AFCON 2024: The nexus of leadership, opportunity and excellence in Africa

Alhaji U. N’jai: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 28 January 2024:

The African Nations Cup #AFCON2024 tournament in Cote D’Ivoire is already billed as one of the best ever, and it’s just in the round of 16 with more matches to play. The storylines from #AFCON2024 have been diverse; Cinderella stories, fall of the mighty, unexpected comebacks, dismissal of coaches, and many others.

What is untold from AFCON2024 is the story of excellence, opportunity and motivation driven by deliberate and intentional transformational leadership. The adage we are what we repeatedly do, excellence then becomes a habit rather than act holds true for many of the countries in the AFCON tournament.

Excellence breeds excellence that trickles down to all levels and disciplines of any given society. Mediocrity has the opposite effect in a given society yielding retrogression, despair and failed states. Senegal epitomises excellence breeds excellence that trickles down across all sectors of society. Senegalese excellence transcends the game of football into science, medicine, arts and culture, and governance. Senegal has the highest number of Veterinarians in the continent and one of few countries with GMP facility for vaccine production in the continent.

Cabo Verde, a small tiny resource constrained island in West Africa has displayed what opportunity, motivation, excellence along deliberate and intentional transformational leadership can produce in any given society. Cabo Verde’s excellence also goes beyond football to its universities, science, music, innovation and democratic progress.

The Cabo Verde excellence is matched by a Cabo Verde spirit that embodies the Amilcar Cabrals ideals and cultural philosophy. Cabo Verde, Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau were football underdogs to Sierra Leone in Zone 2 (Amilcar Cabral) tournaments in the 80’s . Why have they progressed so much in the last 30 years than Sierra Leone? What happened to Sierra Leonean excellence in the last 30 years?

Let us examine the case of Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau and Equitorial Guinea for some answers and parallels. Gambia, up until recent years relied on Sierra Leone for its university education. A small tiny country, resource constrained with only peanut and tourism as it major economic goods. Gambia’s journey of excellence has started from an unlikely source President Yayah Jammeh, and can now boast of a top notch university, researchers and excellence.

Mauritania and Guinea Bissau have also overcome deep structural and political challenges through leadership and governance to produce excellence, opportunity and motivation. Guinea Bissau, once dubbed a narco state has made huge strides in its political economy, while Mauritania has overcome environmental strife (drought and desert conditions), Islamic militancy, political violence to create opportunity and excellence through good leadership.

Let us take the case of Equatorial Guinea, a country with tremendous oil wealth that wasn’t realized by the average Equatorial Guinean. That in the past led many Equatorial Guineans to seek odd jobs in countries like Gabon and Spain. Deep structural changes and reforms in Equatorial Guinea is now producing a lot of opportunities and motivation for Equatorial Guineans. Hence, many are now choosing to return to Equatorial Guinea, which invariably deepens competition locally, that produces excellence.

As in Senegal, Mali and Guinea represents two countries with deep historical legacies of excellence that was not sustained. Sekou Toure of Guinea and Modibo Keita of Mali, two of the founding fathers of African Panafricanism built a sense of patriotism, cultural empowerment, self reliance and authenticity among their people.

Remember out of Sekou Toure’s authenticity in Guinea produced Bembeya Jazz, one of the best bands, if not the best band that has grazed our planet. Guinea and Mali are yet to live up to their full potential as great nations; their path towards regaining excellence has been hampered by leadership deficits, that Mamadu Doumbuya (Guinea) and Assimi Goita (Mali) are looking to correct with strong sense of Panafricanism.

Angola, Namibia, South Africa represent the southern axis of excellence, while Morocco and Egypt are the Maghreb countries with well developed technical excellence. Namibia and South Africa, known for cricket and rugby are beginning to catch up with the rest of the continent. These countries in the south and north have well developed infrastructure and opportunities that could see them go further in football.

So in essence, what #AFCON2024 exemplifies is that tranformational leadersip provides the opportunity and environment for excellence to thrive in society. What Senegal, Cabo Verde and others are showing is that excellence has to be holistic and integrated across sectors for their to synergy. When there is a culture of excellence in a society, everyone feels it, breathes it, and are motivated towards greater heights by it, leading to social advancement. When mediocrity is normalized in a society, it breeds division, false sense of success, chaos, despair, advances structural violence, which ultimately results in state failure.
About the author

Alhaji Umar N’jai is a Senior Scientist, Associate Professor, Panafrican Scholar, Founder & Chief Strategist of Project 1808, Inc., and Freelance writer ‘Roaming in the Mountains of Kabala Republic’.

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