Last week I published a piece in the Guardian as part of the Global Development Professionals network. The piece was in response to Professor Calestous Juma’s call for “more, not fewer, governance prizes,” which he published in Kenya’s Daily Nation online magazine. In it, Juma argues in part that:

It is true that some countries are more difficult to govern than others. This is not a reason to question the relevance of the prize. It is, in fact, an argument for more prizes, not fewer. There are many other African entrepreneurs who could help to broaden the base for excellence in public service by supporting other prizes.

For example, Africa could benefit from a new generation of prizes that celebrate, reward and inspire ministers, governors and mayors. In addition, there are many government officials, civil society leaders and entrepreneurs who have made outstanding contributions to improving excellence in public leadership.

Many of the habits that enhance or undermine public leadership are formed early in the lives of public leaders. Recognising young leaders who demonstrate integrity in public leaders would play an important role in creating a culture of excellence. Such prizes would be reinforce the pioneering support that is currently being provided by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Juma has taken umbrage with my opinion and has gone so far (in the comments section) as to say that I misrepresent his argument. After a fresh re-reading of his column, I think I understand where the confusion is coming from. Juma’s intent was to argue for transformation from the top (prizes), but the spirit of  my argument is that we need much more transformation from the bottom (investment).

The reality is that we actually need both approaches: recognition for current outstanding leaders as well as investment in preparing the next generation of institutions and leaders across the board. I lean towards the ratio being 75/25 skewed towards investment in Africa’s future leaders rather than the other way around. The demographic indicators are far too scary for it to be otherwise, as stated in my piece:

“Africa’s force multiplier is nearly 600 million youth between the ages of 15 and 24, with another 182 million joining the ranks by 2050,” noted author Dayo Olopade in her book The Bright Continent. By contrast, our leaders, who are older than the continent’s life expectancy of 58, fall into the minuscule 3% of the population older than 65.

The greater need isn’t for more prizes for our greying elders, but an investment in Africa’s neglected garden of youth. Sub-Saharan Africa holds pole position for the largest gap between the median age of the population and that of its leaders, at a gaping 43 years. It is inside this gap that investment in leadership training must happen if we are to ever see better governance institutionalised on the continent.

There are great leaders on the continent don’t get me wrong. They deserve recognition. But there are great leaders the world over. Why are African leaders the ones that need more prizes for doing a great job. You get elected to represent your people. In a working democracy, your reward is another term in office to continue or finish what you started. If not, the another candidate takes the helm. Isn’t it this the way governance works the world over? If you serve your allowed terms well, your reward is a legacy that will outlive you. John F. Kennedy left a legacy. Abraham Lincoln left a legacy. Mandela left a legacy. To me, that’s the ultimate reward for great leadership. Let’s invest in our African societies so that they understand this.

Too many young people in Uganda don’t think about going into governance as a way to lead, but as a way to be financially well off. This is the legacy that corrupt leadership is leaving in the minds of our youth. We have to change this. I don’t think we can do it by concentrating an overwhelming percentage of our efforts at the top of the food chain. When the tree is bottom heavy, you pull from the bottom, rather than pulling from the top.