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Brian? Never heard of him

By Carol Butcher – 

A cheeky headline in the Sunday Times “Brian? Never heard of him” got me thinking. (The article was about Brian Molefe’s deployment as an ANC MP).

When I think of leaders, two things spring to mind: leaders need to have followers; and in my books, leaders also need to make a positive difference.

Ahead of the Presidents’ Day weekend in the US, C-SPAN television surveyed historians to establish who they regarded as the top three presidents in US History. There weren’t any surprises – Lincoln, Washington and Franklin D Roosevelt were in the top three.

Lincoln preserved the union during the civil war: he also ended slavery in the US; Washington served as the first President of the US and was the most important of the founding fathers; Roosevelt restored Americans faith and belief in themselves during the great depression. FDR was a very popular leader – he died in a matter of weeks after entering his fourth term of office.

None of the historians included any US President post-1945.

I turned my focus to Africa. Who are the great leaders in Africa? I came across an interesting article entitled: “100 Greatest Africans of all time,” by Baffour Ankomah. “New African,” asked its readers continental, and Diasporan, from all walks of life to nominate their top 100 great Africans of all time.

In first place, no surprise here, Nelson Mandela. In second place, Kwame Nkrumah, former president of Ghana. In third place, Robert Mugabe President of Zimbabwe.

All three met the criteria, must have followers. The waters became a little murkier, when I looked at making a positive difference, particularly when it comes to Zimbabwe. Some may applaud Mugabe achievements early in his career; they may not necessarily do so in later years.

Also in the rankings, Thabo Mbeki (8th), Winnie Mandela (12th), FW de Klerk (50th), Walter Sisulu (57th), Desmond Tutu (99th), and Helen Suzman (100th).

Interestingly enough, when it comes to South Africans, Mbeki, who left office in 2008, was the last South African leader on the “New African list.”

When we look for great leaders, it is not only politicians, who can make a positive difference. There are always rich pickings among ordinary people. I was inspired by an article on the how.africa.com website entitled: “From Teenage Headmaster to Building the ‘Harvard of Africa: The Inspiring Story of Fred Swaniker.”

After his father passed away, Swaniker’s mother, a school teacher, decided to start a school in a room in a church, in Botswana. She appointed her teenage son, headmaster. After five years, the school was the best in the country.

Swaniker, a Stanford Business School Graduate is committed to empowering young people in Africa, through education. He is the founder of the African Leadership Academy, a residential school for 16-19 year olds in Johannesburg. (ALA is on our editorial plan to feature, later this year).

Swaniker has since established the African Leadership University in Mauritius, which now also boasts a campus in Rwanda. He hopes to open 25 campuses around Africa by 2060.

Swaniker has really made Africa proud. President Obama selected him as one of 115 young leaders to attend a President’s Forum for Young African leaders at the White House in 2010. He has also been recognised as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and was listed by Forbes magazine as the top ten young power men in Africa in 2011.

If you want to be inspired about how you too can make a difference in Africa, listen to Swaniker speak on TED talk.

If the “New African,” surveyed its readers again, and asked them to nominate the top 100 great Africans of all time,” I would confidently put my money on the fact that no-one will say: “Fred? Never heard of him.”

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Carol has nineteen years’ experience as a professional writer, editor and case study writer. Her writing experience includes a stint as the resident Case Study Writer at the Wits Business School.


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