New studies on leadership for transformational change in Africa

What factors support or hinder leadership for transformational change in Africa? In a new paper Suda Perera, Houston Shearon, Paul Jackson and Heather Lyne de Ver explore this question, drawing on nine case studies in six countries.

The studies understand ‘transformational change’ as altering the ‘rules of the game’ to create a set of legitimated institutions and behaviours to bring about a sustainable development outcome.

They look at various sectors, including community policing in Ethiopia, youth mobilisation in the DRC, women’s participation in Tanzania, Ghana’s health sector, South Africa’s justice sector and Uganda’s  water sector. They note that in most of the cases weak belief in the existing rules of the game created an appetite for change.

The studies suggest that effective leadership for transformational change is enabled by factors that include:

  • the existence and/or creation of an environment conducive to change, in which citizens understand that the current rules of the game do not benefit them;
  • a group of actors who recognise that the time is right for change and can seize opportunities;
  • leaders who can establish credibility as drivers of change, communicate a vision of change and enjoy legitimacy among followers and external actors;
  • the creation of coalitions of change agents, who have been convinced that the leadership’s vision of change is in their interests and who can work together to make it happen; and
  • a leadership process that builds on small initial gains to effect wider change.

The absence of enabling factors can present serious barriers to leadership, but additional factors may disable transformational change entirely. These include:

  • a drastic change in the political system, which can derail the leadership process;
  • the emergence of a powerful group of spoilers;
  • fragmentation of the leadership process and loss of direction;
  • lack of genuine buy-in to the need for change, and the issue becoming of low importance for those who may have seen the change as a means to an end; and
  • unintended consequences emerging from the change process.

Some factors in the leadership process can at particular times support and hinder transformational change. In the case of the youth movement LUCHA in DRC, for example, a horizontal leadership style helped build a diverse range of actors into a mass movement, but then struggled to manage differences in members' interests and visions.

The three papers in this series are published in collaboration with the Institute of African Leadership for Sustainable Development (UONGOZI Institute), which funded the research. See the full papers:

Image: The Congo River at sunset, Democratic Republic of the Congo (UN Photo/Marie FrechonCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

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News

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