I often think that today’s society has fundamentally lost something so enriching and spirited; something most people take for granted nowadays; something that’s central and pertinent to the essence of our collective existence; a very dangerous trend and an “overriding neglect” that continues to encourage the degeneracy of our shared values.
Worse still, in Africa, there's so much "dissonance" occasioned by its multifarious problems and overtly reactive tendencies widespread across the continent. It is largely a case of human disconnection: from malicious governments to dysfunctional social systems; from failed economies to widening gaps of inequality; from internal violent conflicts to endemic terrorism, the list is endless. Although not unique to Africa alone, society today is full of broken humanity. And sometimes, it feels as though society is sitting on the brink of something looming and very disturbing – overwhelmed and stretched almost to a breaking point; the lingering and perhaps, piercing inkling that everything could precipitously blow up in our faces like a ticking time-bomb.
Across the continent today - in both robust and fragile states, the art of human interaction and sense of community has been lost, with psychologically unhealthy populations and little or no value for "human life." Social exclusion is at an unprecedented level, and the hugely recurring catchword is "Every man to his own tent." In Nigeria, it is called "OYO" - meaning "On Your Own." Cultivating cohesion is ever hardly the case. Should society be this way?
I think that sometimes, we have to “slow down” life’s busy-ness. As important as it is, speed is really not synonymous with success or super-productivity. “The race is not to the swift”, the bible says. The fastest runners don’t always win. Thus, the imperative to make time to ponder on the path that we tread on is enormously important and even more, now when most people are overwhelmed emotionally and cognitively as a result of the endless litany of societal crisis. Going forward, we must make time for more reflective thinking and positive meditations. Otherwise, we will hardly connect with what matters and may not duly realise that we have spent our entire lives running a race we shouldn’t have or living a life that could have been richer in value and character. How important this is to sustained productivity, result-oriented leadership, superlative growth, personal fulfilment and of course, the wholeness of society.
Man was made for “relevant and healthy connections.” By implication, the human relationships we have today must become more enthused with a kindred spirit that shows that we are alike - regardless of our differences, ethnicity, race, social status, or religion, you name it. We can and must become kind-er and warm-er to those who live around us or those who we work with regardless. We must become more forgiving and helpful toward others; that will make all the difference in the world.
Let's remember that no society is monolithic. Society is dynamic and that’s largely due to the hustle and bustle of everyday people and a world driven by upscale civilisation and technological dominance. But there’s more. I think that we need to begin to see society as a whole, as one, as essentially about people and nurturing relationships, and as one system where we are indebted to steward its resources (both human and natural) accordingly. It’s against this backdrop that I think that we have the ability to make society what it ought to be and can be – a place of serenity where "every joint supplies" to the point that it becomes highly unconducive for anti-social behaviours to thrive. This too applies to how organisations, government agencies and countries across Africa are organised and governed.
We have to bring back the “human” factor to the scheme of things – a situation where people are treated with the utmost dignity a human being deserves; a condition where people are trained, genuinely valued, purposefully developed and empowered to do better not just for themselves but for society at large.
So, in a moment, try to imagine a New Africa where shared value is driven by purpose; a continent brimming with possibilities on grounds of committed, people-centred, predictable, virile and proficient leadership across every strata of society; a continent where we all passionately reach out to show a little kindness and lift the downtrodden as opposed to being insensitive, oppressive and fighting ourselves; a flourishing Africa where compassion is at the very centre of its unfolding development. Brothers and sisters, it would be a very different and cohesive Africa, I tell you.
I believe that we can begin to regain the lost art of building cohesion while embracing the fact that society is nothing without a high degree of humaneness and civility. While each and every one of us may have value-adding pursuits that we follow after, it's vital to remember that the melting pot of collectivism is what holds society together. Our ego therefore, should never be the centre of our importance but our effective contribution - first to our respective countries and to the entire African continent.
This is the reason why our “relevant” connection to one another – whether as a family, as a society, as an organisation, as a country and as a continent is crucial to society’s survival and continued well-being. When times are difficult, we must have a society that pulls together and stays together regardless; a society where leadership naturally wields out the needed influence that causes people across divides to come together.
One thing I have learnt serving in the last 20+ years as an astute leader, professional and ardent volunteer in various capacities - in profit and non-profit organisations is that profound leaders often do not or may not necessarily occupy positions of obvious power in a corporate setting. Many times, they are not the flag wavers as Peter Senge rightly puts it, "campaigning vocally for change but rather they are passionate individuals working to transform society from the bottom up. They are often open-minded pragmatists, a people who care very deeply about the future but who are suspicious of quick fixes, and superficial answers to multifaceted problems."
It's against this backdrop that I would like to propose that those who have been blessed with vast riches and privileges consider giving back significantly to society in a way that's constructive, helpful and uplifting to society at large. It goes far beyond the mere giving away of monies. It's about making society better (in quality) than we found it beyond just making profit. It's about inspiring the next generation of young people with novel ideas for a transformative future; it's about exploring and engaging meaningful ways to empower African women, and children (especially the girl child) with quality education; it's about investing precious time and invaluable knowledge in tomorrow's leadership. More importantly, it's about leading and promoting a culture of identifying needs, adopting long-standing problems on the continent, and propounding innovative solutions to these problems.
To this end, I say to the "rich" and "elites" across the African continent, "to whom much is given, much is expected." Leadership demands action, not just talk. And yes, it's time for the 1% who holds the 99% of Africa's wealth to give back to the 99% of society who hold the meagre 1% left - following a structured, disciplined and sustainable approach. When this becomes the case in Africa, society in its entirety will inherently begin to heal and grow into a more cohesive state while credibility in leadership soars. This kind of giving back illustrates exactly what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing in Africa and in most parts of the world, making significant differences in the lives of children and adults. This is what I call Transformational Philanthropy.
That said, no one needs a bank full of money to make a difference. All that's needed is a "responsive eye" and a "responsive heart" that can discern, identify and do ALL that's necessary (within the ambit of civility and transformational impact) to meeting the needs around us - starting from where we are or where we live and work (within the capacity that we have been blessed with). That's all it takes...and from then on, capacity only grow as we continue to exercise the initiative to respond NOT by just talking about the "problems" we have on the continent but by rolling our sleeves and getting to work to solve the aching problems. This involves dogged determination and a very high dosage of hard work.
What can one person do? There’s no doubt that there are yawning gaps in education, research and development, healthcare, governance, capacity development, regional trade integration, job creation, infrastructural development, and many more problem areas that affect communal living. Empirical evidence widely suggests that these problem areas present huge deficits that urgently require a truly caring and intelligent leadership response combined with self-reinforcing solutions that can deliver upon the scale of changes needed. But the question is, “Can any hear the resounding call for compassionate leadership?" It reminds me of what one person is capable of doing. It’s against this backdrop that super-achievers like Tony Elumelu (following his Africapitalism philosophy), Fred Swaniker of the African Leadership Group, Graça Machel of Graça Machel Trust, Rev. Chris Oyakhilome of Believers' Loveworld Inc., and many more I fail to mention are making a really big difference across the continent.
Of course, African governments must lead the way in this endeavour. But "leadership" doesn't and cannot rest alone on the political class. Absolutely not! We must all accept responsibility for society’s well-being and actual development. The idea that leadership can only come from people in positions of power out-rightly misses the point of this discourse. At the levels of business, civil society, academia and others, a new kind of leadership that's clearly people-centred, values-aligned and devoid of debauchery is what we need - one that will not lead to the hibernation of society. To be continued in the next edition.
May God bless the African people and their well-being. May God bless the transformative future of our continent!
Christian Aligba is the Founder & President of C.A.L.F Africa, a non-profit organisation that's keenly focused on developing and recognising the next generation of African leaders - helping to create a new narrative, a new normal, a new beginning: Better Leaders, Better Societies across Africa. Learn more@ www.calfafrica.org.
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