It is easy to experience a sense of déjí vu when analysing political leadership in Africa. The perception is that African leaders rule failed states that have acquired tags such as “corruptocracies”, “chaosocracies” or “terrorocracies”. Perspectives on political leadership in Africa vary from the “criminalisation” of the state to political leadership as “dispensing patrimony”, the “recycling” of elites and the use of state power and resources to consolidate political and economic power. Whereas African states enjoy external sovereignty, internal sovereignty has taken on a new meaning as political leaders outside the so-called formal Westphalia arena compete for power, provide state-like services and have monopoly of and over organised violence. Against this background, some states that were once “wholesalers” of security are now mere “retailers” of security, authority, resources and power.
Given their present rates of growth and development, it is clear that most African states will not meet most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. This paper is an attempt to review and analyse the multiple layers of formal and informal political leadership in Africa. Leaders play a pivotal role in political agenda setting, the distribution of resources and political actions. The contemporary state in Africa is a remnant of a colonially imposed system. At the time of independence, elites attempted to transform this but only succeeded in entrenching their interests. The paper also addresses new indications of transactional and transformational leadership on the continent as illustrated by the African Union (AU), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).