Self-serving leadership must never be allowed to bud

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir waves to supporters at the NCP Headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan April 26, 2010. [REUTERS]

The ouster of Omar al-Bashir in the Sudan has exposed Africa’s leadership underbelly. For many people, Bashir’s fall can only be termed as good news. Bashir was a mistake that should not have happened in the first place, but which became a disaster in the long run. Having seized power through a coup three decades ago in 1989, Bashir’s leadership was marked by serious human rights violations and extreme dictatorial tendencies. He was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.

He has also been placed in Washington’s list of sponsors of terrorism for allegedly supporting Islamist militants. Yet in spite of all these, the man continued to roam the continent unencumbered and with the support of Africa Union leaders. He was even hosted in Kenya for national fete in true African leadership defiance.

The truth is, the African continent – perhaps more than any other – is in a leadership crisis. While we are overly obsessed with leadership positions, we seem to understand little about the practice of leadership. Ours is about occupying positions and enjoying the prestige and the perks thereof. And in Jesus analysis, this kind of leadership is all about lording it over others. Sadly, this is the brand of leadership prevalent across Africa – a leadership that is primarily self-serving. The interests and welfare of the people are trampled upon and any resistance is ruthlessly crashed. That is how we end up with a leadership like that of Bashir that is utterly destructive.

Studies have shown that the antidote to destructive leadership are effective institutions, system stability and proper checks and balances. These form the backbone of strong nations or organisations. That is why the most common strategy of destructive leaders is to weaken or undermine the key pillars that hold the nation together. Such leaders sidestep or act in defiance of any individuals or institutions that uphold the rule of law. The consequence is that they become a law to themselves. In Africa we call them the strong men.

Crisis of transition

The other leadership challenge we face in Africa is the crisis of transition. Whenever there is a transition, the nation or organisation gets into a crisis. Either there is no suitable successor or there are fights and strife, or the baton drops and the successor cannot move the nation or organisation beyond the levels of his predecessor.

This is true at national level, in the corporate world and unfortunately even in Church. It is rare to hear of a smooth leadership handover or better still a progressive change where the new leader builds on the foundation of their predecessor and moves the nation, or organisation to higher heights of growth and development.

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Because of this crisis, men such as Nyerere and Mandela, who voluntarily handed over leadership, stand out like lighthouses. Not because what they did was unusual but because it is unusual in Africa where leaders generally view themselves as immortal. They rarely envisage the possibility of ever being out of their leadership positions – whether in life or in death.

In fact, in our own nation, there was once a law that prohibited citizens from thinking or imagining the death of a president. Thus, in Africa, leadership positions are held until death do us part! The natural consequence is that should members be tired of a leader; they are left with no option but to brutally oust him or her from office as has happened in the Sudan.

How can this situation be rectified? For a fact, we need a shift in our leadership paradigm. We must appreciate the mortality of the leader. Like it or not, leadership outlives the leader. No matter how great you are, you will one day have to go. The leadership wheel must therefore be held with a loose grip – with readiness to hand it over to the next person. The second fact is the immortality of the institution.

Even though I am mortal, there is a sense in which the organisation I lead is immortal. It is likely to outlive me and many other future generations. The interest of the institution must therefore take priority.

As our Vice President, the late Prof. George Saitoti once said, “There comes a time when the interests of the nation must supersede the interest of the individual.” Actually, that time is always! The Bashirs of our time must never be allowed to grow in the first place.

- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]

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Omar al-BashirSudanICCThe HagueDarfur