Archives 2007

Racialised Africa: an open letter by Joao de Pina-Cabral

The Tribes, the Leaders, the Millionaires

João de Pina-Cabral, a social anthropologist, is Research Coordinator at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon (Portugal).  He has published extensively on northern Portugal, Macao, Mozambique and Brazil.  When he was sent a copy of the Open Letter to Africa’s leaders, signed by the current Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellows (see below), he was moved to respond in kind and query each of their five recommendations of change.

Each year, twenty high potential individuals from across sub-Saharan Africa are awarded the prestigious Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellowship, following a rigorous competitive selection process. The Awards are aimed at the cream of the continent’s future leaders, specifically targeting the next generation of Africa’s leaders in all sectors of society, between the ages of 25 and 39. The fellowship programme is coordinated by the African Leadership Institute, and it includes a training programme coordinated by the SAID Business School at Oxford University. See

An Open Letter:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellows
February 10, 2008

An Open Letter to Africa’s Present and Future Leaders
“This continent has suffered too much.… We need the assistance and commitment of … young leaders to continue to speak up on behalf of the poor and the marginalized, and seek a better life for all.” —   Archbishop Desmond Tutu, April 2007

From Angola to Zimbabwe, questions abound about Africa’s present state. All capitals listed between Abidjan to Zanzibar, are not new to the rising voices of Africa’s sons and daughters who wish to know the fate of their land. Some express this concern through silent hope, others through evident fear, and many others look in no other direction than that of their leaders – those we have come to know as the captains of the ship of the state. Others even argue that Africa’s answers remain with future leaders, and not today’s. But there has been a crisis of  leadership in Africa. The hopes and dreams of the citizens of this continent have been dashed by our post colonial leaders – from the heroes of the liberation struggles through to the leaders of opposition parties that subsequently emerged. The citizens of Africa deserve a brighter future, and that begins with visionary leaders who can answer the challenges that Africa faces as part of a global community in the 21st century. Recent events across the continent are cause for serious concern: from the crisis of corruption in Nigeria, the political tensions in South Africa leading to the 2009 election, or the political crisis in Kenya which is turning a once prosperous country into one that is marred by bloodshed and ethnic tensions. The ongoing conflict in Sudan, the current crisis in Chad, or the socio-political and economic meltdown obtaining in Zimbabwe have all caused great instability in the lives of millions of Africans across the continent.

We do not seek to play the usual game of just listing the problems but join our voices to that of  over 920 million Africans to demand fair play in political processes. Though all of our democracies are young we expect our leaders to be men and women of excellence who respect the electoral process and as such the wishes of the people. As young people in Africa who are leaders in politics, business, health and information technology, we stand together and recommit ourselves to the ideals of true leadership, and we make the following recommendations:

(a) The establishment of a high-level African Union led campaign to fight tribalism and inequality in all its forms across the continent. Each country should establish a Commission Against Tribalism and Inequality (CATI) to fight the scourges, and to protect vulnerable minority groups. CATI should bring politicians using ethnic manipulations to perpetrate violence to justice and stop them from participating in future political contests;

(b) Political leaders must be servant leaders and use their power and influence as a tool for socio-economic change rather than oppression and fuelling personal greed;

(c) The establishment and strengthening of relevant institutions (judiciary, electoral commissions, etc) that ensure independence of the Electoral Regulatory Authorities in each country; and the establishment of an AU Electoral monitoring body which monitors election and has a clear, well defined set of guidelines which it uses to determine if the process is free or fair;

(d) The rediscovery of our true identity as Africans, to embrace and inculcate the moral base of honesty, love, peace and integrity. We believe that people of integrity would not allow a beautiful, socially and economically stable country like Kenya to collapse into political disarray;

(e) The strengthening of our national economies,  and systems to ensure the provision of adequate health care, education and other social services that will equip all Africans to partake in a better future.

As young leaders in our own various spheres of influence, we as the 2007 Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellows find silence at this critical moment inconvenient. We believe that silence and inaction in the face of yesterday’s challenges are responsible for the anomalies we see across the continent today. We lend our voices to the call for African leaders – today, and in the future – to consider the common good over personal fears or greed. We are proud of those who have shown us that leadership is about service and call on all other leaders to remain true to the spirit of purposeful leadership.

Signed: Archbishop Desmond Tutu Fellows
Brilliant Mhlanga (Zimbabwe), Dan Kidega (Uganda), Ed Mabaya (Zimbabwe), Erik Charas (Mozambique),
‘Gbenga Sesan (Nigeria), Grace Ofem (Nigeria), Hassan Usman (Nigeria), Herine Otieno (Kenya),
Ipeleng Mkhari (South Africa), Lisa Kropman (South Africa), Mezuo Nwuneli (Nigeria), Niven Postma (South Africa),
Saida Ali (Kenya), Takalani Musekwa (South Africa), Tariro Makadzange (Zimbabwe), Terence Sibiya (South Africa),
Tracey Webster (South Africa), Yohannes Mezgebe (Ethiopia), Yolan Friedmann (South Africa)


A Reply

João de Pina-Cabral:

Thank you for sending me the recent Open Letter of the 2007 Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellows, which I read with a shared sense of urgency.  Many of us feel daily deeply distressed about what is going on in Africa.  So, my African-self shares these people’s sense that if Kenya goes, what will remain?  It would seem that everyone in the world right now is scared with what might happen there.

Unfortunately, over the years, my ideas about the whole thing have evolved and, frankly, I can no longer agree with the proposed solutions of the people who write this manifesto.  I think that new thought is needed because the old grooves have been proven wrong.  The courage to have that new thought does not seem to be about, however.  In any case, let me dialogue with their five points.

(a)   Concerning the need to fight “tribalism” and “inequality”, I get really worried to see them tying up together two things that do not belong together.  That only increases the confusion.  Tribalism is not going to go away, in Africa or anywhere else in the world – just wishing won’t help, as we have seen.  Throughout the twentieth century, we watched the beast growing on every continent and much as we fight against it, it seems to be staying alive.  No one in their right mind can believe that the problem of tribalism will just dissolve into thin air.  One might as well work at trying to transform it into a force for good.  Tribalism in Africa needs to become a form of African regionalism and, that way, it might be harnessed.  In any case, there is no such thing as one tribalism – there are as many tribalisms as there are tribalized contexts in Africa.  If the genuine historical meaning of collective identities is taken away from them by means of rhetorical tricks like this one, they will continue to surprise us in the unreason of their repeated explosions.  If tribalism does not get transformed into a kind of benevolent parochialism, it will continue to be murderous.  What makes it monstrous is that it was never taken into account to start off with.

(b)    Political leaders are people – in Africa, as in Europe, as anywhere – the problem is not with the lack of moral force of the individual politicians, the problem is with the constitutional nature of the post-colonial regimes.  Politicians must feel that they are part of the people in an organic way, an historically constructed way – collectives should only be politically represented by persons who feel that they are integrally and organically part of the collective.  Keeping the colonial constitutions and simply putting in place well-meaning politicians won’t change anything.  Besides, let us get rid of all that authoritarian fascination with leadership: leaders are only part of the problem.  Africans need to organize from the bottom up.  An African middle-class is required.  One that will work out the basis for localised constructs of identity that allow for genuine popular engagement in the national projects.  Proletarians and millionaires have never put a country together anywhere in the world.

(c)    Democratic form is beside the point.  Bush probably cheated in his last election but no one proposes to send overseeing bodies to this year’s USA elections.  The same goes for Putin – whose elections are rigged with the full support of nearly all of the Russians.  What is not beside the point is that people should feel that the democratically organized system for which they vote leads to a form of genuine representation.  That does not happen anywhere in Africa.  For that, we return to the problem of tribalism, of regionalism, of federalism, of constitutional reform.

(d)    There is no “true identity as Africans” – there never has been and there never will be, because there are no “true identities” in this world.  The expression is more often used as a cloak to refer to some form of racialised worldview.  Racism is a bad thing – whatever way it is presented.  The post-colonial racialisation of African citizenship is a tragedy that will outlast the death of the last white man in Africa and destroy the possibility of a native (black, mixed and white) middle-class. Africans should give up on essentialising Africa and work towards constructing their own individual and localized senses of collective belonging in an inclusive way, not in an exclusive racialised way.  Only on the basis of that will wider and wider forms of genuine belonging evolve – that, in any case, seems to be the lesson that Europeans are having to learn from their recently arrived African citizens.  There is hope when fools like Sarkozy appear to be getting the point.

(e)    Africa’s problem is not one of economic resources, but of capacity to work together.  Economic resources appear to be the problem only when one places oneself in the missionary’s role of “helping”.  That is essentially a paternalistic and authoritarian position of pushing things onto people who cannot help themselves.  It is a good thing to feed the hungry, of course, but it will not solve the problem, as we know.  People have to feel that things are theirs for them to start looking after those things.  Otherwise, rapine and wasting of resources become reasonable attitudes to take.


João de Pina-Cabral is Research Coordinator at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon.  He was Founding President of the Portuguese Association of Anthropology (1989-1991) and President of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (2003-5).  He has carried out fieldwork and published extensively on the Alto Minho (Portugal), Macau (China) and Bahia (Brazil). He has been a Visiting Professor in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Spain and Mozambique.