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Durban - Problems on the African continent cannot be addressed with the current crop of leaders who have enjoyed decades in power but have failed dismally, former Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said on Wednesday. 

"I think when we talk about responsive and responsible leadership on the continent specifically, we tend to ask the wrong questions. Every discussion we have had about policy - whether on climate change, extremism, civil protests - ignores the underpinning problem which is that Africa has a leadership vacuum," Mazibuko said at the first plenary session of the 27th World Economic Forum on Africa being hosted in Durban.

"There are a slew of leaders on the continent who have had generations to implement the kind of change that would mean that, in 2045 when the youth population doubles, there would be economic opportunities, democratic institutions in place and no need for the kind of disruptions and desperation that is shown by people that take to the streets, or young people who join extremist movements so that they can have food in their bellies."

Mazibuko said the fact that the current African leaders have largely had tracts of time to implement favourable polices but had failed to deliver for their people could not be understated. "We are ignoring the fact that the current crop of Africa's leaders, in large part, has failed to deliver on a lot of these outcomes, yet we are asking what these same leaders can do to make it better.

My conviction is that we are asking the wrong people, and we are not making enough of an effort to think about who is going to replace the current crop of failed leaders into the future, in order to solve these problems," she said. Mazibuko said in most cases, problems bedeviling the continent at the moment were "preventable and foreseeable". 

"For example, the decline in commodity prices. Commodity prices are cyclical, yet the decline in commodity prices is exposing the lack of quality skills, education, [ability] to pay young people in the workplace and demonstrates that we have not built diversified economies that can support our people and that can give young people real futures. 

These things are foreseeable," she said. "There are many things. The response to climate change is another example. The response to the demographic bulge as well. All these are leadership challenges that should have been responded to by our current crop of leaders, but they haven't been. So we should not be asking that same crop of leaders to have another opportunity to make more mistakes. 

We should be asking what we are going to do to cultivate, inculcate and build a new cohort of leaders." Mazibuko, however, conceded that there had been exceptional leaders on the continent but emphasised that "on the whole, there has been a leadership failure on the continent that we don't talk enough about".

At the same plenary session, Oxfam International executive director, Winnie Byanyima, bemoaned the ever increasing inequality on the African continent, which has been fanning civil unrest in different states. "Civil unrest is the legitimate response of people to what they perceive as an unfair political and economic system. 

That is what I want to focus on. People are criticising leadership. Right here in South Africa, people are criticising leadership. Oxfam has done a study and found that three billionaires in this country own as much as the bottom half of the population - 28 million [people]. 

That is unfairness. People are complaining," said Byanyima. More than 1,000 leaders from more than 100 countries, representing business, government, academia, civil society, media and the arts have descended on Durban for the WEF meeting, this year themed "Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership". 

 - African News Agency (ANA)