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Dangers of leadership

Chisiza, D.K. (1962). Dangers of leadership. In Africa: What lies ahead? African-American Institute. Also in Nolen. (ed.). (1967). Africa is people. New York City: E.P. Dutton.


In this timeless work, Chisiza shares seven dangers of leadership. Born in Northern Nyasaland, he was educated in a mission school, an Ugandan college, and an English university. He is also one of the founders of the African Youth League, and was deported to Nyasaland where he continued his political activities. In his writings, he shares:


In January 1960 Mr. Dag Hammarskjold, secretary-general of the United Nations, toured 24 countries in Africa and met ‘most of the national African leaders.’ Of these leaders he had this to say when he returned to New York:

‘I found the present generation of African leaders to be of high seriousness, devotion, and intelligence. I am sure in their hands those countries will go to a happy future.’


According to Chisiza, "the cause to which these leaders are consecrating themselves is noble, their trust is sacred, their problems manifold, their tasks immense. Accordingly, they must be on the lookout against pitfalls which might sabotage their work and plunge their countries into chaos. There are seven main dangers against which they have to guard.":

  • "The first of these refers to the policy of ‘rewarding friends and punishing foes.’ "
  • "An allied that of nepotism..."
  • "The third danger assumes the form of blurred vision. It has been said that ‘where there is no vision the people perish.’...Blurred vision of what things should be results from the failure of nationalist leaders after the attainment of independence to switch from their role as freedom-fighters to that of economic modernizers....Those leaders who succeeded in adjusting themselves to their new tasks are the ones who never lost sight of the fact that freedom is merely a means to the end of social and economics reorganization....There are two ways of acquiring such a vision: delving into literature which deals with developmental problems, and consulting economic and social experts as to what should be done."
  • "The fourth danger stems directly from the danger just considered. It relates to two closely linked things: (a) dwelling in the past and (b) petty jealousies....When leaders are apparently doing and achieving nothing remarkable, people tend to regard their leadership as merely a means to personal enrichment and prestige."
  • "The fifth danger lies in the competition of African leaders for preeminence....It is unnecessary competition which deserves the condemnation of those people who want to foster African unity and to promote harmonious cooperation."
  • "The sixth danger relates to the policy of aligning with power blocks....It is almost a universal tendency...of the world (to judge) that if the ruling party is pro-West, the opposition is pro-East.
  • "The seventh danger is that of dictatorship. Three things will bring about a dictatorship in Africa: (1) too much trust, (2) too little trust, and (3) neurotic ambition. Of the three causes, the third presents the least problem...The real problem is posed by those leaders who will lapse into dictatorial tendencies either because their countrymen trust them too much or too little."

In sum, Chisiza notes, "In framing policies and designing measures, therefore, leaders must rely more on public opinion and the opinions of colleagues than on their imagined superior intellect. The task of leadership involves following as well as leading."


  1. What has been written of political leadership in the 1960s may also be relevant to the 1990s. Young people being trained for leadership should be aware of its dangers. They should be encouraged to develop character and positive attitudes that will keep them from pitfalls preventing the full development of their country and peoples.
  2. What is true of political leadership applies also to leadership in churches, schools, and communities. The each institution regularly experiences its own abuses of leadership. The reasons for the failure of leaders are spiritual, social, and psychological.
  3. Young people learn much from the great achievements and failures of past leaders. Teaching youth is leadership training.

Dean Borgman cCYS