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Lessons from Nelson Mandela’s life: a motivation for Malawian leaders after the May 2014 elections?

There have been extensive publications about the quality of our leaders in both print and electronic media, and indeed in other fora, including PAC’s last all inclusive conference held at Limbe Cathedral in 2011. More has been written and said about their strengths, weaknesses, decision making styles, what holds them back, the context within which they lead, how power erodes their inherent principles and virtues, and many more. We have also extensively debated and continue to do so as to what type of leadership Malawi needs to put the country on its right paths of development and prosperity after the May 2014 Tripartite Elections.

As one sojourns on these hard questions, which are emotionally unavoidable I imagine how different leaders who attended our Great Madiba’s national memorial service would respond to the ideals he lived for after all is said and done. The ceremony attended by over 100 world leaders including our own President only explains the extent to which Madiba was a true icon to Africa and the world. Barrack Obama summed it all when he said, “Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don’t.

Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history”. Therefore, there is no doubt in our minds that if his credibility and legacy towered above the will of the people; if peace, equality and justice were not some of his virtues; if his jail experience overshadowed his moral responsibility to the people of South Africa; I guess Madiba could not have emerged the last liberator of the twentieth century.

Linking this with Malawi’s prospect for the May 2014 Tripartite Elections and the prevailing realities, quality and selfless leadership becomes a critical factor for the success of the country. It would only make sense to argue that to have a vision is not enough, but rather how the vision is tested to hard realities, and being able to transform lives of the people. From a governance point of view, and with hard lessons drawn from Madiba’s life, there are some critical elements that the next Presidency for Malawi should at least focus on at a minimum:

• Be the custodian of our national vision, which should be simple, coherent, ambitious and powerful. A nation without a vision is a lost nation, and bound to progress retrogressively. Therefore, the future Presidency should ensure that the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy is entrenched in public service delivery structures, institutions and society in general. The broad based participation that the Strategy enjoyed has to be sustained and jealously implemented and guarded against all odds. There is a universal leadership principle at stake here, ‘what one creates one supports’. Therefore, the more we involve Malawians in creating a national vision and plan, the more supporters it will have. But executing such a plan within the political setup structures makes this national vision fluid and unattainable.

Cognizance of the current misgivings of such an arrangement, it would only make sense if the future leader and all Malawians commit to setting up an Independent National Planning Commission. This will ensure not only continuity of projects but will also promote equity in the distribution of development in the country. This would also tame the prevailing short-termism approach to national development projects.

• Be the custodian of national values and culture. We need to unite around common values and develop a winning leadership culture and mentality that permeates through our society at all levels. With the attitude of sharing knowledge, time, resources, experiences, and respecting diversity, differences, and performing on the political, economic and social front, Malawi can achieve anything.

• Ensure that right people are on the right seats on the ship, right from top to bottom where delivery really happens, and matters. This would strengthen the effectiveness of the executive and public service delivery for the good of the nation. The future leader has to dismantle nepotism, patronage, cronyism and direct her/his energies towards nation building, and quality delivery of public goods; promoting human rights and upholding the rule of law.

• Work harder on the Presidency’s brand, reputation and credibility. Any leader emerging after May 2014 will need to take up the challenge of the unresolved expectations which will always be a weight that will pull the Presidency’s credibility down. But a true leader should be able to rise up to the challenge, and make a difference in a better way in the lives of the majority.

• Build diplomatic relations based on national interests rather than individual interests. In the modern world diplomacy must be based on the development needs of the nation and strategically positioning itself to benefit from the economies of scale. For this to obtain, there should be a deliberate effort to subject the appointing decisions to Parliamentary substantive debates, vetting and subsequent approval of qualified candidates. This will ensure that the post-May 2014 Malawi only ventures into diplomatic ties that have the potential of benefitting Malawians on the development front. Further, this would also help to control unnecessary expenditures on unproductive diplomatic missions, some of which are retained for the benefit of a few and greedy leaders at the expense of the 15 million Malawians.

In summing up the discussion, it is worthwhile to state that ordinary Malawians, and the youth in particular, have grown impatient of the charm offensive, audacious promises and motives of political and other actors with admirable promises that only seem to be able to calm the stormy emotions of the masses. They want to experience movement that positively impacts their lives, though often unreasonably so. We can therefore do well as a nation if future leadership is voted against their ‘movement credentials’, past performance, demonstrated moral values, rather than based on emotions, ethnicity, regionalism, likeability or other hidden agendas. 2014 thus presents as critical juncture in the development of Malawi as an emerging developmental state.

As it is often said, in a world where the trust deficit between political principals and rights holders is growing alarmingly fast, Malawi needs a leader that that would earn the collective trust and respect of the citizenry. Malawi needs someone who would be able to generate positive movement and whose actions are congruent with her or his words. It is high time that Malawi elected a leader who would rally the nation in attaining development through an agenda that is selfless, forward-looking and puts the interests of the nation first over and above the business interests of their cronies. This is not a tower of babel to be obtained.

The onus is on us Malawians to scrutinize carefully and objectively the candidates before us. Malawians must awoken from their political slumber and realize that elections are a market place for procuring the best policy options that would drive this nation. Tata Madiba has provided us where we would look to if one wants to analyze the qualities of good leadership. He has provided us, Africa and the world, an epitome of what constitutes a leader. Let Mandela’s death and political spirit sweep through our national conscience from Nsanje to Chitipa, Mchinji to Dowa and revitalize the Malawian spirit to earn greater glory after May, 2014. Malawi needs the kind of leadership that sacrifices to give out more to the nation than they are able to personally benefit.
*Benedicto Kondowe is a Human Rights Activist, Executive Director for Civil Society Education Coalition and Commissioner for the Human Rights Commission but writes in his personal capacity.

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