russia and the US.

The emergence of the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa and Emerson Mnangagwa is an example of leaders who are not Mandela-like but businessmen who focus on operational efficiency, deal-making and bean-counting. Trump still remains the S.I. unit though.

Some analysts have likened the deals being struck by African leaders with China as the re-colonization of the continent. China realized the transactional nature of African leaders and is exploiting it. Their model is different from the aid-based one used the West. China is choking Africans with debt to build infrastructure, of which Chinese companies come to the continent with their own labour at the expense of local employment creation. Once the project is complete, China keeps the intellectual property and little to no technology and skills transfer takes place. African countries will now suffer from high unemployment, debt to China and continual maintenance and support fees for the infrastructure.

Meanwhile, African leaders would have scored their ephemeral goals which are typical of transactional leaders. Research also shows that publicity makes transactional leaders “tick.” Most of them appear in the press all the time announcing big deals and making it all about them. They are constantly meeting new people, making deals (completing transactions), and moving on. No one can beat Donald Trump on this one.

In conclusion, there is no-one who is purely transformational or transactional but the leadership style is dictated upon by the situation. Transactional leadership was necessary soon after independence whereby African political activists suddenly found themselves in power and had to make things work. Before the perverse technological penetration, the level of complexity was low thus predominantly transactional leadership was acceptable, things were simple, countries were divided by national borders and governing them was almost straightforward.

Now fast forward to 2018 and then you realize that complexity has increased exponentially, the internet has blurred national boundaries, crime is now virtual and the same rules cannot be enforced, thus transactional style of leadership is found wanting. The populace now has to unlimited amounts of information and cannot simply accept things as they are, this calls for ethical and transformational leaders who will rally the citizens to be the best they can be in their individual and collective capacities.

Like Jack Ma said, Africa, has nothing to lose, literally. Africa is raw and not subject to legacy infrastructure constraints that are hampering progress in the developed world. Africa can leapfrog the previous revolutions and set the standards for creativity, innovation and problem solving for the rest of the world to follow. The problems in Africa require visionary leaders who will not simply sign deals for expediency but ponder on the consequences and make sustainable decisions that will unite the continent and the world at large. The SDGs provide a near-perfect and well thought out framework to achieve success.

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