DP: In Hopes of a Better Future with Better Leaders

Along the course of my blog posts on development perspectives, I have deliberately touched on diverse issues that are related in one way or another to Sustainable Development. That is because I think it is such a cross-cutting topic that reaches so many aspects of our public and private spheres.

Through my writings and our class discussions, I have come to realise that when we discuss about development and the many paths that lead to it, many times the concept and practice of “good governance” comes up.

In my last post, for example, on Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, I learned that the condition of the environment and the management of resources can reflect the type of governance that is being practiced in a given country. In the case of Kenya, people speaking out against the deforestation of a strip of forest eventually led to the downfall of a dictatorship. So whether we want to believe it or not, the condition and governance of the environment actually plays a deep role in the maintenance of peace and stability as it involves not only trees and nature, but human rights and democracy too.

Thus, it would seem to me that even if a country were to have the perfect social, economic, and environmental resources, and created the most intelligent think tank that crafted the best system to develop the country, it would all go downhill if the leader(s) or government is corrupt, authoritative, untransparent, discriminatory, disconnected from the people, and possess other characteristics that are associated with “bad governance”.

In one of our classes, we were given the opportunity to listen and speak to Mr. Martin Kalungu-Banda through a Skype session. He taught us that leader’s priorities are people’s priorities, and I was particularly moved by some of his words as I have personally seen how leaders can disregard the priorities of the people in order to gain their own political and economic benefits.

I remember when he said (non-verbatim) that “when you stay in power so long, you get sick… you begin to feel that you deserve to be where you are, doing what you are doing.” This idea of being “sick with power” is a scary notion but history has proven, time and again, that it is not just a horror version of a fairytale but is in fact a serious problem that truly occurs in real life to many leaders and their people out there.

The question is how do we build and maintain “good governance”? In the current scenario, does it even exist? Is there a cure for this so-called “power disease”? I would like to believe that there is a solution for it. In the meantime, we still require a system of checks and balances to limit power because if not curbed, a leader in power has potential to transform from hero to villain by abusing the powers that were entrusted to him/her.

In his book, Leading Like Madiba: Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela, Mr. Kalungu-Banda gives the following advice:

“Great leaders know how to move themselves from centre-stage. They know also when it is time to go. They prepare for it and make sure they have a successor who will build on what they have achieved. They enable other people to emerge as potential candidates. This is what sustains the leader’s legacy while guaranteeing a smooth transition. It is not about cloning themselves; it is recognising that they cannot lead forever and that they must create the conditions for fresh leadership to emerge.”

Perhaps then the greatest solution should come from within the leader’s own self – that is to be able to recognise that power is a privilege, not a right, and to know when one’s time in power has run its course.

For many of us, the New Year symbolises the beginning of a better tomorrow. As 2011 comes to an end, I wish the world love, health, peace, prosperity and most importantly, better leadership and improved governance in all sectors.

Here’s looking to a better future!

Happy 2012!!! 🙂

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DP: In Hopes of a Better Future with Better Leaders

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