25.11.2008 Feature Article

It's not just 'the leaders' (I)...

It's not just 'the leaders' I...
25.11.2008 LISTEN

I am an avid follower of all that is Ghanaian; hardly a day goes by without me reading some Ghana-related online forum, listening to Ghanaian radio, or engaging in discussions about Ghana and her ongoing development with like-minded friends and associates. Though I live and work in the UK, I have been visiting Ghana at least once a year since my early 20s – in a good year, 2 or 3 times. I find it difficult to express in words the joy I feel whenever I go home. My greatest wish is to see Ghana emerge from the doldrums and become a pleasant and decent society that has something positive to offer the world. Oh, my other wish (or should that be 'dream') is to score the winning goal for Ghana in a World Cup final; that, unfortunately, is fantasy, and is not relevant to this piece!

Over the years, I have read many interesting articles and submissions about why Ghana (and sometimes 'Black Africa' as a whole) continues to wallow in under-development and poverty. Many so-called intellectuals and commentators have offered a myriad of reasons for this. Some have cited culture and traditions as a reason, others have identified greed and selfishness as the cause, and yet others have come up with a plethora of other causes, including backwardness and a lack of foresight. Perhaps the most readily offered explanation for our failings, however, is poor leadership, specifically in relation to shortsightedness and greed. I accept this, together with most of the other reasons given, but I don't believe this is the whole story. This continual finger-pointing at our leaders – though valid – is both an abdication of our collective responsibility and a failure to identify the root-causes of the problem. Please allow me to elaborate.

Our leaders emerge from the people…
My father always says that if you claim to have a stomach-ache when you actually have a headache, you will be given the wrong remedy for your ailment. Our leaders don't come from Mars. They are not imposed on us by some Deity or an external Colonial power, at least not since we got our Independence over 50 years ago. They emerge from among us. We either 'allow' them to impose their will on us through coup d'etats, or we choose them to 'rule over' us via the ballot box. Most of our leaders during the last half-century have fallen way short of the mark! With this record, can we claim that we've just had the wrong leaders? I think we would be deluding ourselves if we actually believed this to be the case. In my humble opinion, there are more fundamental drivers and the root of the problem is not just with our leaders. We all contribute to our problems in various ways, and hiding from – or failing to recognise – this 'truth' will not get us any closer to resolution. If we continue to think that the problem is simply down to wrong or unsuitable leaders, we naturally conclude that a simple change of leadership will remedy the situation; but historical evidence of the last 50 years would suggest that this largely hasn't been the case.

Abdication of responsibility…
It's so easy to point the finger, isn't it? So easy to spot the speck in someone else's eye, all the while forgetting that there is a massive log in one's own eye! I think one of the things we don't do so well as a people is critical self-examination (and taking criticism). I wonder if this is another manifestation of our culture of mediocrity and blame – perhaps a painful legacy of colonial rule (i.e. us versus them mentality). Problems are always other people's fault – even where there is clear evidence to the contrary. Many of us either do, or would do, the exact same things that we criticise others for; some times even worse things. I'm not saying we shouldn't point out where people do things to the detriment of others – on the contrary I think we can't make things better if we don't identify, and right, wrongs – but isn't it hypocritical, and don't we lose our moral authority if we do the same things too? My contention here is that we all have a hand in our leadership failings, and it would be an abdication of responsibility to simply point our fingers elsewhere and claim it's the fault of some specific individuals. It also masks the extent of the real problem, and limits our ability to find the correct answers and solutions.

The causes and drivers of our leadership deficiencies…
As previously stated, I think there are some profoundly fundamental causes and drivers of our leadership failings. I don't believe that the problem is simply one of the wrong people getting into leadership positions. Where are the right people then? It's time we took a proper look at this issue so we can make some attempt to address it; that is, assuming that we want to improve things. In my view, we just don't develop capable leaders; I'm not even sure we understand what leadership is, in its truest and most positive form! The pool from which we select our leaders is fundamentally unfit for purpose, so it follows then that there is a high probability that the leaders we select will not be good enough. If a basket contains 10 tomatoes, 2 of which are rotten, there is a 4 in 5 chance of picking a good tomato. If, on the other hand, 8 tomatoes are rotten, the probability of picking a bad tomato is very high. As controversial as it sounds, it's my assertion that this is the true nature and extent of the problem (and thus the challenge) that we face.

So, what are these causes and drivers? I think there are a number of key contributory factors: our values, our cultures and traditions, weaknesses in our socio-political systems and institutions, and, controversially, organised religion! For me, the inappropriateness of our values systems is the most significant of these – but the others are also weighty. Values are a function of peoples' innermost beliefs, and they drive our motivations and how we see and interact with the world. The way we define and measure success, and our general lack of respect and tolerance for others and dissenting viewpoints is a real problem. On the subject of 'organised religion', I am not seeking to bash Christianity, Islam, or any other religion – I am a Christian myself. I do, however, believe that as a people we seem to have 'no-questions-asked' approach to our pursuit of faith, which doesn't help our development. It plays more into the hands of the multitudes of fake ministers who seek to prey on the desperations of people to enrich themselves, than it favours God. In my view, God wouldn't have given us brains and free will if he wanted us to be drones and follow blindly. The good book itself implores us to “test the faiths” to avoid going in the wrong direction!

To mitigate against the risks of an overly lengthy piece, I will end this piece here. In my follow-up, I will go into more detail about each of these factors and explore why and how I believe they have impacted our leadership abilities in the way they have. I will also make some suggestions on what I think is the way forward.

Comments are welcome at [email protected].