Since independence, our leaders have played a pivotal role in derailing the economic and political stability of the country under their stewardships. Their political arrogance has cost us a healthy living to the point that we are beggars and internal refugees in our own God forsaken country.
They have indulged in a reckless game of financial profligacy and violated human rights with impunity as no one can stand against them. Even ordinary employees who find themselves working with these leaders have done their worse. The military, police and thugs have been used against the innocent and vulnerable civilians to the point that even Members of Parliament and other officials are not spared.
It is now widely acknowledged that bad leadership has a direct correlation to the development of the country. The root cause of our endemic problems has partly been traced to the country’s coterie of bad and arrogant leaders. Our leaders have generally been known to have created intractable conflicts, misuse and abuse of power, violated human rights and driven the populace further into the bowels of poverty. The only way out of these calamities and to reclaim our rightful position in the international system is we have to do something about our leaders.
Everyday on the internet, the tide of bad news from the country rises again. The police beating up innocent civilians, the military threatening and kicking women of substance, inflation is rising, customs duties are sky rocketing and the people at the helm of power misusing their positions they never dreamed of getting, to intimidate ordinary people. Prices of basic commodities spiraling by the hour, premature deaths in the obituary announcements and armed robbery continue to increase unabated. It is better to be an angry man than to be sorry, but angry with whom?
It has to be said, though, that sustained political anger is still rare in the country. The most disastrous trait of the ordinary Sierra Leonean is their infinite capacity for forgiveness, their sheer inability to keep up resentment. Just 16 years ago after wrecking the structures of the country Sierra Leoneans forgot and voted again for APC.
A distinguished characteristic in the country now is that we are being ruled once more by a party who in the past has used thugs and police on us. Their despicable behavior notwithstanding the present crop of leaders will have to be replaced one day whether they like it or not. When the time comes, the most important task will not be simply replacing them but finding the right people to replace them with. The opposition we should count on has shocked all of us by joining the rulers to dance and honor the least expected guest few months ago.
Before defining who a “leader” is and is not, we should first establish the fact that politicians usually do not make “good leaders.” As the British journal ‘Nature Today’ once pointed out in a study on leadership, politicians are uniquely simple personalities. In short, they lack personality. Most experts now believe that the ability to lead is not limited to the few born with exceptional talent. Even though an inborn potential doesn’t hurt, leadership is now viewed as a set of skills that, with proper training, can be learned. But what is leadership?
Leadership is getting other people to follow towards a common and positive goal. A leader feels that he has something to offer or that he can make an existing situation better. Initiative and vision are the pillars of leadership. The desire to lead, though essential, is not enough to make a dynamic leadership. That is exactly what we are facing now in our poverty stricken and God forsaken country.
A leader has to have a firm grasp of knowledge, a well-honed and appropriate skills, and relevant experience that makes him strong and successful. Having the skills and know how in a particular field makes him the obvious candidate for leadership. But this is not enough. Someone may be successful in a small institution, but will be a sadistic and ignorant head of state once in power. Having knowledge is one thing, but putting it to use in the interest of the people is another. One’s knowledge is then only useful if it is used to enhance a common goal.
There are many other qualities of leadership. Inner qualities include fairness, impartiality, character, strength, and ability to recognize one’s limitations. Additionally, a leader is also one who is peace loving, faithful, kind, obedient to God, and serves his or her people. Other qualities include outspokenness, decisiveness, proactive, wisdom, strength, love for the people and the work, and honesty. Today people have also picked their leaders on the basis of their good looks, wealth, popularity, and the willingness to do anything to get on top and stay there.
Corruption in the country is almost a matter of common sense, as long as everyone else is abusing public office to benefit their clans and families; it remains self-defeating not to do so well. A teacher may receive his monthly salary but seldom teach but will tell students to attend extra lessons. A worker at Works ministry collects salary but has a stall at Park or Big market. By so doing, these workers fail to perform their public services even though they are being paid.
The state is therefore predators on the people they are supposed to serve and protect. Police officers extort bribes instead of protecting life and property; soldiers beat and molest the citizens they are supposed to protect from foreign invasion; customs officers extract bribes instead of collecting duties and for our government officials and politicians, foreign tours amount to prolonged shopping vacations.
When the colonial administrators left abruptly, our leaders who succeeded them proceeded to use their official positions to benefit themselves, their families and friends. In fact, many believe that it is right and proper to help family, clans and friends as long as they are in the position, whether these people are qualified or not. That is why up till now we have many people occupying wrong positions, which has cost us dearly.
The country has resorted to begging for survival. With all the natural resources and quality agricultural land, we cannot feed ourselves; neither administer the country, unless IMF and World Bank tell us what to do. So when the global recession strikes, the government has nowhere to turn to only for the importers and the consumers to be squeezed until their bones come out.
Instead of serving us, the government function as vehicles for self enrichment of political elites that have inherited none of the public spiritedness of their colonial predecessors but all of the latter’s contempt for the country’s masses.
Aid has kept our predators alive by enriching themselves and paying the salaries of their bureaucrats, soldiers and police. Representatives of rich countries seem united in their belief that the country would benefit from more international assistance and oblivious to the harm that aid has already inadvertently caused the population by propping up the political parties.
According to the Book of Proverbs, the qualities of good leadership are hard work, reliable communication, openness to new ideas, capability of listening to both sides of the story, wise planning and common sense, ability to stand under adversity, standing well under praise, knowing the facts before making decisions, and not penalizing people for good behavior or rewarding evil. In other words, leadership skills can be used for the great good or great evil. Unfortunately, our leaders have chosen the latter.
Many of our leaders, who possess leadership personality traits, lack the spiritual character. Many of them have ignored the importance of a spiritual character to effective leadership. Moral and spiritual character takes years to build, and it requires continual attention and patient discipline. Our leaders think that they are spiritual by merely proclaiming their faith or making appearances at places of worship or being in the company of opportunistic religious leaders.
Unlike King David to some extent, because David repented and asked for forgiveness, our leaders have abused their positions of authority to get what they want. There is rampant abuse of power in the country in the last 16 months. Our leaders are averse to exploiting, manipulating and compromising those under their authority. We have many Absaloms; these are the ones who use their charisma as a mask to cover craft, deception, and hunger for power. Underneath their style and charm, these leaders have been unable to make good decisions and handle the affairs of the nation wisely.
Many could again learn from Moses who commissioned Joshua to replace him and encouraged him in his new role. Good leaders prepare their people to continue the journey to the Promised Land without them by identifying those with leadership potential, providing them with the training they need, and seeking ways to encourage them. Unfortunately, our leaders prepare others to create chaos instead of taking over political power in the interest of the nation.
To be an effective leader is not an easy task as it takes vision, flexibility, knowledge, communication, and hard work. But those who have the desire and the determination to sharpen their wits, hone their skills, and accentuate their virtues can pull away and deftly lead us to success.
The country needs leaders who will show us where to start and what direction to take in reconstructing our shattered lives and the country. Sierra Leoneans are longing for plain-spoken leaders with charisma, vision and innovations to create new, politically and economically vibrant nation that is just and independent, and not leaders full of arrogance together with their cohorts. May those who want to lead us please stand up now!