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Of legacies, comedy and squabbles

07 May

The last couple of weeks have steered my mind toward the issue of legacy. This has been triggered by four unrelated stories that have been in the news internationally and in Zambia.

The hospitalisation of Madiba in South Africa is the first. The beloved statesman spent some days in hospital after the recurrence of a lung infection. The outpouring of emotion, goodwill and prayers during this spell was unbelievable.

Then came the demise of Margaret Thatcher, famously called the Iron Lady. The announcement of demise was met with expected divergence. While others mourned the passing of a political stalwart with an undisputed place in Britain’s history, another section of citizens celebrated this development like a long sought breakaway.

Back home in Zambia, we were greeted with the appointment of one veteran politician as Provincial Minister. Mr Daniel Munkombwe has served in almost if not all governments. His latest nomination inevitably culminated in varying views given his age and propensity to switch political parties and allegiance at will.


Finally, what presented hope for a turnaround in a national asset degenerated almost instantly into unbelievable squabbles. The future of Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL) exploded when the appointed board and CEO went on a tangent. The end result was the sacking of the Board and suspension of the CEO Professor Clive Chirwa.

A question of now and the future

In all these unrelated developments, one thing stands out. The people involved were tasked with a huge responsibility to serve and all have ended up with a strikingly clear end.

Some have attained iconic status on account of their decisions, performance and general discharge of their privileged responsibilities.

For others still, disgrace and a checkered track record are the reward for being accorded an honourable opportunity.

The fact that these end states tell varying tales should present a challenge to all of us in our stations in life. At social, community, corporate or political levels.

Each day, opportunity arises for us to make a choice. The right choice to serve and do so remarkably with excellence.

Each day, it must be a deliberate undertaking for us to lay a foundation and build on it for the future. That is what builds legacies. Utilising today’s window for good and a better tomorrow we can all stare through.

We will analyse each of these four summarily so as to challenge ourselves and draw the inherent lessons.

Madiba: an example of being the bigger person

Nelson Mandela’s story has been retold a countless number of times. His place in history is cemented and well documented. Therefore, I will not dwell on the detail of this history.

However, in the context of legacy, Madiba’s life is a rich case study. Here is a man that lost a significant part of his life incarcerated and locked away from his family.

Fast forward to his release and eventual ascent to the presidency. He was elected the first black President in post-apartheid South Africa in 1994. The man was the top citizen and held all the instruments of power.

From jail to the top, what did the world expect? Those that had subjected him to isolation and pain must be made to pay. That would be the natural human expectation.

Madiba opted for a different direction. Whether of his own volition or on the advice of those close to him matters less. What stands out is his heralded capability to do the rare and unexpected. The right thing.

This is especially so because Africa still struggles in the leadership sphere. Credibility and integrity seem to be elusive traits in past and current leaders.

The fact that Mandela set the nation, continent and world on this course puts him a head above most leaders globally. He is revered and will bask in this admiration and respect till he breathes his last.

Ill intention had been showered on him for over two decades. That already counted as a wrong. When he had it all within his stead to avenge his past horrors, he extended an olive branch.

Today, post-apartheid South Africa has largely been spared retribution and blood-letting as a result of his choice.

Madiba today symbolises unity and diversity. Even in his ailing state, the world speculates on what will become of the nation once he is gone. Simply because there is a held belief that he represents the entire essence of restraint.

An entire nation holds back and lives with its demons on account of a man who led the way down the path of reconciliation in the midst of hurt.

Thatcher: believing, choices and moving

Baroness Margaret Thatcher died on April 8th, 2013. She had largely been out of the public gaze since leaving office.

Her death brought to the fore sharp contrasting reactions. One section bade farewell to a resolute leader that had been the longest serving Prime Minister in the 20th century with an indeligible imprint on British history as the only female PM.

A counter section of society though, celebrated this death and deemed it as good riddance. A person that threw them into pain via a host of policy decisions was no more.

This too points us to the choices made when one serves. Lady Thatcher is renowned for her firm belief in her ideology and policies.

Her political impact locally and globally reflects her influence, whether negative or otherwise. At a time when her nation needed courageous decisions to be made, she led.

In the process, collateral damage was unavoidable and some people endured the brunt of these decisions.

However, the lesson remains her resolute belief and determination to serve decisively. As such, she appeared clear in her mind and approach with regard to what she stood for and was intent on achieving.

It is this direction taken that leaves her name inked in UK and global political history as an iconic leader. One whose brand was that of an uncompromising leadership style. Even in the face of celebratory protests following her demise.

Munkombwe: time and chance happens to all

We then come home to Zambia and review the life of a veteran politician, Mr Daniel Munkombwe.

He has literally served in each government or under every President the country has had.

Granted this entails vast experience and a deep knowledge of the country’s political landscape.

His recent appointment as Southern Province Minister raised some eyebrows though. Does he still represent value to the nation’s agenda? Is he a force that needs to be actively involved or must he be seen as a “go to” advisor based on his immense experience?

The fact that negative statements have been attributed to him make this argument even more cardinal. He is reportedly on record saying all people get into government to “eat”, that is, to enrich themselves. It is a game of provision and survival over service.

Based on this, he most likely represents the mindset of our current political leaders. The fact that he has learnt much over the years cannot be disputed. But then again, the question of relevance and generational progression arises. Is he in the game for survival or service?

Mr Munkombwe had or perhaps has the chance to be among the noble men of the land that have served with loyalty. What he opts to do with that privilege lies with him and the choices made today.

He can determine his legacy like all other leaders. Do they serve their hungry “self-bellies” or the collective interest of a nation that entrusts their future to them? That choice always remains with an individual.

ZRL: a clash of motives or self-serving personalities?

Finally,we have the depressing recent saga at Zambia Railways Limited. So much hope had been generated when President Sata appointed Professor Clive Chirwa as CEO of ZRL. Of course concerns around the unilateral appointment were raised from a corporate governance perspective.

But the selection of an internationally renowned technocrat was a dose of progress and generally welcomed positively by most.

Alas, a quarter or so of a year down the line we have a dissolved board of directors and a suspended CEO.

What in the world went wrong?

This scenario that unfolded raises the inevitable question of legacy and what it means to each individual.

ZRL offers a unique page in history to turn around a financially and operationally beleaguered national entity. A fresh start for a positive and timely story of progress..

Unfortunately, instead of a revamped rail-line, employment creation and infrastructure development, what has been delivered is a classic collection of stunning squabbles.

The board and CEO have publicly been at each other’s throats. Battling over sitting allowances, salaries and other financial perks. All the arguments thus far revolve around personal benefits that must accrue to these individuals.

Whether this exhibited passion also reflected in the formulation of a strategic plan remains unknown and obviously doubted.

Again the issue arising remains the same. Do we think about our ultimate and overall contribution to society and posterity? Are we clear on the part we must play in such public roles or should our individual benefits always take precedence?

Where does this all leave us?

The questions posed above are of critical relevance. We all serve in various roles and capacities whether at home, corporate, community or political level. There always is someone we are impacting or moulding with our actions and choices. What legacy are we creating?

I have always held the view that we cannot be far different tomorrow from the person we are today. Our current attitude towards work, money, responsibility and other people, remains a vivid indication of ourselves in future.

If we are poor leaders now, lacking in integrity and credibility, what will change to make us the opposite in future? We must today practice the very ideals we claim we stand for if these are to drive our leadership in the near future.

A call for credible leadership

I recently came across an online poll by an advocacy group called ONE (visit http://www.one.org).

The question posed was “what would make the biggest difference in your world -better roads, education, health, honest government or something else?”.

Amazingly, a lot of respondents mentioned a strong desire for honest government.

That cannot be far from the truth. Our world yearns for credible leaders, men and women of integrity. These are attainable demands and humanly possible if only we yielded to the selflessness that leadership calls for.

This has become even more urgent with the failures we have endured at political level. Unfortunately, these are shortcomings also noted in churches or in spiritual leadership roles where hope must lie.

The truth also remains that this leadership issue is not for the next person. It my issue. Your issue. We are the leaders that must deliver this quality in our respective roles, capacities and stations. If we cannot do so now, how can we be certain we will when we are “there”?

Therefore each day is an opportunity for us to get something right and improve on our weaknesses experienced yesterday.

In the end, it becomes abundantly explicit that we should only demand what we too can deliver. Otherwise it would be unreasonable and hypocritical of us to cane those that fail. Afterall, even in our tiny worlds, we would have been unable to offer or deliver what we ask for in others.

So what then is your legacy today? Are you delivering on comedy and squabbles or you represent the hope for a new brand of leadership that the world is crying for?

Be the judge.

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