The ‘cargo cult’ and stereotypical leaders

BY: Kwami Gudzi Agbeko

When President Barack Obama visited Ghana in July 2009 he spoke to our Parliament and said; “ The 21st Century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well.

Only this time, we have learned that it will not be giants such as Nkrumah and Kenyatta who will determine Africa’s future, it will be you-- the men and women in Ghana’s Parliament and the people you represent. Above all, it will be the young people brimming with talent and energy and hope – who can claim the future that so many in my father’s generation never found.”


Oftentimes, it is convenient for us to blame the hiccups in our development as a nation on military intrusions in governance. The assertion that military dictatorial regimes may have truncated our developmental process in various ways is debatable, considering varying circumstances.

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But one common trend that has been apparent in the leadership brands we have ever had, whether military or democratic dispensation (except Nkrumah), is the lack of commitment of the leadership. One may ask, what is democratic governance offering us in this 4th Republic; dedicated and committed leaders or stereotypical leaders ?

Ghanaian proverb

A Ghanaian proverb says that if the frog comes out of the river to say  the crocodile is dead, it must be telling the truth. 

When a Parliamentarian came out of the  House sometime ago to tell the whole world that his colleagues received bribes that influenced them to endorse the sale of Ghana Telecom to Vodafone, who are we as ordinary non-amphibians to dispute that claim? 

Nevertheless we have witnessed with dismay, how shady deals manicured in beauty salons, as well as non-transparent and grandiose housing schemes were handled by our Parliament. 

Above all, when the majority leader in Parliament confirms the allegation of bribery in the House, you better believe him. This is because we elect “Cargo Cult Stereotypes” as leaders.

Cargo cult

The term cargo cult mind-set means the mind that is predominantly pre-conditioned to the acquisition of free gifts for no work done. Some of our representatives in Parliament think that they are in their present positions by some act of destiny ordained by God. But in real terms they occupy such positions because people voted them in. 

However, it is becoming clearer that the overriding reason for making such leadership choices is based on the expectation of the delivery of cargo to their supporters in the form of handouts during the pre-election and post-election periods. 

Whatever development impact these leaders make within their communities is best left to their constituents to judge.

What is interesting is that these cargo cult stereotypes go on official trips abroad, exclusively on business class tickets, are exposed to the beauty and efficient systems of the environment they visit, come back home and are at a loss replicating what they observed out there. 

They gleefully talk about their wondrous experience, but lack, to a large extent, the commitment and creative capacity to shape similar situations back home. 

What interests them most is the low hanging free fruits that benefit them personally on such numerous trips.

National psyche

The cargo cult mentality has permeated our national psyche so much that we tend to appoint, sometimes, persons with no capacity for leadership roles as CEOs of state institutions, recycle known wrongdoers as board chairpersons or ambassadors, just for their personal opportunities of reaping some free low hanging fruits. We can imagine how the shape of our 21st century would look like if this cargo cult mindset persists.

However it is reassuring to know that some individuals are making a difference. But are we ready to tap into those talents or ignore them ? 

The problem is, we have made fetish of university degrees to such an extent that we tend to put premium on paper qualifications more than creativity and critical thinking skills in the determination of who plays what role in the Art of Governance. 

No wonder the market is presently full of private universities, most of which are producing hordes of stereotypical scholars that might not have been empowered well enough to claim the future in a positive way.

If we really want to shape a good future for our country and fulfil Obama’s words, then it is about time we uncloaked ourselves from our academic pomposity gowns, roll up our sleeves and get down to real and honest work with all our hearts, heads and hands. But first of all, we need deliverance from the cargo cult demons that have colonised our minds. 

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