Conflicts in Africa are the order of the day. One can even say Africans are fighting because they have always been fighting. In the continent, there is always war in some or another country. What exactly are we not doing right? These are some of the questions that one might ask. Is it because of too much animosity? In this paper, I seek to look at how leadership styles adopted by some African leaders have resulted in conflicts.
A leader has the capacity to take necessary action to either avert or fuel conflict. This ability stems from the fact that they have a choice on the leadership style to adopt. It is imperative that a leader adopts a leadership style that fits the group they are to lead as failure to do so can be detrimental to the peace of the particular place.
2.0. Definition of key terms.
The concepts which will be defined are: leadership, leadership styles and conflict. The definition of these terms will help create a clear understanding of the terms and their applicability from my point of view in this paper.
Leadership has been defined in a number of ways by different scholars. Some define it from the relational view, some from the essentialist view, some from the constructionist view and others from the critical view. Leadership can be defined as the nature of the influencing process and its resultant outcomes that occurs between a leader and followers and how this influencing process is explained by the leaders dispositional characteristics, and behaviours, follower perceptions and attributions of the leader, and the context in which the influencing process occurs. (Antonakis, et al 2004, p.5). Loosely translated, leadership is the ability to lead or command a group, organization or country.
In this paper, I will be more inclined to leadership in the political sphere. This is the process by which those in governance influence their followers to participate in decision making and policy development.
2.2. Leadership style.
Leadership style is the manner and approach to providing direction, implementing plans and motivating people. (Newstrom, 1993). These are ways in which the leader manages to guide and motivate their followers. In short, it is a consistent behavioural pattern that characterises a leader.
Conflict is a relationship between two or more parties who perceive they have incompatible goals or means of achieving those goals. (Fisher, 1989). From this I understand conflict to be a misunderstanding between parties whose goals and aspirations are different. It usually degenerates into violence but does not mean that where there is conflict there is violence.
3.0. Theoretical framework
From the Great man theory to the trait theory and the path-goal theory, scholars made attempts to look at each distinctive leadership style. This paper is informed by the behavior and styles theory. It is premised on behavior as a set of observable actions. Three styles go along with this particular theory. The first one being the task-oriented behavior which involves the ability by the leader to plan, coordinate and supervise subordinates while carrying out their tasks. The second style is relationship-oriented. This relates to the ability by the leader to develop a supportive relationship with subordinates which is characterised by rewards. The third and last one being participatory leadership in which a leader works to build team spirit within his followers. I shall look at how a set of observable actions by a particular leader has led to conflicts on the African continent.
History has taught us that the way political leaders lead their followers in a country has a bearing on the type of differences that are likely to be experienced in that particular country. There is no hard and fast rule as to the kind of leadership style that can or cannot result in conflict. Others may argue that if maybe autocracy as a leadership style is to be implored, conflicts will be avoided in Africa. Others also argue that if maybe democracy is used, there will be no room for conflict. If this assertion were true, with the emergence of democratic states in Africa, conflict is then supposed to be a thing of the past. It is no doubt that with each human being comes differences which have the ability to result in conflict. However, the leadership style used by a particular leader also has a bearing on how those differences are dealt with. In this paper, I will explore how certain leadership styles by some African countries have resulted in conflict on the African continent. I will look at the following leadership styles in relation to some conflicts that have come about due to the specific style;-
i. Autocratic leadership
ii. Democratic leadership
iii. Transformational leadership
iv. Free-rein leadership or Laissez-faire leadership
5.1. Autocratic leadership
This leadership style involves the use of commands and expected compliance. To motivate followers, autocratic leaders make all important decisions and use punishment or threat. Autocratic leaders are not concerned with the happiness or satisfaction of their followers. Not only they are primarily concerned with task accomplishment, but also they maintain considerable social distance from the group they lead (Roosevelt and Gustainis, 2004).
This kind of leadership involves the ability of a leader to take active decisions even with very little or no input from their respective group members. These types of leaders primarily make decisions which are based totally on their own thoughts and judgments and they tend to take almost no advice from anyone. In this kind of leadership, everything is centered on the boss. Here, the leader holds all authority and responsibility and makes decisions on their own without consulting subordinates. They decide, communicate the decision(s) to their subordinates and expect prompt implementation. Under this leadership, there is little or no flexibility as people do what the leader wants.
This leader will check and punish their employees more severely and quickly. This is done to avoid deviation in future. When the results are disappointing, or when the leader expects a particular result, the authoritarian leader will use his power to threaten subordinates with sanctions such as dismissal so that undesirable behaviour can be prevented. Whatever is against their wishes is viewed as undesirable. The views of people have no room therefore the leader does not enter into discussions and always maintains a firm grip on the subordinates.
Any person with a view opposed to such a leader is considered an enemy hence the need to deal with them so that other followers learn from this and know that it is undesirable to go against the leader. They have their own ways of exercising their authority and look at followers or team members as mere functionaries. (Michael, 2010). This mean that the followers are just used as pawns in the quest to continue clinging into power. The subordinates are viewed as objects and not as people who can contribute to the betterment of the organization. They consider themselves the think tank of the group and as such it is only their ideas that are put into action. As a result, their followers are waiting for the inevitable failure to happen, so the leader can be changed as they are not in a position to contribute positively to the groups development.
An example of such an African leader is the Zimbabwean autocrat, Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Three years after ascending into power in 1980, Mugabe fired Nkomo from his cabinet, triggering bitter fighting between ZAPU and ZANU supporters. He was accusing the Ndebeles of plotting to overthrow him. To secure his rule, he then deployed military in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces to crush all forms of resistance against his rule. This was the infamous Gukurahudi massacre where an estimated twenty thousand people lost their lives. In his quest for power, Zimbabwe was subjected to this conflict so that the autocrat could maintain his firm grip on power.
In 1987, the move to sign the Unity accord rendered Zimbabwe a one party state and gave Mugabe more control. Edgar Tekere questioned this move and as a result, he was expelled from the party. By this time he showed unwillingness to any political opposition from anyone.
In the nineties he expanded cabinet and rewarded his loyalists with positions. This same period saw the emergence of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and Mugabe used all possible means to suppress the party so that he could continue in power. During the run up to the 2000 elections, he unleashed military on the civilians and opposition members. This was because for the first time in history, there was a threat to his continued rule. This was another conflict caused by a man who was determined to stay in power at all costs.
It was also during this same period that the invasion of farms took place. During this conflict, some lives were lost. The president had authorized invasion of white farms in an attempt to pacify his loyalists who were when he was at the brink of losing power. At this time the pressure was mounting on him to step down as the economy was faced with inflation. To stay in power, he had to come up with a strategy so that he would be backed by the people and divert the attention from him. This was also another conflict that came about because of the leaders authoritarian leadership style.
The leader exhibited all the characteristics of an autocratic ruler from the day he ascended to office until his ouster in 2017. During his tenure, Zimbabwe was no stranger to conflict as he sought to crush all those that opposed him. His last attempt at crushing the man who opposed him, who was his second in command, was a dismal failure which led to the end of his rule. As earlier on alluded to in the characteristics of such a leader, the followers are waiting for the inevitable failure to happen, so the leader can be changed, this was a turnaround as the people felt that the inevitable failure had happened.
5.2. Democratic leadership.
This style of leadership involves consultation with group members on actions and decisions, and encourages and rewards involvement in the process. These leaders make decisions and set goals with the approval and full participation of the followers. This leadership style assigns individual rights and privileges to all parties in a group or organization as the followers are engaged by a leader to achieve common goals. Democratic leadership encourages participation by all parties engaged in similar pursuits and requires equitable distribution of both power and responsibility (Sullivan, 2009).
Under this leadership style, subordinates are involved in making decisions, however, the democratic leader holds final responsibility. He or she is known to delegate authority to other people, who map and implement policies. In this leadership style, communication is active upward and downward. It is more of a participative form of leadership. All the members of the group get an opportunity to make decisions and share opinions and ideas freely. The whole group gets to participate in the leadership however, the leader is required to listen to every member.
A good democratic leader is one who is honest, creative, courageous, fair, unbiased and competent. He or she is more engaging towards the members of the group. All the group members are given equal opportunity in effective decision making. Creativity is rewarded as well as encouraged and equal importance bestowed on every member. Under this leadership, the followers can revolt if their input is not taken into account.
A good example of such a leader is Thabo Mbeki. I will look at how his leadership led to the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. South Africans are still building their nationality as a new democracy. Although there were ethnic divisions between the ethnic groups, all the groups felt that they had more of a right to work than a foreigner, who fell outside their nation-group. Since the state is a democratic one, the followers voiced their fears and unhappiness to the government which turned a deaf ear. The South Africans felt that the foreigners were taking their jobs and they wanted the issue addressed.(Misago, 2009). The fact that the government remained mum further escalated the problem.
Consultations with the masses were carried out as per the standards of democracy and it was made clear to the Thabo Mbeki government that the masses were unhappy with the foreigners in their country. One characteristic of democracy is that if the followers are unhappy and feel that an injustice is being done, they take action on their own as they are used to being in the decision making process. When the government still failed to let the view of the people and the people who know that they have a role to play in how the country was run then revolted and attacked the foreigners. This was how the xenophobia conflict came about.
5.3. Transformational leadership
Such leaders can be democratic, autocrats or participative. Transformational leadership may encourage followers to emotionally pursue evil ends as they go beyond their own self interest for the good of the organization and it is also feared according to Bass that followers can be manipulated in ways that may see them lose more than they gain.(Calson,1995)
Under this leadership model, the leader closely works with his team in order to identify change or create and execute a vision through inspiring the group. The followers are motivated by the leader beyond self interest for the achievement of the organisations goals.
This kind of leadership challenges followers to disregard self-interests and encourages pursuit of institutional goals, interests of the group, and moves followers gradually from concerns for exchange to concerns for achievement and growth (Bass,1994). Here, the leader sell their idea to the subordinates in the most persuasive manner. The subordinates labour under the misconception that they are working for the betterment of the group whilst pursuing the leaders interests. Therefore, charisma a special leadership style commonly associated with transformational leadership. This is an individual characteristic of a leader which has some kind of interpersonal attraction that inspires supports and acceptance from followers. This is enables the transformational leaders success in influencing followers behavior.
In short, the followers becomes the machinery for implementing the leaders idea. Thus, what the leader says is what the follower does. These kind of leaders are good at maintaining the welfare of their followers whilst the followers accomplish the task at hand. In short, they look out for their subordinates as the subordinates work for them in furthering their vision
A perfect example of such a leader who has managed to further his interests whilst using the group known as the Imbonerakure is Burundis president Pierre Nkurunziza. He announced the idea of running for a third term in 2015, much to the disapproval of most people. He however managed to push his agenda and convinced members of the Imbonerakure that this was a good idea. He then came up with the idea of arresting and detaining everyone opposed to the idea. To achieve this he roped in the security forces.
This is a clear example of a leader who uses followers to achieve his self-serving interest. The security services and the Imbonerakure are laboring under the misconception of national duty. There is an outcry over abuse of human rights by the youths and the security service, however the leader has remained mum on the issue. This is tantamount to protecting them and looking out for them while they achieve the task. Thus, in this way, his vision of continued stay in power is being accomplished. President Pierre Nkurunziza is a transformational leader who is also an authoritarian as he would do anything possible to stay in power. Therefore, due to the fact that he wants to accomplish his vision of staying in power, there continues to be conflict in Burundi as opposition parties and the general populace continue demonstrating against his continued stay in power. He also remains adamant and hell bent on what he wants and as such the conflict in Burundi.
5.4. Free-rein leadership or Laissez-faire leadership
Loosely translated as the name indicates, this kind of leadership is the one in which people to what they want, when they want, according to their wishes. This leadership style allows the group to set goals, develop strategies, and mobilize necessary resources to achieve expected outcomes. The leader serves as a support person whose role consists of providing the group with operational assistance. The scope of the leaders assistance includes (a) facilitating access to information and remote resources, (b) addressing organizational boundaries, and (c) serving as a link between the group and the external environment. This type of leadership is referred to as the servant-leadership (Weiskittel, 1999).
Under this leadership, leaders allow followers to make a decision by not being part of the process. The followers decide on what they want and the leader comes in as a facilitator to help with the resources if need be. Here thevery is little or no guidance from the leaders and group members are expected to solve problems on their own. Under this leadership style, the leaders take responsibility for the followers action.
This leadership style was also the root cause of xenophobia in South Africa. I say so because the follower (the South African) citizens held the view that it was the foreigners who were responsible for their suffering. Because they are to solve problems on their own, they then made a decision to attack them hence the xenophobic attacks. This was according to them, the solution to the problem. At the end of the day, it was their leaders who had to take responsibility when the international world frowned upon this behavior.This is how this leadership style can be said to have caused conflict in South Africa.
I delved into this kind of leadership and used the same example that I used for the democratic leader to show that these leadership styles co-exist and one cannot be singled out as the one adopted by a particular leader.
It is apparent from the discussion above as individuals we have different perspectives on almost everything. It is because of this reason that conflict comes about. As we that there is no leadership style that is that can distinctively be said to have been adopted by a particular leader.