February 5, 2010 1 Comment
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle cited character as the foundation of leadership – “to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way …” (Aristotle, Ethics II.9)
But for those who may say that Aristotle represents western values, what about African traditional leadership?
What made the chiefs of Mali and Songhai, or for that matter Great Zimbabwe or Buganda leaders?
Traditional leadership was based on a centrally controlled hierarchy of authority. Leaders such as Shaka Zulu rose because they displayed charisma and valour in protecting their territory. For this protection, such leaders were often allocated land, livestock and of course brides!
That was the way. Today, we pay hefty salaries to our leaders, and even though democracy and good governance have emerged, we still demand that our leaders represent our national values.
In the academic study of leadership, starting from behavioural theories of the 1950s, the focus on who or what is a leader has moved from what leaders do to how they act. In that way, the impact of their actions on their followers has been acknowledged as a way to assess the quality of their leadership.
Barack Obama is a recent example. Many youth even in Africa got inspired to believe that they could succeed in making change. In other words, he led by example.
This week, it emerged that South Africa’s 67 year old President Jacob Zuma fathered his 20th child out of wedlock with the daughter of a friend, 29 years younger than him.
Though it is heartening that Mr. Zuma has publicly acknowledged his paternity, the question remains whether his actions have had repercussions on his leadership credentials.
The President was also quoted saying that his actions didn’t undermine his government’s efforts to combat AIDS. The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in South Africa is among the highest in Africa with the predominant new contraction rate being among the youth. This is the same throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with the scourge being mainly felt in the working age population. Then there is also the generation of AIDS orphans who are now in their youth.
When in May 2006 he was acquitted of rape charges with an HIV positive woman, Mr. Zuma who is a former head of South Africa’s National Aids Council, testified that he had not used a condom and took a shower after the act to minimize the chance of infection. He later apologized for these remarks saying “I erred in having unprotected sex. I should have known better.”
And, the buck does not stop with Mr. Zuma.
His party, the ANC who held such clout they “recalled” former President Thabo Mbeki have in their remarks given a stamp of approval to Zuma, saying the media was making “a mountain out of nothing“. Even more disturbing the ANCs Women and Youth Leagues have also passed it off as private and disrespectful to discuss.
Apart from HIV/AIDS, South Africa has a major crisis in violence against women. In a study last year by the country’s Medical Research Council, one in four South African men in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces said they had raped someone, and nearly half of them admitted to more than one attack. Even more alarming, practices such as gang rape were common because they were considered a form of male bonding.
So are President Zuma’s actions his business alone?
Personally yes, but as the President of South Africa and role model to the youth, – No.
Any leader wants to leave a lasting positive legacy. And now is the time for Mr. Zuma to make South Africa a success. Let not his legacy be promiscuity, irresponsibility with his wives health and a score of children claiming inheritance.
Today schools teach the history of Shaka Zulu who fought against western imperialists. Today the war for South Africa is different. The foreign intruder is the scourge known as AIDS. This scourge is killing the youth. This is the war that Jacob Zuma must lead his country. With all his might, discipline and zeal. And, from the front and not behind.
Lead the way and we will follow.