It was hardly a typical evening at the Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice. A few short hours after Standard & Poor’s agency downgraded South Africa’s credit rating, Former South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene was standing in the GSDPP’s Linkoping House, addressing a welcome dinner of LeAD Campus delegates.
LeAD Campus is a unique certificate course for African professionals, co-ordinated between four African and French institutions: Sciences Po (France), the Higher Institute of Management in Dakar (Senegal), the Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice (GSDPP) of the University of Cape Town (South Africa) as well as CEFEB, the Corporate University of the French Development Agency (AFD). It aims to identify the current and future leaders of Africa, develop their skills and projects, to help them contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth across the continent.
Yet what was intended on 3 April as an evening of celebration – a welcome to the international African delegates for their week’s official tuition in Cape Town – quickly became a practical learning opportunity for meaningful engagement around leadership and effective public policy. After all, there could be no more pertinent example of the challenges of public leadership than that presented by the keynote presenter.
After welcoming the LeAD participants representing 16 Francophone African countries, Nene was quick to cut to the chase. “Welcome to South Africa and our noisy democracy,” he said, to knowing chuckles. “I’m sure you have a good sense of what is happening but when democracy matures, these are the symptoms.”
In discussing the urgent need for a focus on African development, Nene delivered some pointed observations around the fundamental challenges of leadership deficit. “We focus on the challenges and opportunities on our continent not just because we happen to inhabit the continent, but because it has so much latent potential,” he noted. “This potential can only be realised when the continent has good leadership. With good leadership, nothing else matters. Equally so, without good leadership, nothing else matters too.”
Leadership was not just the poignant national theme of the night, but also the LeAD theme for the week. The focus for the delegates’ workshop week was on personal leadership strategy and the response to the programme was overwhelmingly positive. “It was a formidable human experience” said one participant, clearly moved by the week in Cape Town, and for many the trip to Robben Island was transformative, along with connecting with a diverse group of fellow Africans committed to changing the continent for good.
True to the multi-site programme, LeAD Campus participants experience week-long workshop intensives in each of Cape Town, Dakar and Paris across the six-month course which is interspersed with online sessions. As part of the Cape Town programme, they were treated to facilitated sessions with the likes of Former Finance Minister and GSDPP Senior Fellow Trevor Manuel, past Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and GSDPP Visiting Professor Carlos Lopes, Khayelitsha entrepreneur Lufefe Numjana and IT innovator Joshin Raghubar.
Yet it was undoubtedly the observations by Mr Nene on the night of the welcoming reception that provided the clearest example of the urgent need for public-sector reform, for principled, thoughtful leadership, for committed public servantship.
“All of Africa’s opportunities will remain just that without good leadership or effective institutions,” cautioned Nene. “Managing and guiding Africa’s development can’t be solved in the short term. They are long term challenges. That means that they require good, sustained leadership. They require leaders who are capable, credible and committed. The question is: are there such leaders on the African continent? I submit that there are. There’s just not enough of them to move the entire continent forward. But I take comfort from the fact that you are here. That you have taken time to grapple with the issues of leadership. Our hopes ride on you.”
Nene termed the LeAD Campus initiative a much-needed programme “that promotes the kind of leadership that brings hope.” After all, as he noted, “we must be inspired by Africa, but also inspire.” Sound words to end on, but, as GSDPP students would no doubt agree, sound words with which to begin.