24.01.2022 Article

FixTheCountry": What To Fix? The Leadership Factor

By Dr. Stephen Gyesaw
FixTheCountry: What To Fix? The Leadership Factor
24.01.2022 LISTEN

I used to think that leadership should be the most critical factor in any nation's development, but later reflection has caused me to rethink this thought. From village bye-laws to the constitution, I think that institutional framework is a critical factor paralleling leadership. While good leadership is critical to a nation's development, we know good and bad leaders come and go, but robust, workable, and functional institutions will survive any leader. We know the kind of leadership we have had since the beginning of our Fourth Republic has not served us well. While the international world touts democracy as a significant factor of good governance, they tell us that there is no direct link between democracy and human development in countries where a small elite dominates economic and political decisions, as we see in Ghana.

They write, "For politics and political institutions to promote human development and safeguard the freedom and dignity of all people; democracy must widen and deepen" (UNDP 2002, p. 1)." They add, "The links between democracy and human development are not automatic: when a small elite dominates economic and political decisions, the link between democracy and equity can be broken" (UNDP 2002, p. 3)." In other words, there is no direct relationship between democracy and human development in countries like Ghana, where a small elite dominates economic and political decisions. It, therefore, stands to reason to fix the country because democracy, as it stands now, is not working well for the majority of Ghanaians. The question is, what do we need to fix? Leadership or institution, or both? I want to start with leadership and use as an example one leader who proved how practical, honest, steadfast, and selfless leadership could take a country with only a few resources and turn it into an international business hub. That leader is Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. But before I start talking about Lee Kuan Yew, I will discuss how Plato, the Greek philosopher, and the first political theorist, envisaged a political leader's model character.

What kind of leaders do we need to fix our country? Plato's Republic, a political work concerning the order and character of the just city-state, was the world's most influential philosophy and political theory. Plato did not see a just city or state where rulers are selected based on popular appeal. Instead, it advocates for rulers who will be guardians in the sense of dedicating themselves to what is good for the state instead of for themselves. It is much expedient, according to Plato, to entrust power to carefully educated guardians. He wrote, "Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and the political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue their self-interest to the exclusion of others are compelled to stand aside, cities or nations will never have rest from their evils." He referred to those who go into politics to steal as "those commoner natures." One must understand the philosopher-king against the background of philosophy in ancient times: It was concerned mainly with living a morally good life.

The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, was a perfect example of a philosopher-king. Marcus was a stoic philosopher who wrote about his ideas in "the Meditation." Marcus said, "Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking." Character and smartness are the two most important qualities you need in a president. Recent political science literature refers to these leaders as "Benevolent Dictators." The word "dictator" can be problematic because of its ordinary connotation. However, the word dictator here means leaders who do not allow the Western democracy or legal process to shield evildoers or saboteurs. In recent times, the names that come to mind are Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

For example, Yew did not use the so-called western legal system to convict public officers known to have stolen government money. He just used simple mathematics: just a closer look at your income and expenditure. How much is your wealth? How much are you paid? And what is the difference between your income and expenditure? Simple mathematics was enough for him to jail corrupt public servants. He advised public servants who wanted to be rich to go to the private sector.

Yew took a tiny, impoverished nation whose per capita GDP was about $400 a year and grew it to a per capita GDP of about $50,000, well above that of the United States. Describing the state of Singapore after independence in 1965, Devon Zueguel wrote, "Few expected Singapore to survive when it became an independent country in 1965. It was a tiny, impoverished island with a diverse population of recent immigrants. They had little shared history and no natural resources. Singapore had been colonized, occupied, and abused for over a century, and it was surrounded by hostile nations in a region succumbing to pressure by Communist forces." Yew revealed his modus operandi in this statement:

"When I started, the question was how Singapore can make a living against neighbors who have more natural resources, human resources, and bigger space. How did we differentiate ourselves from them? They are not clean systems; we run clean systems. Their rule of law is wonky; we stick to the law. Once we agree or make a decision, we stick to it. We become reliable and credible to investors. World-class infrastructure, world-class supporting staff, all educated in English. Good communications by air, by sea, by cable, by satellite, and now, over the Internet." These are statements from a man with a mission and vision to change the plight of his people and would not let his detractors derail him using a Western legal system designed to protect the powerful.

Ghanaians need leaders that have closely observed the cultural, social, economic, and legal factors that are crippling the country and are willing to put their lives on the line. In other words, such leaders should look at transforming the prevailing system of political, administrative, economic, and bureaucratic management that lay beyond short-term–performance improvements. This transformation will require profound knowledge yet untapped in the present institutions. To couch their dreams or vision for the country, transformational leaders need to foster aspiration, develop reflective dialogues, and understand the complexities of the current institutions. Such leaders must have a clear and stated vision, but that vision must be based on asking the right sets of questions.

After asking the right set of questions about the country, the leaders should do personal/moral diagnostics by asking themselves: What character traits, talents, and skills do we possess to accomplish these tasks? What is important to us as leaders? What are our most cherished values, passions, and motivation? And can we lead with our hearts? What group of people do we need to help us accomplish these tasks? How do we sell our vision to them, so their vision is in sync with ours? They need a fundamental learning unit: a group of people with the same mission who need one another to produce an outcome. Thus there should be core learning capabilities of teams. This group of distributed leaders, including the prominent leader, must have the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening their vision. They need to look at the citizens' and institutions' mental models or mindsets. What deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, and images influence how we see the world as people?

The leaders should have a shared picture of the future they seek to create. It is difficult for any administration to sustain some measure of greatness in the absence of goals, values, and missions deeply shared throughout the administration. Given the entrenched, endemic, and systemic bureaucratic and political corruptions in the country, anyone who intends to transform the country must be a person beyond reproach: he or she does not only have to be a visionary leader, but must be selfless, intelligent, reliable, imaginative, trustworthy, a good communicator, hardworking, insightful, and firm in disciplining his team members.

In a speech at the "Africa Leadership Forum" in Singapore in November 1993, Lee Kuan Yew uttered these words: "Once a political system has been corrupted right from the very top leaders to the lowest rungs of the bureaucracy, the problem is very complicated. The cleansing and disinfecting must start from the top and go downwards thoroughly and systematically. It is a long and laborious process that only a solid group of leaders with the strength and moral authority derived from unquestioned integrity."

In other words, fighting corruption which is the key to any country's economic development, is complicated and has to start from the top to the bottom. It is a long process, time-consuming, frustrating, and risky business, and therefore can only be carried out by a strong group of determined leaders with strength and moral capital derived from unquestioned integrity. Yew's emphasis on "a solid group of leaders" is significant in this transformation business. There has to be a shared, collective and extended leadership practice. The leader needs to have a core group of men and women with impeccable character who have the same vision and are willing to bear the risk of change. These leaders must share the same vision and determination and do the unthinkable and risky things to redeem their society.

The multifaceted problems Ghanaians are facing stem from the apparent decline in the moral sensibility of our national leaders. We as people should have a deep reflection on ethics and politics. We should seek the kind of aura of moral authority that makes leaders so revered: where fundamental goodness and courage to address any moral failure and possession of selfless spirit can prevail over lust for power, glory, greed, division, and obsessive smallness in partisan politics. The "fix the country" people should understand that moral reputation is intrinsically tied to political effectiveness and bureaucratic efficiency. Any man or woman with moral standing or notable dignity and integrity, who proves himself capable and with a high reputation, can move citizens towards trust, respect, allegiance, and loyalty, all of which can be politically tapped to achieve otherwise tricky or impossible things.