Why Most African Leaders Like Taylor Failed!

By James F. Kollie, Jr.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 8, 2004


Greed for wealth, the quest for superiority and the unchecked power to crush opponents are the fundamental reasons why African rulers seek leadership of their countries. These reasons are not exhaustive.

The African leadership history is replete with examples of African leaders who grabbed power either through coup, civil wars or even sometimes elections (please don’t mistaken my use of election to means democracy because they are totally different and I have my doubts about democracy existing on the continent even though there are numerous elections) and have promised their people freedom, liberation or emancipation just to find out that the real reason is quite different from the nominal reason. All these guys soon become despots, terrorists or tyrants. Ranging from Idi Amin and maybe others before him to Sani Abacha and then our own son Charles McArthur Taylor, there are many of them on the continent and believe it or not they have failed and hurt their people in ways unspeakable.

The reasons for these dismal failures are due in part by the three fundamental reasons listed above coupled with the lack of the true understanding of what leadership really is and the complacent attitudes of the African people who have little choice.

First, the complacent attitude of the African people, whom I believe have little or no choice, contributes to the failure of African leaders. In Africa, leaders are given the status of ‘petit gods’ and almost worshiped by the people. This makes leaders feel very exhorted and hesitant to leave power because they believe that they will never receive that kind of exhortation when they leave. Because of poverty and unemployment on the continent, the people are incapacitated to do anything substantial once this despot is already in power and has made every plan to continue to perpetuate himself till death (either by another coup, war or natural death). Even though this is the case, I believe that the people are beginning to get more chance at doing something if things go out hand. With the removal of one the world’s most brutal despots of our times, and the use of “people power” in the former Yugoslavia to bring down Slobodan Miljkovic, the stage is now set for people to get more involve in the destiny of their countries. The people should know that they could make or break their own country based on whom they elect. Proactive involvement will reduce the chance of electing someone who is greedy for wealth, power drunk or want to prove superior to others. Elections are serious matters and it is a time when the people can really exert their control over who becomes their leader.

People do make mistakes and it is okay if and only if they realize that they made one and vowed never to repeat it. As I walk through the streets of Minnesota, I hear a lot of people complaining about electing former Governor Jesse Ventura. They believe that it was a mistake (whether it is true or not is not my call) and they have promised never to do it again - this is one of the best democracies ever (even though election 2000 brought it into question) but responsible citizens still make mistakes. I am sure that the complacency, reluctance or inability of the citizenry to do the right thing is not the major reason why African leaders fail even though it may contribute in a minute way.

People must begin using the power they have to do the right thing the first time (election) or correct it when it goes wrong (people power like in Yugoslavia and elsewhere)

Next, I believe that these leaders fail in part because they really do not understand leadership and servitude. These are people who may be charismatic but they are leaders. Liberia’s Taylor was very charismatic and pretended to be a leader but he was not. Most people tend to use the trite expression that “leaders are not made they are born”. This is wrong. People do acquire leadership skills and these skills are even thought in graduate and post- graduate schools. Some very smart people are able to learn these traits from observing other decent people and making the honest effort to practice it. Leaders are not managers. They are not around to instruct people on what to do or judge them by the success of the task. Leaders are agents of change. They see things differently and inspire others to see it that way. Leaders will tell you to follow them and not ask you go there and tell what it was like. They experience the situation with you. They do not provide back up, they take the first step. They do not instill fear in you or attempt command and control you. A leader builds trust and then encourages others to take responsibility and don’t penalize people for trying and failing but encourages them to do so because only through that is innovation possible and problems are solved.

Taylor and Why He Failed

If Taylor knew that leadership was all about some of these things listed above, he would have made a good leader. He wouldn’t have instilled fear in his people to the extent that his friends would call him the “old man” or “Papay”. For Heaven sake, these are your childhood friends and they become afraid of you because of power, then who will be there to you; gee, this thing you are doing is wrong and I think we need to do it differently. When Cyril Allen, Tony Deland, Dr. Massaquoi, Randolph Cooper, John Cummings, Beatrice Minor and the rest of your old time friends are calling you “Papay” and are afraid to tell you the truth, who then do you expect to tell you?

“The most difficult thing in leadership is to keep your friends you had before becoming a leader.”

When Taylor surrounded himself with people like Lewis Brown as an advisor (on whatever affairs), it is purely indicative that he didn’t understand a thing about leadership. Lewis is smart and progressive but an advisor - you must be kidding. What can Lewis tell anybody, especially Taylor? He owes everything to Taylor and would do anything to worship him so that his glory will continue because his is tied directly to Taylor’s. The boy is young and inexperience and was poor. When Taylor offered him such glory, even against the advice of his father, he became morally corrupted. I am not speaking of Lewis particularly, I am talking the likes of Lewis that Taylor had around him. It would be like Dr. Sawyer asking Dusty Wolokollie to be his advisor - gee that would be a total mess because Dusty can’t tell Dr. Sawyer anything truthful or frank.

Taking people who owe everything to you and surrounding yourself with them as advisors is a major mistake for any leader and you can only fail with this type of formula

Taylor proved again that he didn’t understand leader when he used his ignorance to still think that the world was a bi-polar one. I am sure that when he was growing up, it used be that way but things changed and this world in now a uni-polar world with only one “major super power”. It used to be first that if you were against one, you would be for the other (like present day Taiwan and mainland China) and so you could still get things done because of the backing of the other party. It was no longer the case when Taylor became president but Taylor, like people who don’t understand that leadership is all about change, when with the stereotype - he was so lost and dome.

Leaders shift their paradigm when things change and are able to see and cope with the change.

When Taylor started feeling that a better way to lead was to instill fear in your subordinates neighbors by threatening them or waging war on them, he missed the mark of leadership gain. Leaders build relationship even with the least of the people around them. How silly is it to wage war of all three of your neighbors and think that you will be so safe and secure. It doesn’t take any genius to know that being surrounded by three countries and the ocean, to make war on the three countries leaves you with only the ocean to dwell in. Taylor broke the straw when he did this and I am sure he learned his lessons but more than anything, I hope that those who will be aspiring to leadership position would understand some these leadership basics and try to lead with their heart. Only when you love your country and people can you be a good leader. Selfish people don’t make good leaders.

I am tempted to say that in leadership: above all else, should be the people but Taylor has misused these words and I am ashamed to use them. I would also be ashamed to say that leaders should love their country so much that they can be considered patriots. Because if Taylor was right when he used the words the way he used them, it would not be well served to say those same words or phrases. Taylor failed because he did not use the right tools, paradigm and the right people to do the job.