Africa has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent, leadership: predatory kleptocrats, military-installed autocrats, economic illiterates, and puffed-up posturers. By far the most egregious examples come from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zimbabwe -- countries that have been run into the ground despite their abundant natural resources. But these cases are by no means unrepresentative: by some measures, 90 percent of sub-Saharan African nations have experienced despotic rule in the last three decades. Such leaders use power as an end in itself, rather than for the public good; they are indifferent to the progress of their citizens (although anxious to receive their adulation); they are unswayed by reason and employ poisonous social or racial ideologies; and they are hypocrites, always shifting blame for their countries' distress.
Under the stewardship of these leaders, infrastructure in many African countries has fallen into disrepair, currencies have depreciated, and real prices have inflated dramatically, while job availability, health care, education standards, and life expectancy have declined. Ordinary life has become beleaguered: general security has deteriorated, crime and corruption have increased, much-needed public funds have flowed into hidden bank accounts, and officially sanctioned ethnic discrimination -- sometimes resulting in civil war -- has become prevalent.
This depressing picture is brought into even sharper relief by the few but striking examples of effective African leadership in recent decades. These leaders stand out because of their strength of character, their adherence to the principles of participatory democracy, and their ability to overcome deep-rooted challenges. The government of Mozambique, for example, brought about economic growth rates of more than ten percent between 1996 and 2003, following the economic catastrophe wrought by that country's civil war (which ended in 1992). And in Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki has strengthened civil society, invested in education, and removed barriers to economic entrepreneurship instated during the repressive rule of Daniel arap Moi.
The best example of good leadership in Africa is Botswana. Long before diamonds were discovered there, this former desert protectorate, which was neglected