Before he hit eighteen, Fred Swaniker had lived in Ghana, Gambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. What he learned from a childhood across Africa was that while good leaders can’t make much of a difference in societies with strong institutions, in countries with weak structures, leaders could make or break a country. In a passionate talk the entrepreneur and TED Fellow looks at different generations of African leaders and imagines how to develop the leadership of the future.

Now, all these experiences of living in different parts of Africa growing up did two things to me. The first is it made me fall in love with Africa. Everywhere I went, I experienced the wonderful beauty of our continent and saw the resilience and the spirit of our people, and at the time, I realized that I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to making this continent great. But I also realized that making Africa great would require addressing this issue of leadership. You see, all these countries I lived in, the coups d’état and the corruption I’d seen in Ghana and Gambia and in Zimbabwe, contrasted with the wonderful examples I had seen in Botswana and in South Africa of good leadership. It made me realize that Africa would rise or fall because of the quality of our leaders.

The good news is that the quality of leadership in Africa has been improving. We’ve had three generations of leaders, in my mind. Generation one are those who appeared in the ’50s and ’60s. These are people like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. The legacy they left is that they brought independence to Africa. They freed us from colonialism, and let’s give them credit for that. They were followed by generation two. These are people that brought nothing but havoc to Africa. Think warfare, corruption, human rights abuses. This is the stereotype of the typical African leader that we typically think of: Mobutu Sese Seko from Zaire, Sani Abacha from Nigeria. The good news is that most of these leaders have moved on, and they were replaced by generation three. These are people like the late Nelson Mandela and most of the leaders that we see in Africa today, like Paul Kagame and so forth. Now these leaders are by no means perfect, but the one thing they have done is that they have cleaned up much of the mess of generation two. They’ve stopped the fighting, and I call them the stabilizer generation. They’re much more accountable to their people, they’ve improved macroeconomic policies, and we are seeing for the first time Africa’s growing, and in fact it’s the second fastest growing economic region in the world. So these leaders are by no means perfect, but they are by and large the best leaders we’ve seen in the last 50 years.

So where to from here? I believe that the next generation to come after this, generation four, has a unique opportunity to transform the continent. Specifically, they can do two things that previous generations have not done. The first thing they need to do is they need to create prosperity for the continent. Why is prosperity so important? Because none of the previous generations have been able to tackle this issue of poverty. Africa today has the fastest growing population in the world, but also is the poorest. By 2030, Africa will have a larger workforce than China, and by 2050, it will have the largest workforce in the world. One billion people will need jobs in Africa, so if we don’t grow our economies fast enough, we’re sitting on a ticking time bomb, not just for Africa but for the entire world.
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