African centered leadership-followership: foundational principles, precepts, and essential practices.

Author:Hotep, Uhura


"You can't lead us if you don't love us; you can't save us if you don't serve us."

-Cornel West

This paper spotlights four inter-locking, synergistic and sociocentric practices that are cornerstones in the conceptual framework of African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F) theory. They are Sovereignty--Maat restoration and Sankofa--Johari Sita installation. Before examining these precepts, principles, and practices, two textual usages must be addressed: (1) the hyphenation of leadership and followership and (2) the use of the adjective "African centered".

First, the hyphenation of leadership and followership is our way of textually elevating followers and equating their status with that of leaders. According to the ACL-F construct, which openly draws from Kemet (ancient Egypt), one of our classical African civilizations, neither seshemu (leader) nor shemsu (follower) is superior to the other; in fact, they are opposite sides of the same coin (Bass, 1995). In Western culture, however, the shemsu is often looked down upon as weak-willed and subservient destined to stand in the shadow of the omnipotent seshemu blindly following orders while the seshemu basks in the limelight and reaps major rewards. This is not the case with ACL-F.

In practice, ACL-F is a collegial, egalitarian partnership between leaders and their core followers with their roles frequently switching. Like Vishnu and Shiva, the cosmic dance team of Hindu mythology, leaders and followers are inseparable co-creators, always in motion, giving and receiving, pushing and pulling, leading and following. ACL-F agrees with leadership theorists Warren Bennis (1994) and Robert Kelley (1992) who view followers, in particular "effective" or "exemplary" followers, as more important to an organization's success than leaders. In the political arena, when in sync, followers and their leaders re-order social systems and bring forth new nations. In the African experience, followers and their leaders moving as one created the great West African empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhai and all the wonders gracing the African social universe.

Next we must address the use of the adjective "African centered", which distinguishes this school of leadership theory and practice from all others. By African centered, we mean, like Molefi Asante (2007), having the mind and the skills to interpret data, persons, and events from the standpoint of African agency. When this perspective is applied to the history of American leadership, for example, the role of an African American leader like Sojourner Truth or Frederick Douglass becomes central to a balanced study and understanding of 19th century American leadership history.

In addition, African centered in the African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F) paradigm means deliberately and methodically researching indigenous African societies and their diasporic expressions for leadership-followership precepts, principles, practices, theories, patterns, motifs, icons, institutions, rituals and ceremonies we can adapt for contemporary usage.

The four processes discussed in this paper are both prerequisites to ACL-F and ACL-F action steps. More than just leadership with an African "flava", ACL-F seeks a radical re-ordering of Black leadership thought as a prelude to a radical reordering of the African World Community. These radical re-orderings, we believe, begin with the embrace of an African centered vocabulary, value system and worldview.

In summary, ACL-F is a school of pan African nationalist leadership training and development that selectively incorporates social principles, political concepts, cultural practices, kwk., * created by and used effectively in traditional African societies on the continent and in the Diaspora to maintain social cohesion, economic solvency, and politico-cultural sovereignty. The ideal African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F) practitioners (intellectual maroons) have the will and the skill to create 21st century, sovereign, self-sustaining, democratic African villages (kilombos) as a prelude to creating a near sovereign, then in time a sovereign, democratic, communitarian, prosperous, peace-and-justice-filled, African nation (taifa) within what is now the United States of America. ([dagger])

Restoration of Sovereignty

The end goal of ACL-F in the United States is the restoration of African American sovereignty in cultural, political and economic affairs. The choice of the word "restoration" is strategic; it conveys the fact that our Ancestors had it--sovereignty--but they lost it and now we, their progeny, want it back. By sovereignty we mean self-determination, which is what political scientist Maulana Karenga (1997) calls Kujichagulia. That is, the right to dictate our own affairs in all realms of human activity without external coercion or manipulation. As a community of African people living in the United States, this is a right we have not fully enjoyed in over 375 years.

During the 220-year holocaust of English North American slavery, only small bands of self-emancipated Africans living in remote areas like the Everglades or the Great Dismal Swamp were able to regain (and maintain) their sovereignty. Known to English American history as Maroons (1), a major contributor to their success was their kilombo building skills. Kilombo is an Kimbundu word meaning an "encampment of warriors" brought from Angola to Brazil in the 16th century by African prisoners of war. (2)

It was their kilombo or village-building expertise that allowed Maroons to live as free human beings at a time when most Africans in the Americas were wearing chains. Of the millions of Africans who survived the Middle Passage, only the Maroons in their kilombos were able to recreate African village life and thus a degree of normalcy for their residents. Finally, kilombos by necessity were clandestine, fortified spaces, or what Kwame Nkrumah (1969) would call "liberated zones", where Maroon "freedom fighters", were extremely vigilant, and could live out their lives as sovereign human beings much like they were doing in West Africa, prior to kidnap and transport to the Americas.

The Maroons who established and maintained the legendary kilombo known as the Republic of Palmares--perhaps the most successful sovereign African nation in the history of the Americas--are foci of study for African centered leaders and followers throughout the Diaspora. Founded in 1600 in northeast Brazil in Alagoas state, Palmares at its height exercised sovereignty over a lush strip of highland real estate 120 miles long by 30 miles wide, watered by nine rivers. According to historian R. K. Kent (1979), Palmares was actually a confederation of 15 kilombos with Macaco serving as the capitol. Boasting a population in excess of 20,000 Maroons, Palmares maintained sovereignty keeping both Dutch and Portuguese enslavers at bay for over 90 years (Anderson, 1996; Reis, 2002; de Carvalho, 2007). (3) Hence, African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F) theory considers Palmares the starting point for all serious discussion of Black nation building in 21st century America.

The African centered approach to seshemet (leadership) seeks to restore African American sovereignty by first restoring our Maroon tradition of kilombo construction, i.e., our tradition of building and maintaining self-sustaining, self-governing, sovereign, democratic communities. Here in the United States, historian Herbert Aptheker (1969) found evidence of 50 kilombos built...

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