John Pombe Joseph Magufuli was the President of Tanzania from 2015 to 2021. During his tenure as President, Magufuli transformed the country in radical ways that upended the status quo and upset some of the economic and political elite yet improved the lives and livelihood of the majority of Tanzanians. He sacked over 1000 senior civil servants who were carrying fraudulent academic degrees (often from non-accredited universities). He negotiated with foreign investors in extractive industries for the Tanzanian people to have a greater llong-termstake in the profitability of their investments in Tanzania. He invested heavily in education and health and by the time of his untimely death, Tanzania had experienced a period of high economic growth (6% per year) and had become a middle-income country.  It could be argued that the biggest crime that Magufuli perpetrated against his country was dying too soon. His death created a wave of uncertainty about Tanzania’s future, which all Africans hope will be just as secure in the hands of current President Samia Suluhu. 

John Evans Atta Mills, nicknamed “The Prof”, was Vice-President of Ghana from 1996 to 2000 and President from 2009 to 2012. During his tenure, he was known for his integrity and gentle spirit. Under Mills, Ghana’s stable economy experienced sustained reduced inflation leading to the attainment of single-digit inflation of about 8.4% from a high of 18.1% in December 2008. The Ghanaian currency, the Cedi also stabilized as a result of his fiscal and monetary policies that put the economy in a healthier shape than what it was prior to his presidency. In 2011, Ghana was the fastest growing economy in the world at 20.15% for the first half of the year and 14.4% at the end of the financial year, and its budget deficit was reduced to 2% of the Gross Domestic Product during his tenure compared to 14.5% of GDP in 2008.  His government made significant investments in education and health. During Mills’ time in office, Ghana was adjudged the best place for doing business in West Africa and the  best West African performer in access to credit according to the 2011 World Bank Doing Business global rankings. Unfortunately, after his death due to disputed circumstances in 2012, the economic fortunes of Ghana under the leadership of President Mahama took a turn for the worse. 

Fred Swaniker, Founder of African Leadership University, once said “one of your most important duties as a leader is to stay alive and well, for the good of your organization”.  

Many Fortune 1000 companies now include gym memberships and mandatory periodic health checks in their CEO’s employment contracts in addition to the traditional health insurance benefits. This is because the Boards of Directors, employed by the shareholders to represent and protect their interests, understand that the loss of a leader can be detrimental to the company’s performance and catastrophic to the value of its shares and the loss of a leader’s effectiveness through debilitating or long term physical or mental illness, can also be harmful to an organization’s performance. 

What does all of this mean for you, dear leader? It means that you must be intentional,  disciplined, and careful about what you allow to enter your body through the primary means of entry…your mouth. As a leader, there are many ways in which your life can be cut short but one way that is insidious and yet you have full control over is through eating and drinking the wrong foods and/or the wrong quantities of foods and drinks. I am not going to bore you with what you should eat or not eat…there are many excellent and credible sources of information that you can access (including your physician) for that. What I am going to make you aware of is WHY this is so important. It is important because

 (a) you control it fully and
 (b) it is the primary determinant of your health/wellness. So for the sake of your organization (your family, your school, your business, your community, your country) exercise self-discipline in your consumption of food and drink.

Just because you can afford it does not mean you should consume it. Just because it is offered to you does not mean you should eat or drink it. Just because food is still on your plate does not mean you should finish it (you are not a child anymore and your mother will not punish you for not finishing what is on your plate). And just because it tastes great does not mean your should gorge on it and eat past the point of curbing your initial hunger.

We Africans must move past our previous fascination with fatness or association of weight gain with prosperity and good living and recognize it for what it really is: a threat to our economic, physical, and mental health…both individually and collectively. The history of this fascination is rooted in our history of subsistence agriculture and limited access to a reliable stream of food, resulting in a tendency to gorge during harvest in anticipation of times of famine or hardship. For you, dear African leader, this is no longer the case. If you are literate enough to read this article you can afford a meal whenever you want, and you probably have more than three days of food and snacks in your refrigerator. Let us ensure that our prosperity does not become our poison. You are what you eat.