Fred Swaniker: The leaders that ruined Africa
His talk, The Leaders That Ruined Africa, and the generation that can fix it, doesn’t mince words. From the outset it’s clear that Fred Swaniker is a man with a plan for Africa. Born in Ghana in 1976, Fred Swaniker has lived in the Gambia (where his family was forced to leave due to another coup), Botswana, and Zimbabwe. On his changemakers bio, he says that with each part of Africa he lived in, he fell more deeply in love with the continent, and with this love came a strong desire to see Africa prosper.
It led him to question: what will it take to make Africa prosper? Fred Swaniker’s answer: leadership In his TED Talk, Swaniker recalls that in Botswana, “everything worked.” He speaks about how, at the age of 8, he watched Nelson Mandela on TV, when the iconic leader was given a chance for release on the condition that he gives up the Apartheid struggle. Mandela didn’t relent; he refused to give up the struggle until he’d achieved his objective of freeing South Africa from Apartheid. Swaniker says he remembers feeling how “just one good leader could make such a big difference in Africa.” At 12, Swaniker went to high school in Zimbabwe.
At the time, Zimbabwe, with its growing economy and excellent infrastructure, seemed like it was a model for economic development in Africa. However, Swaniker returned to Zimbabwe after graduating college and says of returning to the shattered country, “it seemed all of a sudden as if 30 years of development had been wiped out.” Millions of people had emigrated and the economy was in a shambles. “How could a country go so bad, so fast?” he asks. “Most people would agree that it’s all because of leadership.” According to Swaniker, Africa’s weak institutions mean that here, more than anywhere else, one leader can make or break a country. He categorises African leadership into 3 generations: the first generation of African leaders brought independence to Africa.
The second generation brought warfare, corruption and human rights abuses to the continent. The third, Nelson Mandela’s “stabilizer generation” of leadership, managed to “clean up much of the mess of Generation 2.” Africa’s next generation of leaders Africa is the second-fastest growing economic region in the world, which according to Swaniker means that our next generation of leaders, Generation 4, has a unique opportunity to transform the continent. This future generation of leaders needs to both create prosperity for Africa, and build its institutions. “None of the previous generations have been able to tackle this issue of poverty,” he says. Africa has the fastest-growing population in the world, but it’s also the poorest. By 2030, Africa will have a larger workforce than China. By 2050, it’ll have the largest workforce in the world. 1 billion people will need jobs in Africa. “If we don’t grow our economies fast enough, we’re sitting on a ticking time bomb, not just for Africa, but for the entire world.”
Cultivating leadership Swaniker realised that in order to sustain and accelerate Africa’s development, “we must be more systematic about cultivating leaders. We must be proactive about increasing the number of individuals who can conceive of important new ideas and implement them.” In line with the idea of cultivating leaders, Fred Swaniker co-founded the African Leadership Academy in 2004. He comes from a long line of educational entrepreneurs who have founded schools across Africa, and knows the enormous impact that education can have in transforming society. Swaniker first had the idea for the African Leadership Academy while living in Nigeria in 2003 where he recognised the urgent need to increase the supply of effective and ethical leaders for Africa. “Through the African Leadership Academy, I hope to create a powerful new system for supporting and growing these young leaders of Africa.”
During his TED Talk he announced publicly that his goals for the academy include building 25 universities across Africa. Each campus will accommodate 10 thousand leaders. “We’ll be educating and developing 250 thousand leaders at any given time.” Swaniker hopes that half of these leaders will become the entrepreneurs that will create the jobs that Africa needs, while the other half will go into government and the non-profit sector to build Africa’s institutions such “that we’re never held to ransom again by a few individuals like Robert Mugabe.” Africa’s Ivy League Fred Swaniker has launched a further 4 organisations that aim to develop leaders in Africa. These include the African Leadership Network, a gathering of African leaders under the age of 50, which takes place every year in a selected African city; Global Leadership Adventures, which is a worldwide youth leadership development programme with campuses in Ghana, South Africa, India, Brazil and Costa Rica; the Africa Advisory Group; and Synexa Life Sciences, a biotechnology company in Cape Town that today employs over 30 South African scientists.
He holds an MBA degree from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, where he was named an Arjay Miller Scholar, a distinction awarded to the top ten percent of each graduating class. He also holds a B.A. degree magna cum laude in economics from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. He was recognised by Echoing Green in 2006 as one of 15 “best emerging social entrepreneurs in the world” and listed as one of Africa’s top 10 young “power men” by Forbes Magazine in 2011. In recognition of his work in developing Africa’s future leaders, Swaniker was selected as one of 115 young leaders to meet US President Barak Obama at the White House in 2010.
In 2013, Obama praised Swaniker as an education entrepreneur saying, “Fred helped to start a biotech company, and now uses his expertise to help other young Africans develop their leadership skills so that they can come back and put those skills to use serving their communities, starting businesses, creating jobs. So thank you, Fred, for the great work that you’re doing.” The African Leadership Academy teaches leadership skills to students from across Africa, waiving fees on the proviso that graduates remain in Africa afterwards. Of the academy, Swaniker says, “Think of this as Africa’s Ivy League, except that the main criteria for getting into this university will be: what is the potential that you have for transforming Africa?”