Q & A: How does “The Leader and the Led” justify the type of leadership in Africa?


How does “The Leader and the Led” justify the type of leadership in Africa?

The Leader and the Led” by Professor Niyi Osundare is an allegorical poem that avers the kind of leadership in Africa and what leadership ought to be. The poem establishes the cat and mice relationship that exists between African leaders and their followers.

The poet’s African origin and the siting of the tropics as the meeting place of the animals unmistakably point Africa as the point of reference in the poem. The poet no doubt addresses the eyesore of leadership deficiency Africa as a continent is plagued with.


Osundare first addresses the issues of bad leadership, leadership ineptitude, and gross misgovernance which have become the rallying cries for many short-changed African followers. The poet, as he does, examines the kind of relationship that exists between African leaders and their followers. He then typifies the type of leadership peculiar to African countries since their purported independence from European colonialists.

The poet uses the attributes, bodily features and predatory ability of some of the contending animals as proofs of the leadership inadequacies Africa is beset with.

In “the lion” and “the hyena”, Osundare shows African leaders as exploiters and oppressors. With their powers, they exploit Africa and its citizenry of resources and oppress the people they are supposed to lead. This makes them ideal replacements of their equally exploiting colonial masters.

In the the typical ways of “the lion” and “the hyena”, these leaders endanger the lives of those whom they have sworn to protect.

In “the lion”, the poet uses “the ferocious pounce of his paws” on antelopes as an analogy of the deliberate and calculated oppression of the citizenry by the machinery of the state.

The “lethal appetite” of the hyena alludes to the greediness of most African leaders. They see leadership positions as avenues to amass wealth; to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses. They cart away funds from the government’s coffer and misappropriate what is meant for all for one. This attribute of the hyena justly reflects the corruption that has become commonplace among African leaders and almost inextricable from leadership in Africa.

The poet also portrays the elitism of African leaders typified by the farness of the giraffe’s eyes from the ground. African leaders are only close to the people before assuming power or when they are seeking for votes into elective posts. Once they assume power, they distance themselves from the masses.

A leader who does not live and mingle with his people will not understand their plight. It is only natural for such leader to enact and enforce non-friendly, draconic laws.

In “the zebra”, the poet references the dubiousness and deceptiveness of African leaders. Using “the duplicity of his stripes” as a focal point, the poet posits that African leaders can not be trusted to do anything right or taken for what they say or on the face value because behind their sugar-coated lies are several ulterior motives. Like “the pack” of animals, the people are justifiably suspicious of their leaders’ “duplicity”.

The poet also foregrounds the fanfare and siren-blaring processions of African leaders, using the “trampling feet” of the the trudging elephant as an example of how these needless traffic commotions and wanton disregard for order have instill “dread” in the citizens rather than command respect.

Too many of these processions in their reckless displays have caused accidents in the past. One such procession led to the death of Professor Festus Iyayi, a former ASUU President and author of realist novels like The Contract and Violence while on his way to Kano. He was hit by a car in the convoy of the then Kogi State Governor, Idris Wada.

The poet also portrays African leadership as “riotous” like “the rhino”. We have seen too many fights in the legislative chambers among lawmakers who are saddled with the responsibility of enacting laws to agree with this position. The disorderliness where there ought to be order is quite disheartening. During elections, these leaders also foment troubles and instigate electoral violence.

No doubt, Niyi Osundare’s “The Leader and the Led” has done justice in its delineation of the type of leadership in Africa. The poem figuratively describes African leaders as “ferocious”, “lethal” in appetite, duplicitous, greedy, “riotous” and “trampling”.

The poem however offers insights on what ideal leadership is. It says ideal leadership embodies transparency, compassion, humility, legitimacy, the will to govern, the readiness to listen to the followers, and a balance between ideas on the opposite sides of the fringe.



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