When in the month of March this year, my very good friend cited my name to the UTG Leadership Fellowship headed by a very dynamic young man by the name of Jimmy Henry Nzally, I jumped at the chance to talk a bit about leadership as I understand it. For me, the underlining question was whether African higher institutions of learning have been able to form leaders? For indeed, scholars are very good for society, don’t get me wrong. But they are hardly in possession of any meaningful leadership skills.

At least, that is my own opinion. One thing I knew for sure then, was that, this young guy was doing his bit by initiating the program in his own Alma Mata, UTG. I therefore jumped at the chance to assist in any way I could…

Much ink has been spilled over the ages about the strong association between education participation rates and levels of development.The concept of modernization embodies the whole gamut of transition as well as transformation that traditional societies must undergo in order to be considered as modern.Education which is cited as the linchpin for progress, must be backed bypolicies intended to raise standards of living,which consist mainly of disseminating knowledge and information.

Due to our history and contextual setting, the interpretation about the role of higher education in the African context is very peculiar. Following independence, universities were expected to be key contributors to the human resource needs of the countries in which they were situated. The year 1960 was heralded in many international circles as the ‘Year of Africa’ and the beginning of the so-called ‘development decade’.

In September 1962, UNESCO hosted a conference on the Development of Higher Education in Africa. A decade later, in July 1972, the Association of African Universities held a workshop in Accra which focused on ‘the role of the university in development’ (Yesufu 1973). The importance of the universityin newly-independent African countries was underscored by the now-famous ‘Accra Declaration’ that all universities must be ‘development universities’ (ibid.)…

Jimmy actually sent me an email detailing and directing the speech I was supposed to give. In fact, I was stunned by the depth of the topic at hand. “Institutionalizing Leadership Training In The Education System Is The Key To Unlocking Potentials For Africa.” I knew I needed to do a thorough research, because afterall, these were university students I was going to speak to, I did not have to be mediocre in the least bit. Yet it was one of great highs for me when I finally made it through the program. I was able to learn a lot in the course of my research, which I want to share with my readers today.


To begin with, we start with the definition of leadership. Leadership according to one definition is the art of getting people to do things they would not otherwise do, or to strive and achieve more than they otherwise might.In fact, from the very definition, we begin to realize that to groom someone to be a manager is much more easily done than to groom someone to be a leader. Why?

Because leadership from the very definition, is an arduous task to fulfill. Management which is defined variously to mean the practice of coordinating and directing purposive human activity is more an art than a technical skill, which leadership is not.

But leadership is all around us. Let’ssay students of UTG were to organize a picnic at the beachside. Indeed it involves some level of  management to ensure that that the catering is done and the food packed accordingly, including that the route to take and the respective pick-up points of the students along the route is made known. It involves also an element of command in order that the bus driver knows when to show up, at which times for the various pick-up points and which route to follow.

It equally involves a small, or perhaps not so small, amount of leadership as well to ensure that the very athletic students as well as the ratherindolent ones alike have a fun time at the picnic. This of course requires ingenuous thinking. First, the athletic ones are not to be worried about, they can find easy means of amusement by racing around the beaches, playing ball etc. The indolent ones perchance would dig music vibesor engage each other in monopoly, card games, chess or dambia etc. Thus, both parties would equally enjoy.Now, this is what leadership entails.

Parenting and teaching also require leadership.

In the course of my research, the primers on leadership highlight one central fact: One learns ways of conduct, including leadership skills, more by observation and emulation than study. Generations of leaders in many fields model the behaviors of those who precede them.

With parenting perhaps, it is even more apparent. We all know, I mean those of us who are parents, know that the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mantra does not carry any trickle of weight with regards our children. This buttresses the long held belief in the transfer of knowledge and leadership by doing rather than by saying. I believe children are born knowing this. The child with regards parenting is more likely to imitate ones actions and words than follow through ones counsel and/or instructions.

My three-year old daughter would turn a deaf ear to all my directives, plus invectives-I guiltily admit; or give me one excuse after the other as to why she is not doing as I instructed; but would quickly copy my actions when I sit at my dressing table and begin to apply my own make-up. The other night, because I always tie my head before I go to bed, I saw this little girl carefully wrap her head with my smaller scarf before jumping into her bed. This is one classic case of children learning my doing.In effect, the Wolof proverb says it best: “Dom bu gegain jaarngaaneh wut, ndeyam mai serignham”. I.e. The girl child has no role model, her mother is her marabout…

But teaching too needs leadership skills/techniques in order to motivate students to learn and understand what they are being taught. Too many times have I heard a teacher’s method of teaching impacting the lives of his/her students.I know of people who love a certain subject just because the teacherwho taught it, taught it so well, and was so encouraging that the student ultimately loved and performed very well in that subject. The reverse is also true for teachers who are just so plain boring and detached that even the best subject leaves a sour taste in the mouths of brilliant students not to mention the lazy ones among the students.

Thus the list goes on… for leadership is required in every skill, footballers, entrepreneurs, vendors etc. etc. all need leadership skills to excel.

Yet leadership is a practical, not theoretical, art. There are, therefore, limits as to how much of it can be imparted in a classroom. It is more a matter of self- study than of formal instruction; At the Nautical College in Ghana, where I was trained as a cadet, the rule was clear cut: Obey before you complain. The classroom work was clearly distinct from the cadetship training in the parade grounds. In class, the lecturers who were mainly Master Mariners and seafarers were influential in themselves. They taught with authority and mastery of their skill, which was both very motivating and compelling in its outcome. Before we finished the first semester, every cadet at the Nautical Department wanted to be a Master Mariner in his/her own right.

With respect to the cadetship training proper, the frequent “Fall-ins” annoying as they seemed then, were merely intended to train our minds to the voracious sea job, where come tempest, come tropical cyclone, which we dubbed TRS, the ship had to sail. The training was practice for muster calls and emergency drills that could compare to none else. But the “Fall-ins” were not just a methodical call to test alertness, subsequent “fall-ins” were to muster cadets for parade drills as well as physical fitness workouts. The test of strength, and stamina and of course the ability to follow through orders without raising a finger, were the most compelling preparation, leadership training encompasses.

Subsequently, when I went on ships and saw the Captain treated as some kind of demigod, where he word was final, and his instructions beyond challenge, I thank God for the training I have had. Because really, without it, I would not have been able to cope with obeying and keeping my mouth shut at that!Only training can lead that skill really!

Yet the parade drills were the most impacting ones of all. Once Chief Kudjoe taught us how to march properly; how to quick march, slow March, about-face-turn,march in quick procession, in single file and so forth. And once we caught up on the basics, there was nothing more liberating. Then came the command aspect- the ability to give and receive direct orders. In that aspect, a few good ones were selected to be trained asensigns, to join the flag party and to raise and lower the flags at sun-rise and sun-set respectively. I was part of the flag party and I killed the procedure. I simply loved to give orders. That’s what.

So back to leadership and what was taught. Succinctly, we were being taught leadership beyond any conceivable notion. With taught-leadership, the command and obey go hand in glove, providing unique opportunities to garner modest doses of theory reinforced by massive quantities of carefully contrived practice and coaching. I recommend everyone to undergo cadetship training. It is really so rewarding.

Then, the question becomes, should one teach oneself leadership?

In this context, it is good to know that leadership is not simply “a good thing.” Indeed, the more widely one reads about it, the more striking it is just how dark a thing it can be. To begin with, leadership is morally neutral: Using the definition offered above, i.e. that leadership is the art of getting people to do things they would not otherwise do, or to strive and achieve more than they otherwise might; Napoleon and even Hitler were great leaders. It thus behooves us to know that one can exercise remarkable leadership for purposes that are evil.

In fact, Henry Adams, who was a great historian and observer of public men concluded in one of the more dismal passages of his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, “The effect of power and publicity on all men is the aggravation of self, a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies; a diseased appetite, like a passion for drink or perverted tastes; one can scarcely use expressions too strong to describe the violence of egotism it stimulates.”

I don’t ascribe to this opinion in its entirety, but who am I to contradict Henry Adams?


About Author:

Rohey Samba is a Gambian writer and publisher of three anthologies of poems namely, Mother Gambia…Beats, Behind My Back and Heart Songs.