Leadership and the impact of the emerging concept of firm‑hand leadership on economic growth and democracy in Africa

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • SDG 8
  • Abstract:

    During the past few decades, debate surrounding the role of a firm-hand leadership style (command-and-control, authoritarian leadership or dictatorship) to bolster rapid economic growth took place in some East-Asian Tiger countries, such as Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea. Western development partners, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s African Governance Initiative (AGI), as well as leaders like President Bill Clinton and Tony Blair praised this type of leadership. These institutions, initiatives and individuals praise this approach, as it led to economic growth in some African countries. Rwanda and Ethiopia are often identified as two prominent performers in this regard. Western donors and international financial institutions (IFIs) are now arguing that the rest of Africa should replicate the East- Asian Tigers’ Developmental State model to achieve economic development. However, literature on leadership styles rejects firm-hand leadership outright as a “debilitating style” (Weir 2011:1). Literature in this regard states that Africa has been under authoritarian regimes since time immemorial and the very leadership style that is currently believed to lead to economic growth in the East-Asian Tiger countries and certain African countries was also blamed for having contributed to Africa’s under-development. This contradictory state of affairs leads to an important question: What did previous African firm-hand leaders in Rwanda and Ethiopia do, or fail to do compared to their counterparts’ current initiatives to achieve the same economic growth? This article aims to explore and contextualise the concept of firm-hand leadership within the broader leadership framework. Furthermore, it sets out to uncover in what way post-independence African leaders, who were described in the literature as dictators and authoritarian, ruined their countries’ economies. The article also uncovers and reports on contemporary firm-hand leaders in Africa’s alternative approach to develop their countries’ economies. Finally, the article attempts to unpack the theoretical intricacies that surround the concept in order to delineate critical success factors for this type of leadership on the African context.