“Higher Education must engage in the exhilarating business of giving moral and ethical leadership training," – Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, speaking at the Stellenbosch Seboka on Higher Education and Ethical Leadership, South Africa, 24 April 2008.
Corrupt leadership continues to plague much of sub-Saharan Africa, deepening the economic, social and political crises in a region where half the population subsists on less than one dollar a day. "In most African countries corruption is estimated to represent between 20 and 30 percent of the GDP," said UNECA's Okey Onyejekwe at last month's International Conference on Institutions, Culture and Corruption in Africa. "That is inconceivably large."
The global coalition Transparency International, which ranks many of this region's countries among the world's most corrupt, concludes in a recent report that efforts to alleviate poverty fail because "donors and governments still treat poverty and corruption as separate — rather than integral — components of the same strategy."
Yet against this discouraging backdrop, a hopeful initiative has emerged from a diverse group of university leaders who believe higher education can be a catalyst for change. Presidents, vice chancellors and other officials of 17 universities met in southern Africa last April for the Stellenbosch Seboka on Higher Education and Ethical Leadership (Seboka is a Sesotho word meaning "a gathering for a common cause"). Convened at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, the meeting was co-hosted and facilitated by Mann Center Director John Knapp, who was then director of a center at Georgia State University.
Among the Seboka leaders were Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former South Africa Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, and Ms. Frances Hesselbein, chair of the Leader-to-Leader Institute. The gathering culminated with a Declaration of Beliefs and Principles, unanimously adopted by the assembled leaders, which began with the affirmation, "Higher education is responsible for developing ethical and moral leaders for all sectors of society." Moreover, the group declared, "Higher education should fearlessly acknowledge and confront moral issues in society by articulating and publicly discussing them, and by deliberately addressing them as part of its teaching, research, community engagement, and administrative agenda."
Recognizing that this may be easier said than done, the Seboka called on all universities to "rethink and re-imagine traditional assumptions and approaches in all of its activities and disciplines."