Analysis & Opinions - The East African

Juma Mwapachu: Legacy of an Entrepreneurial Leader

| April 18, 2011

African presidents have the subject of considerable scrutiny and superficial and largely irrelevant rankings over the past decade.

The focus on African leaders has ignored alternative forums where Africa is showing remarkable progress thanks to outstanding leadership.

These are what I call entrepreneurial leaders devoted to creating new government bodies, businesses and learning institutions.

One such field is regional integration. On April 19 a Rwandan national will replace Juma Volter Mwapachu as Secretary General of the East African Community.

This transition comes at a critical time when the region will be creating a Monetary Union, forging a Political Federation and expanding to include South Sudan.

Mwapachu will be remembered as a true entrepreneur with a passion for creating new institutions that improve the lives of the majority of people.

He operationalised the EAC Customs Union, led negotiations for the EAC Common Market that came into force in 2010 and laid the groundwork for the forthcoming EAC Monetary Union. He also oversaw the admission of Rwanda and Burundi into the EAC.

His five-year tenure is credited with major improvements in the running of the internal organs of the EAC.

These include the Summit of Heads of State, the Council of Ministers, the East African Legislative Assembly, the East African Court of Justice and the EAC Secretariat itself.

He put to rest any lingering anxieties about the viability of the EAC through his dedication to institution-building, a hallmark of his leadership style.

He also made effective use of roadmaps as planning tools that have brought predictability and accountability to the functioning of the EAC.

But what is critical for next generations is to understand the leadership qualities that he brought to the job that made it possible for him to achieve so much over such a short period.

I have had the opportunity over the past two years to work closely with Mwapachu during the drafting of my book The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, which outlines elements for a blueprint for regional agricultural strategies.

Mwapachu was quick to embrace our message that Africa can feed itself in a generation and to help put it forward to EAC leaders.

The book argues that this can be done if Africa can take advantage over emerging technologies, create regional agricultural markets (especially through infrastructure expansion), and mobilise political support from the new generation of leaders dedicated to economic improvement.

He found this argument compelling enough to be presented to his senior staff.

He arranged for the book to be launched at a retreat of EAC presidents on food security and climate change held in Arusha on December 2, 2010.

It speaks to the trust that the presidents had in him that they agreed to collectively launch an independent study they did not commission.

This is Mwapachu's unique leadership style, focused on creativity and innovation, appreciation for technical expertise, and open to new ideas.

He approached his job with a focus on performance and outcomes and managed the process to achieve these goals.

Where formal procedures stood in the way of results, he found alternative ways to get things done while remaining accountable.

For example, the task of getting EAC leaders to start developing a regional strategy for agriculture required informal mechanisms to marshal the best available scientific and technical expertise and promote country ownership.

To achieve this, he convened the December retreat for presidents and the relevant ministers and permanent secretaries.

A major challenge for the continent's economic blocs is their overlapping mandates and memberships.

Tanzania, for example, is member of the EAC and the Southern African Development Community, but not part of the 19-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

To solve the problem, Mwapachu helped initiate the drafting of a Tripartite Free Trade Area Agreement involving the three bodies.

He chaired, for three years, the Tripartite Task Force of the Chief Executives of COMESA-SADC and EAC in undertaking this historic mission.

The agreement will cover 700 million people in 26 countries with a combined GDP of $650 billion.

Member countries will not be under pressure to choose which regional trade body to join as they will be operating in a single larger market.

The new super-bloc builds on the legislative foundations laid by the individual blocs. It advances continent-wide trade integration from the ground up.

Getting the grand regional market to work will possibly be Africa's most historic economic initiative.

It will be lasting testimony to the critical role that Juma Mwapachu played in bringing Africa closer to its enduring dream of economic integration through legal innovation.

Mwapachu has also brought to his office a keen intellectual curiosity that has enhanced his ability to learn from experience around the world to help improve the functioning of the EAC.

His own vast experience in a variety of roles in law, communication, administration, business and diplomacy helped to add to this encyclopedic knowledge.

While he sought to learn from experiences from around the world, he was also acutely aware of the limitations of copying models from elsewhere.

For example, he learned a lot about the design of monetary unions from the experiences of the European Union.

But he also kept in clear perspective the differences between the EU and EAC.

His departure raises a new challenge: how to ensure that the next generation of African leaders can learn from him.

With his abundant energy, Tanzania will find other ways to deploy his talents.

He will not go on vacation, but will be refreshing his soul at home listening to the finest of African music, especially Dr Nico Kassanda's all time hit, Doris, and others classics that we tracked through the Pan African Allstarts radio  

Mwapachu’s deep appreciation of African music reflects his belief in creativity as a central theme in cultural renewal.

He often said Africa's first technological revolution was not mobile phones but recorded music which gave the world giants such as Dr. Nico and Franco.

An ideal future for him would to bequeath his experience and knowledge through a School of Regional Integration created to train the next generation of regional leaders.

Demand for competence in managing regional affairs will outstrip the supply as the region deepens integration.

The East African Federation will be the 16th largest nation in the world and the fourth in Africa in area.

With a population of nearly 140 million, it will rank eleventh in the world and second in Africa.

Its GDP will stand at $140 billion, making it the 55th largest economy in the world and the fourth largest in Africa.

The EAC is one of the oldest efforts in regional integration in the world, going back back more than a century.

There can be no better role for Mwapachu at this stage than to be a crucible around which a school of regional integration can crystallise.

The need to foster regional development will require the creation of human capacity needed to manage regional affairs.

So far, the RECs rely heavily on personnel originally trained to manage national affairs.

There are very few opportunities for training people in regional integration.

There should be a graduate school to undertake research, professional training, and outreach on how to facilitate regional integration.

The school could also serve as depository of knowledge gained in the implementation of regional programs.

The challenge is how to fly East Africa to greater heights. This would be the best tribute to Mwapachu's entrepreneurial leadership.

Calestous Juma teaches at Harvard Kennedy School and is author of The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa published by Oxford University Press in 2011

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous.“Juma Mwapachu: Legacy of an Entrepreneurial Leader.” The East African, April 18, 2011.