True leaders: A dying or dead breed in Zambia?

07 May

There is one thing that has consistently bothered me over the years. This is with reference to both Zambia and Africa.

It is the aspect of leadership. As an open minded youth in the 21st century, I set my sights sharply on our crop of leaders, past and present, especially at political level, for lessons, inspiration and hope. Perhaps what I have seen most are the lessons. Arising mainly from omissions and errors in judgement. The inspirational ones seem to be in short supply.

What brings me to such a conclusion?

I note that most of the leaders we have seen grace the stage have ended up tarnished one way or another. Is it that we have opted for chronic failures or humanity has merely played its hand in exposing their failures?

My take is that the root cause is a systemic one. The governance frameworks we have had right from the Constitution accentuate this. Our leaders have been modelled on traditional chiefly rules, with unquestioned power and heavy reliance on patronage. As a result, their inherent weaknesses find fertile ground to come to the fore.

For now, I will set my sights on Zambia.

Enter KK: freedom fighter turned monster

Dr. Kaunda, our beloved founding father, was at the heart of our fight for Independence. This role he played with a generous heart, sacrificing his husbandly and fatherly role for the freedom of the nation.

It is no wonder that for his commitment, strong personality and charisma, he became Prime Minister and then the first President of independent Zambia. This set us on the course of political independence. He likewise provided direction as head in the pursuit for infrastructure development, some of which we still see today.

But then, the system then as we were learning the ropes fed his weaker side. He did not take kindly to being challenged, a threat to his authority. This brought out a side we have all come to know. An authoritarian, brutal and scathing man.

Zambia came to know about detentions, attempted coups, dress downs at press conferences, fear and suspicion of each other on the street, centralised government and a vibrant effective but paranoid intelligence system that even pitted family members against each other.

In the end, Zambia was, in the minds of many, under dictatorship. The economy had gone to its knees with the national treasury haemorrhaging to support a socialist economic system that had outlived its usefulness.

Zambians spoke and he left office in 1991 after the advent of multi party politics. Zambians could not take it any more. He still believed in being “wamuyayaya”(ruling forever) and those around him were afraid to tell him the truth that his end had come.

FTJ: the black Moses

He may not have been the tallest of men. But here came a courageous and charismatic man, unmatched in eloquence and mastery of speech delivery.

He was Zambia’s second president and instrumental in getting the economy through the toughest of times. The extent to which the economy was brought to its knees was dire. Unpopular decisions had to be made to get Zambia back on track.

Some of the developments we enjoy today are undoubtedly fruits of this phase. Economic liberalisation, telecommunications development, transport sector growth, home empowerment, trade and a host of other positive activities.

However, his end yet again brought to light his weaknesses. The system allowed him to get away with poor leadership choices, excesses and lapses that derailed the vision that endeared him and his team to many a Zambian.

In the end, it was a story of a leadership steeped in corruption, flashy lifestyles, misapplied national resources, unpopular choices such as the third term bid and finally stepping off the podium disgraced, isolated too to a large extent.

Levy: the revered State Counsel

Chiluba opted for Levy as his successor following the failed third term bid. Levy had served in the Chiluba government but resigned to protest growing corruption within government.

Levy was not as gifted as his predecessor in terms of eloquence or charisma. But there was no doubt he was one of the most eminent and respected legal minds Zambia had produced. He was called all sorts of derogatory names during and after the campaigns.

As fate would have it, he had state machinery behind him and found his way to become citizen # 1,albeit with the narrowest of victories.

Zambia however came to know a different man. Focused and clear enough to show he knew what he was doing. He followed his legal pedigree and facilitated in taking his predecessor FTJ to court over corruption and abuse of power claims.

The economy showed encouraging signs of stability, a result of shrewd and disciplined monetary and fiscal policy management. He can also be credited for challenging the wanton abuse or poor ethical disposition in the public service. Accountability took centre stage.

There have been claims of some lapses, failures and corruption under his watch. Also one of the issues that to me was the biggest disappointment was the failure to prioritise and deliver the Constitution Zambia needed and continues pursuing in 2012.

However, he never got the chance to finish his full term. Levy unfortunately died in office in 2008 after suffering a stroke. Life had been good to him and he will not be judged harshly. He thus died a hero and his send off was a testimony of this status. He went to dust as a heralded anti-corruption leader.

RB: president for all Zambians?

In death, opportunity presented itself for Levy’s Vice to take over. Rupiah Banda, popularly referred to as RB, became Zambia’s fourth president.

He cast the image of a fatherly (or perhaps grandfatherly) personality. A likeable man if one took politics away.

He rose to the presidency at the right time. Zambia had been doing well economically with the fundamentals strong to support stability. This was consolidated and milestones achieved. The statistics, other measures and expert analyses attested to this.

However, what was an opportunity was not taken by RB and co. Instead, the “playboy” tag stuck as this era had a reputation of waste, grand corruption and a laissez-faire approach to governance.

Times were changing too and the social trends had over time given rise to an enlightened citizenry that demanded real progress. As such the economic statistics meant nothing without jobs, income opportunities or basic services such as health.

That was the downfall of RB and even with the grandest of election campaigns ever seen in Zambia, he only lasted three years in office.

Sata: the populist veteran

Here came a man that had been in politics as long as anyone alive could remember. A decade prior to his ascent to the presidency as the fifth Zambian president, he had been a highly vocal, challenging and visible opposition leader.

It was hard to ignore him and somehow he branded himself as the voice of the voiceless, the underprivileged and downtrodden. The time too was ripe because people knew what they wanted and he seemed to represent that.

And so September 2011 ushered him into office. So much hope for reform, opportunity and new directions was placed on his shoulders, in him. Afterall, he was widely renowned as a man of action.

Same plot, different actors?

What I have seen in all these changes and transitions is more of the same. We almost always have changed leaders but the framework to “supervise” them has remained the same.

This poses the ultimate challenge we see. Leaders’ weaknesses seem to thrive more than the quality that woos all of us. In the end, the hope we have in these leaders when the journey starts is all lost. Lost in corruption, resource misapplication, under-development, authoritarian rule and all undemocratic elements one can imagine.

I have come to believe that God has a place for every leader so they can serve a higher purpose, whether they know it or not.

In Zambia’s case, KK was the man needed to push the fight for independence. FTJ was the man to challenge KK’s failures and usher in a new era of democracy. Levy was an ideal choice to halt the excesses in FTJ’s rule and cultivate a sense of accountability and collective loath of corruption. RB was what Zambia needed to get through the delicate time of an incumbent’s death. Stability through a crisis.

Now we have Sata and the hope is for Zambia to now pursue a path of an action oriented approach to development, a demand for comprehensive planning, results and real progress to go with it.

In all these stages of leadership, what has remained a challenge for Zambia is the governance framework. Our constitution and the structures to supervise our leadership are inherently weak. So much power resides in the presidency. As such, when one is in that powerful office, they do what they want and seemingly get away with it. Constitutional amendments favouring them, abuse of resources with little or no accountability and a host of other failures one can think up.

So we find ourselves changing leaders but dealing with the same challenges of poverty, failed leadership, corruption and poor service delivery in health and education for instance.

Is this a Zambia specific problem?

I think not. We have seen this replicated across the continent. Where self-serving leaders have no sense of service or obligation to the people that put them in office.

I am reminded of the likes of Mobutu, Kamuzu, recently the late Bingu Wa Mutharika or the long serving leaders up north that have now been deposed by popular uprisings. Leaders that want to remain in office with a mistaken belief only they are the saviours of their nations. The likes of Wade in Senegal that had to be forced out through the ballot while a host of others still remain fighting their own people’s demands for reform, change and fresh leadership.

So clearly this is not a Zambian problem. It is an ailment heavily crippling a continent that is so hungry for progress. A dream stifled by a selfish band of leaders that think only of their interests.

Why are we still failing?

We are failing because we let these lapses win. We fail because we the people and citizens allow our leaders to get away with it.

We fail because even we the so called enlightened and educated only pay attention to our personal aspirations, caring less about that malnourished child, pathetic sanitary conditions in the compounds, the army that can not get into school because there is no money or those whose hard earned little money has paid for our university education.

If we that have had this privilege sit back and only think of what’s in front of our noses, what hope is there? None and none for the simple reason that tomorrow if we became leaders, it is not the state of our nation, the challenges of our brothers and sisters that will motivate us. Instead, it is our own aspirations and pursuits that will drive us. If that be the case, the failure we moan about today remains our fate still tomorrow.

This harsh and sad reality is evident in so many spheres. The political arena is but one area only. We see selfishness in the corporate world. In churches sadly. Even civil society fails us as we have come to see in Zambia post September 20 elections. The extremely active, vigilant and vocal civil society took a partisan position, devoid of principle and today find themselves compromised and irrelevant.

What then?

If something bothers you, that is a call to do something about it. That is a call that goes to everyone of us, especially the youth. The next generation.

The time is ripe for fresh leadership, an active youthful crop that shows its quality, maturity and what it has learnt over the decades. A time to embrace the responsibility of preserving the future and delivering progress for posterity.

This is an aspiration, dream, challenge and undertaking that can only become a reality if we confront the man or woman in the mirror.

Staring him or her in the face with just one simple question. An honest question that “will I be any different if put in that leadership role?”. It doesn’t matter if the role is in church, business, politics or the home for that matter. If you will not be any different, nothing will change. If nothing will change, then we must not complain about any failure we face but endure it.

Clearly, leaders that are selfless remain in short supply. Without doubt, we need a new breed that will steer the ship in a different and prosperous direction.

Are the true leaders that the continent needs a dying or dead breed? The answer depends on you and I.

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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Uncategorized


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