African leaders must learn from Chissano

Julius Nyerere would have stood a great chance of winning the inaugural African leadership prize had it been around in the 1980s.

With his voluntary resignation as president over his admitted failure to implement his policies, the Tanzanian leader set a precedent in African politics.

Sadly, it has not been as avidly emulated by other leaders as most Africans would have expected.

Most leaders want to hang on until they die in the saddle, either after Father Time says, "enough is enough" or their own people make that same declaration at the ballot box or through the barrel of a you-know-what.

Mwalimu would have applauded Mozambique's Joachim Chissano. At only 58, he has blazed a trail of sorts. Future winners will most likely have to be in that age group to maintain the respectability of the R35million prize that was instituted by Sudanese tycoon Mo Ibrahim. The businessman made his money in cellphones, not politics.

Chissano won for bringing so much radical change to his country that only the most implacable and inflexible enemies of African politics would refuse to acknowledge his genius of tolerance.

After the death of Mozambique's leftist first president, Samora Machel in 1986, Chissano virtually abandoned Frelimo's Marxist thrust and brought prosperity through a judicious blend of political compromise with the rebel Renamo and the open tolerance of free enterprise.

After Machel's death, many pan-Africanists had hoped that their idol, Marcellino dos Santos, the poet and intellectual, would take over. But Frelimo, probably impressed by Machel's peasant savvy of giving priority to development from the bottom, picked his protege Chissano instead.

Chissano impressed the world when he stepped down, with little fuss, as soon as he completed his second term as president.

Before being announced as the winner, Chissano said he would probably use the money to improve his family's standard of living. The man's honesty must have disarmed many.

Chissano was never your frightening portrait of the typical African political dilettante: A silver tongue, the gift of the gab and, inside, a ruthless disregard for ordinary people's expectations of their leaders.

Chissano was honest and entirely unassuming.

Yet his choice must set the pace. He is young and is not frightened of radical shifts in policy.

If we had more such leaders in Zimbabwe who were willing to risk change at a crucial time in political and economic development, we would probably be aeons away from the fog which engulfs us as we stagger blindly through a thick haze. A haze created by a leadership burdened with age and the inability to appreciate how change can often rejuvenate even the most aged spirits.

African leadership since 1957 seems to have been jinxed by Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah's plight. There is no chance of posterity ever understating his sterling role as a trail blazer. Yet how he tackled adversity as his country's independence seemed to stumble, set its own precedent.

Nkrumah's preference for a solution anchored on the one-party system has been questioned by many people. Even those who appreciate that his enemies were ruthless with anyone who stood against them in their avowed struggle against communism.

Nkrumah was never himself accused of being a Marxist, although his friend, Sekou Toure, certainly inclined towards that ideology.

Unfortunately for the continent, subsequent African leaders experimented with the one-party system, until Nyerere, decided the experiment was fraught with self-destruction.