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Fidel Castro’s African Legacy

It was Benjamin Disraeli who said: “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example”. Fidel Castro’s legacy to the world mirrors this quotation accurately.

The death of Fidel Castro, a global iconic leader, should exhort us to think strategically about transformatory leadership for social inclusion. Given the gross inequalities and inequities that are spawned by poor governance and leadership, it is imperative that we promote social inclusion in our development narrative.

Against all odds, it was Fidel Castro who through responsible leadership was able to oppose  the bastion of the capitalist world, the USA, and establish an inclusive development agenda for his small island state called Cuba.

It was his brand of inclusive development through a system of rewards and punishments that brought about a reversal in the rural-urban migration process. No mean feat. Rural-urban migration, currently, is the cause of major problems in emerging economies of the world, including Africa. Because of a lack of development and extreme poverty, globally thousands of families migrate from rural areas to urban areas on a daily basis in the hope of seeking out decent livelihoods. These rural migrants compound the problems and challenges of urban areas because they neither have the necessary skills nor the financial means to live in an urban economy and become a burden on the local state when they seek shelter and other necessities to sustain life.

It was Fidel Castro’s leadership which saw Cuba have one of the highest literacy rates in the world. His meme of ‘each one, teach one’ is now well known throughout the world for inclusive development. Cuba also has one of the best primary health care systems in the world.

The question that goes begging for an answer is: how did Cuba achieve such commendable milestones in its development agenda, especially given that it was a relatively poor island state? It was inclusive development through responsible leadership that assisted Cuba to reach such hights in the global drama of social ascendency.

A socially inclusive development paradigm is one that over-rides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion, equality of opportunity for all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction. It is, in essence, a society for all in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play.

Although many African countries have made great strides in terms of economic development in the past few decades, they seem to be lagging behind in terms of building inclusive societies. There is a growing chasm between haves and have-nots and poverty seems to be rising at an alarming rate. We are already beginning to see the negative fallouts of this widening gap, and the daily occurrences of political protests or service delivery strikes, are some of these exemplars.

Mo Ibrahim of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation –an organisation that pronounces on the issue of governance in Africa – has repeatedly been making similar requests to both the public and private sectors to go beyond the interstices of the codes and rules of good governance. He has warned that whilst we may have good governance policies in terms of rules and regulations, in practice, they could mean very little, particularly when they have an insignificant impact on the socio-economic upliftment of the majority of society. He pleads for responsible leadership for inclusive economic growth.

When one considers the current state of decay in government leadership, it would do us good if we begin to contemplate the future trajectory of Africa’s development. In this respect, it is the youth and our higher education institutions that we need to refocus our attention on. The participation of youth through critical training in responsible leadership will help our African nations transform into a truly inclusive society. As countries emerging from a serious crisis of poor governance and leadership, we need to epitomize the role of selfless leaders such as Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.

We need to encourage our youth to participate in building the nation and working towards bringing about social inclusion. In this regard, our education system has to empower for an uplifting effect on the growth of our countries. These issues relating to the provisioning of quality and empowering education have to be funnelled down to understanding the role of higher education institutions in bringing about a transformation in society. Consequently, curriculum transformation has to be the basis to empower our youth to realise their role in broader society.

A body of skilled people in leadership in any society can have a powerful positive impact on development of that society. The new responsible leadership cadre must have the responsibility to use their skills, talents and capabilities to create an impact on the socio-political issues being faced by their fellow citizens. The current socio-economic conditions require these new leadership pathfinders to create building blocks for achieving inclusiveness in society. The new development narrative cannot be as usual.

Gross inequalities, poverty and poor governance are imposing challenges in the creation of an inclusive society. It deprives people from even the basic needs of food and shelter and thereby leads them to being marginalised to the backwaters of society. Innovative and responsible leadership can assist the majority of the unemployed youth to become the masters of their own destiny by empowering them with entrepreneurial opportunities. Remember Cuba’s meme of ‘each one, teach one’.

As a nation, sincerely seeking to break out of its quagmire of negative governance and poor leadership, we need to engage in collective action to make sure that we identify and create strategies and programmes that will have an impact on the critical socio-economic and political problems and challenges and make a positive contribution towards shaping an inclusive society. We owe it to those who sacrificed for our liberty and the memories of iconic struggle heroes of the Fidel Castro kind.

Finally, let’s heed the imploratory remarks of another struggle icon, Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Paresh Soni is the Associate Director for at the Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA) and writes in his personal capacity.

This essay originally appeared in Pambazuka News.

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