Leadership for transformational change in Africa

Africa has a ‘leadership crisis’, according to much of the literature. Yet little research has focused on what can be done to tackle the problems of corruption, neopatrimonialism and ‘big man’ politics that many see as symptoms of this crisis. This research project is attempting to fill this gap by exploring the role of leadership in cases of transformational change in different contexts in Africa.

The research team will be asking how and where developmental leadership emerges, and how can it be nurtured and supported. The first phase of this project involves eight case studies in four countries at the local, regional and national levels exploring themes as diverse as political settlements, women’s representation, human rights, service delivery, municipal government and anti-corruption.


Human rights protection and enforcement: How has Ghana become a free and open society since the 1980s? This case study explores the role of various organisations and civil society movements in this transformation.

The National Health Insurance Scheme: This new funding system was introduced in 2003. While not uncontroversial, it has significantly increased access to healthcare. This case study explores the role of leadership in the scheme’s introduction and its improvement of healthcare indicators.

South Africa

Defence of public protector office against high-level resistance: Thuli Madonsela is South Africa’s Public Protector, a role created by the constitution (similar to an ombudsman). She recently held President Zuma to account over the use of taxpayers’ money to refurbish his home, for which he and the government have since admitted fault. This case explores how and why Madonsela was able to protect the office of the public protector despite strong opposition.

Municipal governance in Saldanha Bay – development gains against the odds: Unlike other municipalities with similar levels of income, poverty and inequality, Saldanha has few service delivery protests, and government data places it in the top 10% of municipalities in achieving development indicators. Dr van Wyk has investigated the municipal government’s role in these achievements.


The political settlement in the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar: In 2009 an agreement behind closed doors (Maridhiano) created a power-sharing system that survived until the 2015 elections. This case study explores the role of leadership in achieving this arrangement, and the Maridhiano’s effect on the public perception of the conflict and its possible resolution.

Women’s representation in decision-making bodies: Women’s representation in Tanzania’s parliament has slowly but steadily increased since 2000. This case study explores how the women’s movement has contributed to these gains.


Transformation of Uganda’s National Water and Sewerage Corporation, 1998-2013: Over 15 years, William Muhairwe improved the NWSC’s services, finances, management, staff performance and external relations, and showed that it could succeed as a public corporation. This case study explores how Muhairwe was able to transform the NWSC, despite opposition to his vision.

Kampala City Council Authority’s improvement of public services: This case explores the role of leadership and governance arrangements in improving Kampala’s services, especially public transport and rubbish collection.

DLP researchers: Heather Lyne de Ver and Suda Perera

Research partners:

  • Prof Mohammed Ali Bakari (University of Dar es Salaam)
  • Dr Victor Brobbey (Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration)
  • Dr Frederick Golooba-Mutebi (Independent)
  • Dr Alexander Makulilo (University of Dar es Salaam)
  • Prof Jo-Ansie van Wyk (UNISA)

Supported by:   


Image: A Kampala street (Photo: Colin Campbell)

Related items

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 15th October 2015

#Feminism: Digital technologies and feminist activism in Fiji

Guest post on Devpolicy on DLP work with research partners at University of the South Pacific

Opinion by Tait Brimacombe 14th March 2017

Parliamentary strengthening: the IDC report

Having presented evidence to the UK's International Development Committee, what of the final report?

Opinion by Tam O'Neil 9th February 2015
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 18th March 2015
Opinion by Heather Marquette 13th October 2015

Two remarkable transitions: lessons from Oman and Somaliland

Political settlements and international power structures

Opinion by Sarah Phillips 20th July 2015

Gender analysis, and thinking and working politically – bridging the gap

Guest post on Devpolicy  introducing panels at this week's Australasian Aid Conference

Opinion by Chris Roche 14th February 2017

Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?

Guest post for The Guardian's Global Development Professionals Network

Authoritarianism, democracy and development

What does the evidence say?

Opinion by Tim Kelsall 27th November 2014

What's in a name? Leadership as more than the 'big men' and 'big women' of history

Looking beyond 'The Leader' for a deeper understanding of how change happens

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver 11th February 2014

Corruption: is the right message getting through?

The unintended consequences of raising awareness of corruption

Opinion by Caryn Peiffer 12th August 2015

Neither 'good guys' nor 'bad guys': Positive engagement with armed groups

Final post in a series on 'Power, politics and positive deviance', theme of DLP's 2016 Annual Conference.

Opinion by Suda Perera 5th February 2016

Medellin - more than a miracle

From the most murderous city on earth to 'a new global standard for urban policy': the politics of change in the wake of crisis

Opinion by Cheryl Stonehouse 4th March 2014

What do we do on Monday? Political settlements in theory and practice

The value of the political settlements framework

Opinion by Edward Laws 15th July 2015
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 26th April 2016

Is education a magic bullet for addressing corruption? Insights from Papua New Guinea

This post for Devpolicy unpacks the findings of a new Development Policy Centre / DLP paper 

Opinion by Grant Walton 17th June 2015

Corruption: do we target the servant or the paymaster?

Guest post for The Guardian on UK aid watchdog report

Opinion by Heather Marquette 5th November 2014
Opinion by Heather Marquette 10th November 2014

Pacific power: new femininities and women's leadership in the Pacific

The educated, internationally connected women who are changing the way 'development' is done

Opinion by Ceridwen Spark 24th June 2014

Somaliland's route to peace

What can we learn from Somaliland's approach to peacebuilding? 

Opinion by Sarah Phillips 12th December 2013
Opinion by Susy Ndaruhutse 11th September 2014
Opinion by Luke Arnold 25th May 2016

Climate change and adaptation in the Pacific Islands: watering down women's security?

How women leaders are challenging a narrow adaptation agenda.

Opinion by Nicole George 7th March 2014

Forgotten South Sudan tangled in factionalism and failed politics

A toxic blend of complex historical identity politics and short-term elite politicking

Opinion by Jonathan Fisher 4th September 2014

Masculinity and sexual violence in India

Will the shocking Nirbaya case shift attitudes?

Opinion by Martin Rew 16th September 2015

Education, development, and the problem with consensus

Why rethink the international consensus on 'quality basic education for development'?

Opinion by Michele Schweisfurth 7th April 2014

International donors - aiding or abetting?

The 'donor's dilemma' is discussed in a new DLP paper.

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi 10th September 2015

Security and justice – the mismatch between policy and practice

What hinders more politically nuanced security and justice programming?

Opinion by Shivit Bakrania 21st July 2014

‘Crows who come in search of dollars’: NGO legitimacy in conflict zones

Do political dynamics affect NGO legitimacy more than performance?

Opinion by Oliver Walton 19th August 2014

Politics - the problem and solution to poor services?

Why - and how - does politics trump everything else in service delivery?

Opinion by Claire Mcloughlin 13th March 2014
Opinion by Heather Marquette 9th March 2015

Fiji's Roshika Deo - outlier, positive deviant or simply feisty feminist?

First in a series on 'Power, politics and positive deviance', theme of DLP's 2016 annual conference.

Opinion by Priya Chattier 1st February 2016

Inclusive political settlements: who and what gets included, and how?

First of six posts on political settlements by researchers, policymakers and practitioners.

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 13th July 2015

Indonesia and the political settlements trap

The challenges of 'resettling the settlement'

Opinion by Graham Teskey 17th July 2015

Developmental leadership: putting inclusiveness first

Inclusiveness should be the first step towards building more robust states.

Opinion by Seth D. Kaplan 24th September 2015

The road to transparency in resource-rich Myanmar

Myanmar's EITI process and its contribution to broader reform

Opinion by Taylor Brown 1st April 2016

Is developmental patrimonialism a dead end?

The first of two posts introducing a new DLP paper on growth and democratic transition

Opinion by Tim Kelsall 27th September 2016
Opinion by Dan Hymowitz 3rd February 2017

Adding gender and power to the TWP agenda

Why bring gender into Thinking and Working Politically?

Opinion by Sally Moyle 6th August 2015

Politics shape services; and services shape politics

How governance and sector specialists can help each other understand the politics of service delivery

Opinion by Richard Batley 19th June 2014

The challenge of realising Pacific democracies' development potential

How can Pacific democracies deliver for their citizens?

Opinion by Julien Barbara 8th July 2016

It's all about inclusion, but how?

Guest post for the World Bank

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 6th April 2016

What is transformative leadership?

Guest post in University World News

Opinion by Chris Roche 15th April 2016

Shuffling the decks: quick fixes versus long-term stability

Guest post for Development Progress on 'post-conflict' DRC

Opinion by Suda Perera 22nd January 2015

The seeds and roots of change

Guest post on leadership networks for Governance for Development

Opinion by Heather Lyne de Ver 1st December 2014

Gender - the power relationship that Political Economy Analysis forgot?

Why more questions about gender relations could help

Opinion by Evie Browne 13th February 2014
Opinion by Caryn Peiffer 5th February 2015

Welcome to DLP's blog

Welcome to DLP's new blog on politics, power, policy and developmental leadership

Opinion by Heather Marquette 10th December 2013

Developmental leaders, 'dirty hands', and the dark side of collaboration

The ambiguities of supporting 'developmental leadership'

Opinion by Niheer Dasandi 11th December 2013
Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 24th November 2014

The inclusiveness test: making change work

Guest post for openDemocracy

Opinion by Alina Rocha Menocal 4th November 2015

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.

Find out more


New article: A typology of interaction between politicians and bureaucrats

Tuesday 14th March 2017

DLP Research Fellow Niheer Dasandi has co-authored a new article on how bureaucrats and politicians interact, and how this affects reform efforts. It appears in 'Public Administration and Development'.

Read more

Power and systems, and their role in developmental change: Guest seminar with Duncan Green

Tuesday 21st February 2017

Seeing power and complex social systems clearly is the first step towards supporting positive developmental change, says Oxfam Strategic Director and DLP research partner Duncan Green. He discussed the themes of his latest book at a recent International Development Department guest seminar at the University of Birmingham.

Read more

Follow: @dlprog