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Leadership in Africa: rethinking development

Vanessa Iwowo (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 7 April 2015




The subject of leadership in Africa is an increasingly pertinent one that has been approached from various stand-points. Mainstream theoretical perspectives have shaped contemporary learning interventions on the continent, but are increasingly challenged by African renaissance views that critique this approach as a form of western ideological hegemony and an extension of the colonial project. However, alongside this debate, the issue of how to effectively address the issue of leadership “under-development” in African organisations remains salient. Moving beyond renaissance criticisms of western hegemonic thought formations, the purpose of this paper is to broaden the discourse by exploring several relevant options for a more pragmatic approach to leadership capacity building in contemporary African organisations.


This is a conceptual paper that takes a critical look at the existing debate on leadership development in Africa. In this, it examines two separate existing knowledge frameworks and considers the implications of each of these for praxis in context. The analysis presented here focuses on means of navigating between these thought formations in a much more circumspect and critical manner that leaders can learn from.


This paper highlights the important relationship between context, mainstream theory and indigenous knowledge. Its critical analyses suggest that engaging carefully with indigeneity in an experimental hybrid space may enable creative adaptation and appropriation through contextualisation, leading to more reflexive organisational practice. It subsequently proposes a conceptual model for constructive engagement with leadership development in practice.


The paper makes an important conceptual contribution to the debate by moving a step beyond the important theoretical criticisms and counter-criticisms that have so far shaped the discourse and more crucially, focusing on the salient practical question of “where we go from here” with respect to leadership capacity building in African organisations.



Iwowo, V. (2015), "Leadership in Africa: rethinking development", Personnel Review, Vol. 44 No. 3, pp. 408-429.



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