THE world is such a fascinating place. A look at the disparities in social, economic and political well-being of people across the world leaves one’s mind boggled as to how things could be so.
In my attempt to understand how some communities can languish in poverty while others seem to have it all going for them, has kept me riveted on the compelling nexus between leadership, conflict and development.
I am not an economist. Neither am I a politician. Rather I work with communities helping them deliberate around issues that affect them every day so they can reach out to their “enemies”, re-assess their perceptions, re-build relationships and co-create better lifestyles for themselves and their children.
However, in this work, my observation is that there is a serious dearth of leadership. I am almost tempted to say that where it is available it has abdicated its rightful role choosing to engage in self-mutilating discourse. But I realise that true leadership is not swayed. It is committed. It is true to principle against all odds. It is what Julius Caesar described thus: “… But I am constant as the northern star, of whose true fixed and resting quality. There is no fellow in the firmament.” Let me add here that this constant quality in leadership should be measured in its principled not arrogant nature.
This draws me to three scenarios: Singapore, Norway and Zimbabwe.
From 1959 to 1990, Singapore was under one leader, Lee Kuan Yew. In 1963, fearing that his small city state could not survive on its own, Lee brought the country into a confederacy with Malaysia. However, two years down the line Singapore was expelled from this confederacy and it had to go it alone.
Announcing this expulsion from Malaysia, Lee wept on national television. This was a time when Lee could have watched things fall apart as this small country had virtually no natural resources of its own to kick start an economy. However, Lee provided leadership. He set about building the most important of all resources: Human capital
He developed world class educational institutions within Singapore focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, sent best and deserving students to the best world universities and made sure the teaching staff was highly motivated through competitive salaries. When Lee died aged 91, Singapore boasted the best skills and ranked as one of the richest countries in the world.
Today, Singapore’s annual per capita income is estimated at US$60 000 from US$400 when Lee became Prime Minister. All this attained in a space of 30 years.
Singapore experienced race conflicts in the 1960s but Lee re-established national harmony through deliberate racial integration policies and criminalisation of hate speech.
Lee himself believed in clean governance systems (leadership).
Referring and comparing his success story to the squalor that characterises his neighbours, he is reported to have remarked: “They are not clean systems; we run clean systems.
“Their rule of law is wonky; we stick to it. We become reliable and credible to investors.”
And in summarising his life, Lee proudly stated: “Decisions have been made not so much in the fear of losing power but in the long-term interests of the country. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.”
While the story of Singapore is the story of one man working without any natural resources, the story of Norway provides another perspective of leadership but equally inspiring.
In 1969, Norway discovered oil in the North Sea. Although analysts argue that Norway would have become rich with or without oil, it is the management of their oil resources that has awed me coming from Zimbabwe where we have huge and varied natural resources but have nothing to show for it all.
Three points pointed out by different economists have stood out for me:
1. Norway was very aware of the finite nature of petroleum, and didn’t waste any time legislating policies to manage the new-found resource in a way that would give Norwegians long-term wealth, that benefitted their entire society and make them competitive beyond just a commodities exporter.
2. The government laid down economic as well as ethical principles (commandments) to guide the use and exploitation of the oil and gas for the benefit of current and future generations of Norwegians.
3. The central bank (Norges Bank), which was granted increased independence from the government in 2001, manages the fund (around US$400 billion or US$85 000 per Norwegian) on behalf of the ministry of finance. This maintains a distance between politicians and the fund. The fund constitutes net government wealth as no offsetting government borrowing takes place.
And, reader, if you live in or understand Zimbabwe please provide the third scenario. In this I hope you are not going to rush to provide excuses because where there are challenges true leadership provides direction.
Norwegian leadership has managed the revenue from oil through the sovereign wealth fund effectively meaning every Norwegian is worth an average of US$85 000.
The Norwegian future generation is hedged against poverty through wise leadership. Leadership is about managing the present to safeguard the future. In dealing with matters of their resources, native Americans have a philosophy that any people should not look to their land and resources as given to them by their ancestors but as loaned to them by their children. We therefore hold our resources in trust.
If we do not provide leadership and take care of today we create fertile ground for conflict tomorrow and our children will probably never know we set them up.
I write for peace!
Godwin Chigwedere is a programmes manager with Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation and writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org