Lighting the way to a new African Dawn – Speech given at Bayero University


African-Sunset-Desktop-WallpaperLighting the way to a new African dawn

photo 1 photo 2 photo 4Mr Chairman, Prof Dandati Abdulkadir
The Honourable Vice-Chancellor, Prof Abubakar Rasheed, mni MFR,
Members of the University Council,
Honourable Members of the Bayero University Senate,
Deans, Directors, Heads of Departments, academic and non-academic staff here present,
The Great Students of Bayero University, Kano,
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
Assalamu Alaikum.

It is indeed a singular honour for me to be here with you this morning to share a few words on this auspicious occasion at the A-rated Bayero University in the ancient city of Kano.

My fears and anxieties about proving worthy of this honour are somewhat eased because former President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki’s famous “I am an African” speech has enabled me to reclaim my identity as an African. I know that all Africa is my home – a home I am intensely proud to call my own.

This room in our magnificent home, called Nigeria, contributes a lot to the diversity and majesty of our beloved Africa. It is decorated with colours most amazing, languages most diverse and connected, and religions seemingly different and yet complimentary. All of these constantly create and recreate a tapestry of great beauty and intricacy.

It is in this room that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, then a soldier of liberation, later a famous prisoner, Nobel laureate and much loved leader, was hosted for six months by the respected Nigerian nationalist, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi. This courtesy was also afforded our second democratic President, Thabo Mbeki, in the 1970s.

Vice-Chancellor, you and your executives have honoured me with an invitation to speak to you on leadership issues. I have titled my talk ‘Lighting the way to a new African dawn’. That is what I believe all African leaders are called to do. It is what I believe this great institution of learning will help them to do.

1. Tolerance fosters teamwork

It is no accident of history that Bayero University, open to all people regardless of race, religion and culture, is based in the historic city of Kano. Kano has a proud history as a focal point for the reception of learning, trade and political thought in sub-Saharan Africa, as it enjoys a geo-strategic location on the crossroads between western Islam in the Maghreb and Eastern Islam in the Orient. It remains a centre of learning, culture and identity for Muslims in the North and for all of Nigeria.

This role of your region was confirmed when fundamental principles of tolerance and diversity were laid out during the foundations of Nigeria’s independence by the founding fathers, one of whom was a Northerner. His name is very familiar to all of you. He was Sir Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and he strode the streets of the North under the banner of “work and worship”.

This legendary leader had the following to say about diversity and tolerance: “Here in Northern Nigeria we have people of many different races, tribes and religions who are knit together to common history, common interest and common ideas; the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us.” Your proud institution of learning, when it was founded, bore his name.

The Sardauna of Sokoto went on to say: “I always remind people of our firmly rooted policy of religious tolerance. We have no intention of favouring one religion at the expense of another. Subject to the overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practice his belief according to the dictates of his conscience.”

These principles were reflected in the founding and guiding vision for the university articulated by Sir Alhaji Ahmadu Bello: “The cardinal principle upon which this university is founded is to impart knowledge and learning to men and women of all races without any distinction on the ground of race, religious or political beliefs.”

I salute you for having upheld this vision throughout. It provides this university with a proud past and a promising future.

As a Christian from South Africa, I embrace and appreciate Islam and other religions. The first challenge that faces leaders is to present, passionately and with great conviction, in word and deed, the true face of our personal convictions in such a way that we show respect for ourselves and for those whose beliefs differ from ours. May we Africans excel at this so that we may continue on a peaceful, tolerant path of co-existence with one another, united in our diversity.

Specifically, may this university, in this city, promote a better understanding of Islam within the Ummah, promote tolerance and appreciation for those of other religions more importantly, continue to develop a brand of Islam that is:

  • at peace within itself;
  • at peace with other religions;
  • grounded in the cultures of those communities that have embraced it; and
  • able to adapt to change.

As Africans in academia, business and society at large, our greatest strength remains our diversity. We can bring it to full effect by remembering and acting on these words of an iconic African, Dr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela:

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of their skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”

2. African universities fulfil a unique role

Our African universities are an important aid in our quest to redefine ourselves as Africans, retell our stories and honour our past. In the words of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Africans have a long and rich history of higher education from the time of the flowering of Nubian civilisation, to the great temples of knowledge in ancient Egypt, to the era of the great centres of learning in Timbuktu in the middle of the second millennium A.D. Those who understood the role of universities in the greater human saga correctly referred to the scholars of Timbuktu as ambassadors of peace.

As we know, Timbuktu was not only a great intellectual centre of the West African civilisations of, Mali and Songhai empire. It was also a splendid scientific centre and a major contributor to European scholarship and development in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Its remaining, incomplete, collection of books and manuscripts leaves us in no doubt as to the magnificence of its intellectual contribution.

As beneficiary of that rich tradition, Bayero University stands here in Kano like a giant torch that illuminates the dark corners of our existence, the corners we constantly strive to see more clearly so that humanity can understand itself better. It has a responsibility to shine its precious light to achieve greater internal insight and reflection within itself as an institution, to illuminate the path ahead as it grapples with the challenge of preserving the past whilst embracing modernity, and, lastly it to enable others to learn about the North, Nigeria, Islam and Africa.

As the university shines its light boldly and deliberately, I am confident that it will   increase the wisdom of humanity. It will rightly be responding to one of the main challenges of our time, which is the struggle against underdevelopment in all its manifestations: poverty, disease, illiteracy, famine and social marginalisation. As we are all aware, this underdevelopment and disempowerment exists globally, side by side with high development, great wealth and concentrated global power.

Indeed, today’s world is characterised by what former President Mbeki called, “the strange bedfellows of poverty and opulence, famine and over-indulgence, highways of development and footpaths of degradation.”

By banishing underdevelopment, we will ensure that the African Dream is no longer “a gigantic mirage that shimmers as a false hope on the vast expanses of the Sahara Desert.”

3. African universities face unique challenges

In helping Nigerian society to achieve this important aim, your proud institution, like other African institutions of learning, will have to overcome several challenges that are not faced by the Harvards and Oxfords of this world. These include limited access to high quality inputs, increasing costs and inflexibility in course selection.

In a seminal paper, Professor Mkpa identified the following key challenges: university administration, teaching and learning using ICT, violence among students and the increasing crime waves on university campuses, coping with the increasing demand for university education as well as funding for research by scholars and equipping universities with facilities to meet the needs communities in Nigeria.

We all know that an educated citizenry is crucial to the social, political, economic and cultural vitality of our communities and the country as a whole. Struggling economies, outdated academic equipment and obsolete organisational structures are among the issues facing universities in Nigeria today.

However, perhaps the most formidable task confronting higher education in Nigeria is to articulate the triple relationship between the mission of the university and the specific needs of university’s political, social, economic, and cultural environment, and the characteristics of a rapidly changing world.

These challenges require a huge focus on the academic leadership and management to steer the sector through these storms.

Bayero University has been blessed with visionary leadership through the years and is currently blessed to be led by Professor Abubakar Rasheed, a man of high academic stature and a seasoned university administrator, whose selfless service has continued to impact positively to the development of education in Nigeria and beyond. Under him and his team, the future of Bayero University looks bright.

4. Agriculture is key

One of the reasons I say this, is that Bayero is shining its light into agriculture and rural development for the benefit of the North and Nigeria in general.

The majority of the people of Nigeria still live in rural areas. Sadly, as you all know, the agrarian systems in Nigeria and the North, in particular, are weak, unproductive and in some parts, even non-existent. Add the often hostile and harsh climatic conditions, lack of infrastructure, and lately conflict and uncertainty, and we have a basket of conditions that perpetuate poverty and underdevelopment. This provides fertile ground for instability, despondency and youth unemployment.

Even in instances where African farmers have a comparative and competitive advantage, the biases in economic policy, instabilities in world commodity prices and the huge subsidies that the developed countries give to their farmers militate against progress for African farmers.

We have to act, and act fast for the future of this region, Nigeria and Africa at large. Bayero University, led by the Department of Agriculture, under the leadership of Professor Ibrahim R Mohammed, must rally key stakeholders, including the federal and state government and donor organisations to:

•   focus on the critical issue of food security by addressing the deficiencies in agricultural systems, so that food production can be increased and nutritional standards raised;

•   improve the agricultural performance and increase the purchasing power of rural people;

•   embark on a comprehensive programme of developing arable land and making irrigation equipment available to rural people to address the main constraint of climatic uncertainty;

•   work on a programme of improving rural infrastructure, roads, electrification, etc.

•   increase much needed institutional support to the existing research centres and the Department of Agriculture; and,

•   encourage bilateral and multilateral donors to pay the necessary attention to agriculture as part of a comprehensive programme of rural development.

My brothers and sisters, every plough that lies unused, every hand that is idle, every land that is fallow and every season that is unproductive, every item of goods that fails to reach the market, is a threat to food security, a threat to peace and stability in the North and a threat to our future.

Our leadership challenge, as individuals, as a group, as a region and as a nation, is to provide boldness in thinking, firmness in resolve and consistency in action to avert this threat.

The recent partnership between Bayero University and the Shenyang Agricultural University of China to carry out agricultural research and staff development to strengthen educational relations between Nigeria and China is a huge positive step. In the words of Prof Rasheed: “Bayero University will continue to give agriculture research the desired attention it deserves to enhance agricultural production in the country.”

5. Business leaders need to step up

Bayero University also plays a major role in producing Nigerian business leaders, and I would now like to move on to talking about the challenges facing these leaders in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.

Although the crisis of confidence in business leadership in the developed world has not had as severe an impact in Africa as it has elsewhere, Africa is not an island and has also suffered as a result of the economic damage inflicted on its trading partners and the tightening of governance standards in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the damaging business practices that precipitated the crisis.

The secret to survival, for us in Africa as much as for business leaders in the rest of the world, is to adhere to robust and enduring values. We must cultivate a climate of trust that espouses those values through honest and open communication. Furthermore we must nurture a vision for our organisations that promotes both their corporate and social aspirations.

Essentially, we need to manage and seek to improve the environment in which we find ourselves. In this regard, when he addressed matters of this kind at a conference in Perth 1999, Sir Arvi Parbo, an Australian former business executive, remarked that: “Performance [in dealing with the social and political environment] must have increasing weight in the way in which managers are recruited, trained, evaluated and rewarded, because of the critical nature of these issues to the success of our enterprise. We can do our sums, be great at productions and marketing, fine-tune our cash flows – we can do all those things well but fail badly if we haven’t managed the social and political issues.” (Corporate Public Affairs, Vol 9, Number 2, 1999.)

We as leaders need to foster trust by:

•      not only talking about our ethical values, but living them – every day and in every action we take;

•      creating a climate of trust and compassion based on open communication from what we say, to how we listen, to how we act on what we learn; and

•      embracing a strong vision or purpose for our organisations that takes into consideration both the economic and the social impact of business.

This is important as never before because we need to redefine the role of business in modern society.

6. It can’t be business as usual

The capitalist or free market system is under siege. In recent years, business has increasingly been viewed as a major cause of social, environmental, and economic problems. Companies are widely perceived to be prospering at the expense of the broader community.

Professors Michael Porter and Richard Kramer argue that a huge part of the problem lies with the companies themselves, because they remain trapped in an outdated approach to value creation that has emerged over the past few decades. They continue to view value creation narrowly, optimising short-term financial performance while missing the most important customer needs and ignoring the broader influences that determine their long-term success.

According to Porter and Kramer, the solution lies in the principle of what they term “shared value”, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. It requires business to reconnect company success with social progress. However, Porter and Kramer are adamant that shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not only on the margins of what companies do, but at the centre of it. This sounds like a somewhat African concept, does it not?

I certainly know of some South African examples that have inclined in this direction. What immediately springs to mind is the role played by Standard Bank’s former Group CEO, Jacko Maree, who led the ground-breaking process of developing a voluntary financial sector charter aimed at broadening access to financial services whilst safeguarding the future profitability and the financial sector in South Africa.

As the leader of the largest bank in South Africa, Mr Maree decided that the future of his company and that of the industry depended on a strategic and proactive engagement process with the government and other stakeholders to define an inclusive future for the industry.

At the time, the former Registrar of Banks of South Africa, Errol Kruger, stated the nature of the challenge as follows: “Providing basic financial services to the poor has always been a challenge in all countries, but in South Africa, the challenge is urgent because the country must find ways to reduce the entrenched inequalities of incomes, economic opportunities, and access to services left over from years of apartheid. Tackling this task has to be done in a delicate and balanced manner, as financial sector transformation at too slow a pace may destabilise the sector, while change at too rapid a pace could pose an even greater threat to financial stability. A balance has to be maintained between responding to growing pressures for socio-economic reform and preserving the integrity of and confidence in, the financial sector.”

Mr Maree worked around the clock to mobilise support among his counterparts in the sector, including key members of civil society, members of government and other stakeholders. The outcome was a model document that has stood the test of time.

A decade later, the following facts are undisputed:

•      Greater access and inclusion has been created in a faster period than in any other country;

•      The Standard Bank Group and the financial sector are now more stable, viable and profitable than ever;

•      Hundreds of managers, myself included, have come through the ranks of the sector to survive and thrive;

•      Key focus areas for black economic empowerment, such as providing black people with access to finance, small business financing, enterprise development, procurement opportunities, infrastructure development and consumer education, have been a great success; and

•      Ownership of the sector has been opened to black people, with attendant wealth creation opportunities.

This commitment to financial inclusion is evident wherever Standard Bank operates, for instance in its strong support for Islamic Banking to meet the special financial needs of followers of Islam. This extends to support for important events like the Islamic Banking Conference as well.

Another telling example that immediately springs to mind is Mobile Money, one of the products offered by Standard Bank’s Nigerian subsidiary, Stanbic IBTC. It provides a convenient basic account to people or small businesses that may have been excluded from banking in the past. It is secure and affordable and  is operated using a mobile phone.

And then there are the special-purpose, often unsecured, loan products Stanbic IBTC provides – salary advances, generator loans, school fees loans and rental loans, as well as the more usual home, car and personal loans. Whatever a person in any walk of life needs to smooth their financial path, Stanbic IBTC can provide it.

In fact, Standard bank and its subsidiaries are a strong and willing partner in moving forward towards greater prosperity – for countries like Nigeria, for institutions like Bayero University, for businesses and for individuals of all cultures and creeds.

7. Leadership must be bold, visible and decisive

In the words of James Kouzes and Barry Posner: “Change is the province of leaders. It is the work of leaders to inspire people to do things differently, to struggle against uncertain odds, and to persevere towards a misty image of a better future. Without leadership, there would not be the extraordinary efforts to solve existing problems and realise unimagined opportunities.”

Unfortunately, the leadership required of all of us does not come naturally to most leaders.

What comes more naturally to most leaders is to work on the strategy, analysis, processes, governance, positioning with stakeholders and measurement. Most of our leaders are technically capable of taking a fresh look at the business, making strategic calls, or investing in new businesses or getting the cost structures in shape or restore our ROE’s to market respectability.

However, most of our businesses and corporates are crying out for more fundamental transformation in terms of business model, operating model, strategy, markets and priorities. In order to drive this fundamental business shift across business units, asset classes, geographies and business lines, businesses need to change the mindsets, attitudes and behaviours of thousands of people from the top of the leadership pyramid to the bottom.

This cannot be done from the splendid isolation of corporate headquarters. It  cannot be about giving a couple of eloquent speeches. It cannot be mandated, decreed or simply launched. It has to be lived. This requires the highest levels of commitment to continuous communication and engagement.

I humbly submit that we need to let the business leaders of the future, many of whom are at this university, know that the following key tasks face them:

  • Communication and engagement

In the words of Louis Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, who was involved in a huge turnaround of that company: “Great CEOs roll up their sleeves and tackle problems personally. They don’t hide behind staff. They never simply preside over the work of others. They are visible every day with customers, suppliers, and business partners. Personal leadership is about communication, openness and a willingness to speak often and honestly, and with respect for the intelligence of the reader or listener. Leaders don’t hide behind corporate double-speak. They don’t leave to others the delivery of bad news. They treat every employee as someone who deserves to understand what is going on in the enterprise.”

This is a responsibility to for all of us as leaders, from the most senior executive to the youngest team leader. It is about us talking openly and honestly about the problems of the organisation with respect to the intelligence of our staff and most importantly, to treat them as people who deserve to understand what is going on in each organisation.

  • Placing the customer at the centre of the business

It is important for leaders to support the frontline in customer visits, review initiatives that assist customers, and drive innovation to bring down the cost of doing business. This requires a change in approach in which the corporate or business leadership ensures that, through words and deeds, the customer’s voice finds expression in all meetings, plans and actions.

The first way of making this change is to assess the amount of time leaders spend dealing with customer complaints, visiting customers in their own businesses, and attending customer forums. When leaders lead the way in customer focus, this will be replicated throughout the structures of the organisation with a positive spin-off for profitability.

  • Driving current performance while building for the future

According to Damien O’Brian, companies can sometimes get stuck in the conventional world of either-or: Either we can manage for today and optimise returns with existing people and assets, or we can invest in the future in the hope that our next generation of products and services will lead the way out of an unsatisfying present.

The reality is that leaders of high-performance businesses avoid the either-or trap. They take a both-and approach and surround themselves with talented individuals who excel in optimising returns as well as building capacity. While insisting on outstanding returns from today’s operations (as demanded by investors), they also invest heavily in what it will take to be a game-changing innovator in the future.

Along the way, they catalyse a new way of thinking in their organisations that embraces the creation of market spaces of uncontested opportunity on the one hand and a deep commitment to flawless execution on the other.

  • Investing a disproportionate amount of time in recruiting and developing people

Managers in lower-performing organisations complain that they do not have time for the “people stuff.” Yet a knowledge-age business has no hope of achieving high performance unless its top executives lead the charge to acquire, develop, assess and retain talent. They can’t simply push Human Resources harder. Instead, they must get personally involved in the search for talent and the development of people.

One way they can do that is by becoming obsessive talent scouts. By continually scanning for the best people both inside and outside the organisation, executives clearly communicate by word and deed that they care deeply about finding, developing and retaining talent. They often make subordinates uncomfortable unless they too demonstrate a keen awareness of their people’s talent and look for ways to multiply its value.

Another way for leaders to create a talent-multiplier mind-set is by publicly placing people with high potential in critical positions or at the head of important initiatives even before they are ready for such roles. They know it is much better to challenge people with assignments that provide some stretch and discomfort than to leave them for extended periods in positions that fail to draw on their full potential.

8. Our time is now

In conclusion, I would like to state unequivocally that Africa’s time has arrived. Its people are ready to take their place among the community of nations. Its youth stands ready to embrace the new age. All we need now are men and women of the highest calibre to lead us into the new dawn. These are men and women drawn from the religious, cultural, academic, government, business and civil society. Many of them will come from this very university.

What will distinguish them is what the well known South African public intellectual and commentator Songezo Zibi described as “rational, transcendent leadership.” Such leadership is “either unburdened by the dogmas of the past or able to manage them effectively.”  It is such leadership that can reach out to others, make principled compromises, build towards a greater future and always strive for broader rather than narrow interests.

It is at this time, at the break of a new dawn, that Africa cries out for new leadership, a leadership that will:

  • rape and plunder her no more;
  • exploit her riches for selfish gain no more;
  • murder her children for religious and tribal interests no more;
  • damage her beauty, scar her landscape and devastate her environment no more;
  • loot her state resources, abuse her corporate resources and stash her wealth in secret bank accounts no more; and,
  • feed her young with venomous hatred of others no more.

The warnings of Ngugi wa Thiongo in his book, “Writers in Politics” are ominous

“ …..we cannot expect that those who benefit from our crippled positions will come and say unto us: throw off those crutches and walk. On the contrary, when we complain too much, they are more likely to give us golden ones and want to replace those made of wood. But surely it is unto us to have the will to say: away with all crutches of whatever make or model. We have to summon the collective will to decide that if we shake hands with others in whatever forms of cooperative ventures and exchange, it will be on the basis of our standing on our two feet, however wobbly, rather than firmly leaning on any crutches. But what have we done as opposed to what has been done to us? What lessons have we really learnt from our ancestors who fought so resolutely against slavery and colonialism?”

Where are these leaders who will stand firm without crutches? Where are the leaders who will follow in the great footsteps of Ahmadu Bello, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Julius Mwalimu Nyerere, Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli and the host of other great leaders to whom our continent has given birth?

In his poem, ‘The second coming’, the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, lamented that: “The best lack of all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

This is a situation that has plagued humanity before and that remains a scourge. Mr Vice Chancellor, we cannot allow it to prevail in the precious North, in Nigeria, or in Africa.

I stand here as one willing to take the steps necessary to see our new dawn, to see a brighter future for my children, and greater prospects for my beloved continent. I am confident that I stand with the leadership of this great institution in this conviction and determination.

Africa’s time has come, Nigeria’s time is now, the rebirth of the North is upon us; let us not fail her, let us not disappoint her.

God Bless Africa, Nkosi Sikelela I Africa