Leadership is the deed of imposing authority or influence within a group. African society viewed a leader as a servant and not a dictator. An African leader was expected to offer service to their follower, may it be a clan, family, tribe, or community. They were probably guiding their society towards a course. Moreover, they were supposed to have a goal that selflessly steered the community in a positive direction.
In most traditional African settings, leadership was granted based on age, wealth, and reputation. Most leaders were senior as old age was associated with wisdom. Having experience in life made them knowledgeable, enabling them to offer guidance and manage the community. Consequently, they were able to settle disputes. For instance, the Ameru community had a council of elders who were responsible for the governance of the society.
A leader ought to be selected based on their morals and ethics. A leader who deviates from this should be stripped off his leadership position.
Values majorly contributed to how leadership was conducted. That is, a leader had to shadow specific values with respect to their role. Values differed from one society to the other. In the traditional African society, values were forced on people to determine what’s right or acceptable. If one did not conform to these formulated values, they would be reprimanded. This in turn created desirable virtues such as honesty and integrity and deviance to them was non-negotiable. Additionally, continuous adherence to these values in a society leads to an ethical and disciplined community. Those who were competent in following the outlined values were praised while those who decided otherwise were shamed. It was also used to vet people who could become heads in the society.
African societies did not also shy away from religion. Religious values held a moral sense of justice and truth. This is because the society believed in a God that was omnipresent, all-powerful, and all-knowing. They also believed in eternal souls in the context that good and bad souls continued to communicate with the living even after one died. In respect to this, they interpreted God’s message on who would become a leader as well as who would be stripped off his or her leadership positions. It made aspiring leaders and those in leadership roles to dutifully adhere to religious values. Moreover, community members would abide by good behavior with fear of being exposed by diviners and sorcerers.
Leadership was developed at the family level as it the basis of the political hierarchy. Mostly, a father headed the family, and then there was a village elder, a clan head, and consequently a paramount leader. It was difficult for a man to head a community if they had not a family before. Failure to lead the family in the right direction also meant that he would fail at community leadership. Still, at the family level, hereditary leadership was groomed. From a young age, a person who was in line to be the next supreme ruler was natured and taught how he or she would handle the responsibilities that come with the title.
Conclusively leadership in traditional African societies was either hereditary or ascribed. This should not be the practice in modern-day leadership as there are many people who are more than competent to be leaders and outdo their predecessors. Our genders should not be used to judge the capability of one being a leader, leadership belongs to all of us, we should incorporate everyone in equal measure. If one is ethical enough and has a good moral record, they should be given a chance at leadership.
However, we can borrow some of these values when selecting leaders. A leader ought to be selected based on their morals and ethics. A leader who deviates from this should be stripped off his leadership position. Similarly, modern-day leaders shouldn’t shy away from religion and stand by their values. They should not be intimidated by happenings in the society, instead, they should fully live by their morals and lead in rightful ways without influence.
Senior members in the current generation should be mentors to the rising leaders so that they can also have a chance at leadership. Value-based mentorship will always pay off dearly if well structured. Consequently, senior members should offer guidance as well to help regulate the manners of the young generation. As much as we would like to see young people ascending to power, we should not forget to draw wisdom from experienced members of the society. Nonetheless, our generation should aim at preserving the positive aspects of African leadership for us to have a heightened crop of competent and morally upright leaders.
Stephen Kimathi- Assistant Programs Officer, Leadership Development and Mentorship Program.