I came across this tweet by The Elders, a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights, that got me thinking: “How can we encourage leaders who put common human values above their own interests?”
Their question is not specific to a particular region but I immediately thought of African leaders because a good number of them are driven by their own interests. Why is it that we continuously end up with such leaders? We, the voters, are partly to blame. We vote along ethnic lines instead of qualifications and a person’s past records. In our myopic vision, we sell our votes for quick short-term returns, and sweep the long-term repercussions of such actions under the proverbial rug. The other share of the blame belongs to these life-long leaders who take draconian measures to ensure that they, and theirs, remain in power. Such leaders are puzzling. They want to remain in power but are not even moderately interested in fulfilling the responsibilities that come with holding those positions. Doesn’t it bother them at all that their presence doesn’t enhance their constituents’ lives…that it in fact makes them worse? But I digress…
Back to the question, how can we encourage leaders who put common human values above their own interests? A change of attitude is needed. For a long time, political positions have been seen as money making machines. Sadly, this is an attitude that has been passed on from one generation to the next, particularly with the “it’s our turn to eat” concept. This has largely been due to the precedent set by previous leaders. People get into office, redirect public funds into their personal accounts, enrich their relatives and sometimes their communities, and then sit back and buff their nails. It became clear that the only way a community would progress is if one of their own was in a position of power. This issue can also be tackled by enacting laws that ensure leaders cannot personally benefit from public funds and their positions. This will deter the I-am-posing-as-a-leader-just-so-I-can-get-rich-quick-and-live-la-vida-loca individuals lurking out there.
With attitude change comes a shift in behavior. If we move away from “it’s our turn to eat” then we are more likely to vote based on successful leadership potential and past performance records. This will enable us to hold leaders accountable, me thinks. We won’t tolerate their nonsense, until the end of time, just because they are from our community and they occasionally throw money at us. If they fail to deliver, then in the next election cycle, we use our vote to replace them with people who are ready to get the work done.
Maybe we should try pegging reelection to performance. If a leader is a non-performer during their time in office then they don’t qualify to run for office again. Their performance could be evaluated based on their impact on socio-economic and political development within their constituency. For example, if your constituency doesn’t have functioning infrastructure when you get into office and it still does not have functioning infrastructure at the end of your term, then you don’t qualify to run for reelection.
Lastly, shouldn’t there be a limit to the number of times a person can run for reelection? Some of our leaders have turned their positions into lifelong careers. The problem with this is that they get to a point where they become complacent and take the position for granted. Limiting them also allows fresh blood to be injected into the system every now and then. Additionally, a time limit will prevent leaders from sleeping on the job term after term, and baiting their constituents with “I will pull up my socks just give me one more chance” promises.