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Why Africa needs 'cheetahs,' not 'hippos'

By George Ayittey, Special to CNN
  • Africa suffers from a monumental deficit of leadership, writes George Ayittey
  • The new "Cheetah Generation" are angry young African graduates and professionals
  • The old "Hippo Generation" are "stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch"
  • Cheetahs "look at African issues and problems from a totally different perspective"

Editor's note: George Ayittey is a Ghanaian economist and the author of several books on Africa, including "Africa Unchained" and the forthcoming "Defeating Dictators in Africa and Around The World." In 2008, Ayittey was listed by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" of our time. He writes for Africa 50, CNN's special coverage looking at 17 African nations marking 50 years of independence this year.

(CNN) -- Currently, Africa -- a continent immensely rich with mineral resources and yet mired in poverty -- suffers from a catastrophic leadership failure or monumental deficit of leadership.

Since 1960, there have been 210 African heads of state, but just try to find 10 -- just 10 -- good ones among them. Names like Mandela, Nkrumah, Nyerere easily come to mind but then rapidly fall off.

But there is hope in what I call the "Cheetah Generation."

The Cheetah Generation refers to the new and angry generation of young African graduates and professionals, who look at African issues and problems from a totally different and unique perspective.

They are dynamic, intellectually agile, and pragmatic. They may be the "restless generation" but they are Africa's new hope. They brook no nonsense about corruption, inefficiency, ineptitude, incompetence, or buffoonery.

They understand and stress transparency, accountability, human rights, and good governance. They also know that many of their current leaders are hopelessly corrupt and that their governments are contumaciously dysfunctional and commit flagitious human rights violations.

The Cheetahs do not look for excuses for government failure by wailing over the legacies of the slave trade, Western colonialism, imperialism, the World Bank or an unjust international economic system.

To the Cheetahs, this "colonialism-imperialism" paradigm, in which every African problem is analyzed, is obsolete and kaput. Unencumbered by the old shibboleths, Cheetahs can analyze issues with remarkable clarity and objectivity.

The outlook and perspectives of the Cheetahs are refreshingly different from those of many African leaders, intellectuals, or elites.
--George Ayittey

The outlook and perspectives of the Cheetahs are refreshingly different from those of many African leaders, intellectuals, or elites, whose mental faculties are so foggy and their reasoning or logic so befuddled that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong. They blame everybody else for Africa's problems except themselves.

This is the "Hippo Generation," intellectually astigmatic and stuck in their muddy colonialist pedagogical patch. They can see with eagle-eyed clarity the injustices perpetrated by whites against blacks, but they are hopelessly blind to the more heinous injustices they perpetrate against their own black people.

The Hippos are of the 1960s-era mentality -- stodgy, pudgy, and wedded to the old "colonialism-imperialism" paradigm with an abiding faith in the potency of the state.

They lack vision -- hippos are near-sighted -- and sit tight in their air-conditioned government offices, comfortable in their belief that the state can solve all of Africa's problems. All the state needs is more power and more foreign aid. And they would ferociously defend their territory since that is what provides them with their wealth. (Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal.)

They care less if the whole country collapses around them, but are content as long as their pond is secure.

The Cheetahs are not so intellectually astigmatic. Whereas the Hippos constantly see problems, the Cheetahs see business opportunities. The Cheetah generation has no qualms about getting their hands "dirty." Africa's salvation rests on the back of the Cheetah generation.

I have identified several Cheetahs -- both men and women -- in many African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, Zambia and even Somalia.

They are operating in many fields: agriculture, informal sector, IT technology, manufacturing and even in government.

But now is not the time for the Cheetahs to take over. They will be ripped up by the ornery and nasty Hippos. Rather, they should build up on their skills, strength and accumulate knowledge and wealth -- in the private sector -- while methodically draining the swamp of the Hippos.

Soon, they will find themselves "homeless" and then the Cheetahs can take over.

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