The idea of selecting the twelve leaders in this book occurred to me during the planning of Leadership Seminars I was about to teach at Ashesi University.
Though leaders may work different quarries, the sense of purpose, courage and tenacity is a shared patent.
Also though their vocations are diverse and depict a variety of leadership roles, they all fit the adage, “One man with courage makes a majority.”
The clues from the past often regaled themselves in gay colours for the future, and the exemplars pinpoint to the fact that we cannot afford to be passive on-lookers. The energies and talents of all are needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Leadership comes in all forms and sizes. The younger generation, especially, need to be aware of this so that they can appreciate and nurture the various leadership threads and talents that may run through their own passions or convictions. That is the central purpose of this book.
The talented J.H. Kwabena Nketia, for example, composed African music based on influences from his grandmother and an “adowaa hemaa” from Asante Mampong in Ghana. Lurking behind Nketia was the soaring image of Ephraim Amu, the quintessential African musician who influenced the younger man, and showcased for the world the best in Ghanaian social and musical heritage.
Though belonging to different political spectrums in Ghana, the fusion of Kwame Nkrumah’s ideas for education, and F.L. Bartels’s commitment to the youth were so powerfully connected that the two – had they collaborated - could have elevated education in Ghana to innovative heights.
In Cape Coast, for example, the idea of the new University (Nkrumah’s idea) being fused with the town proper (Bartels’s idea) had bold visionary prospects. Today, who would argue that schools and communities have to connect in meaningful ways, and learn and benefit from each other?
Winston Churchill is also included, indirectly, through his voice. Though a keen imperialist, he has been declared profoundly as the greatest statesman in his era, with an acute sense of the leading personalities of the time.
In writing about both Kwame Nkrumah and Barack Obama, I attempted to mimic both the Churchillian sense of observation and the literary style that leveraged his analysis of the leading people of his era, and earned him a Nobel Prize.
Writing about Barack Obama opened a floodgate of personalities, including great writers like W.E.B. Du Bois, William Faulkner, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and icons like Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, Harry Belafonte and others, who influenced him from his humble beginnings to the pinnacle of a great achievement, the presidency of the United States.
Crowned the most revered president in American history, Abraham Lincoln also happened to be the humblest. Rising from the backwoods of Indiana, with no rich father to boast of, no need for an exuberant lifestyle, no vanities for arrogance, he forged a divided nation together, and continues to live in the hearts and minds of his people. Obama’s life seemed to share modern similarities with Lincoln, and I couldn’t help noticing the parallels.
Both Obama and W.E.B. Du Bois carved intellectual landmarks in Harvard University’s history. As African-Americans, Du Bois carried the honour of being the first PhD graduate, and Obama the first to edit the Harvard Law Review.
Du Bois was pivotal in Nkrumah’s growth and the Pan-Africanist ideals that influenced Ghana’s independence, and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Obama’s first trip to Ghana as the first African-American president of the United States seemed to confirm and advance a poetic integrity in the long history of Black emancipation in North America, Africa, and the diaspora.
Obama silenced some of the severest pundits on the American political circuits with his first victory in the Iowa primaries in 2008. Do not doubt also that behind every leader is a powerful, complementary partner. Dubbed first as “an angry Black woman” Michelle Obama rose to the occasion beyond her wildest imagination. In all this, quality education provided the young couple with the nerve, determination, and a sense of history to accomplish such great political feats.
It was an eye opener witnessing President Obama deliver his historic “Africa” speech at the International Conference Center, Accra. Simple, modest, sincere, articulate and committed, he infused leadership qualities worthy of emulation. This enigmatic newcomer is the youngest man in the selection in this book.
Also in the selection are unique individuals who have defied age - that inglorious period confirmed in many people as a staple time to rest, and to stop thinking. Du Bois, Ephraim Amu, Nketia, Bartels, Churchill all continued to think and write vigorously into their hefty eighties. In this category is K.B. Asante, a social and political commentator who continues to write every Monday for the Daily Graphic in Ghana.
I was honoured to have been invited to his 85th birthday at the Anglican Church, High Street, in Accra. His picture on the cover was taken at the time, in the company of his dear wife, Matilda. He is a continuous source of inspiration for Ghana as a committed citizen. Leadership is a tough proposition, but is the unexamined life worth living?
By: Anis Haffar