My love for studying history grew with time (getting old moves you towards that direction) and I found myself drawing lessons from history. I tend to believe and advocate for a carefully reasoned optimism regarding three matters. First, our ability to build a country and advance as a people towards overcoming the basic obstacles to unchain ourselves. Second, challenging our historical inability to create a hospitable country and environment- one where we can inspire and motivate various generations of the nation to tackle bigger issues. Third, fostering an environment that leads to higher grounds of prosperity and innovations, able to cradle the advancement and success of any respectable group of people.
The argument I am trying to advance here transcends the short term political shenanigans, jockeying for positions, and a place that won’t be more than a foot note in history in the larger scheme of things. I am trying to advance a belief that was cemented as an intellectual position, and was fed and fostered by a reasonably wealthy experience that was aided and abided by a decent academic background, which helped inform that position with the hope that it is on the right side of history.
One finds comfort in nations and communities’ abilities to rise from lesser than ideal positions to prosperous systems and governance. However, the common denominator among them all was their ability to draw strength within a cohort of ideals and causes that are greater than their individual selves. These greater causes were able to galvanize and rally people around them, because they tended to be clear, defined, well communicated and executed. Nevertheless, the critical success factor which may derail or thrust these causes from being achieved is the presence or absence of a visionary leadership and higher cause and drive that might be enhanced by a moral compass, with expectations higher than average. Not unreasonably high; since leaders are humans after all.
The common pitfalls that have always afflicted analysts like myself is to compare apples to oranges, so I won’t do that. What I will do is compare apples to apples and reserve some wiggle room (because things are not quite black and white and they may get complicated) to draw analogy and reflection from the seemingly irrelevant apples to oranges, however eye popping that might be.This articulated position comes in many shapes and forms as you look at what the Marshall Plan has done for the US for instance; which refers to General George Marshall who was Chief of Staff of the US army during World War II, and later became Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Although he was neither a politician nor an economist, he advanced the modern European renaissance when he called for a massive infusion of loans and assistance to help rebuild a war-devastated Europe post World War II. The element of leadership was the catalyst that drove that plan despite some stiff opposition from many politicians. Now, many may argue that the Marshall Plan was the brain child of various circles for a larger strategy, but regardless of whose idea it was, without a focused and committed leadership that great strategy and idea, would have remained just that-an idea.
Let’s think of recent and relevant experiences and take Peru as an example. Peru, a South American country that was bogged in a long and devastating civil war costing thousands of lives, where the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) a communist Guerrilla group fought off the government. Then came Alberto Fujimori, the elected president during the nineties of the past century (we sound old talking about two centuries). Fujimori was a controversial president who raised many questions regarding his human right record fighting and breaking the will of the Shining Path. Nevertheless, he had the leadership, political will and fortitude to carry out a masterful economic recovery plan. That plan was devised by a brilliant economist named Hernando de Soto, among others, whom I have repeatedly written about admiringly. My argument asserts that de Soto’s ideas would have remained buried within academia, if it wasn’t for Fujimori, because de Soto and his colleagues lacked the leadership attributes necessary to carry out their plans.
In less than a decade, Fujimori transformed the Peruvian economy into a vibrant and ready-to-take-off economy. His tenure was cut short due to local political upheaval, but the country was put on the right track and my belief remained that leadership matters.
As we move closer to home, Rwanda comes into mind. I was a young university student in New York when the 1994 tragedy took place. I was at a loss for words trying to understand, let alone explain, the senseless killings in Rwanda. The conflict was embedded along sectarian lines that pitted the Hutu majority against the Tutsi minorities. In a course of just over three months, over one million people were hacked to death and millions more were displaced to neighbouring countries. It took some time for that insanity to stop and for a young rebel leader by the name of Paul Kagame to emerge and move quickly from being number two in the government to being number one. Fast forward to several years, Rwanda is one of the most vibrant and fast-growing economies, and Kigali is the most beautiful capital in Africa. Needless to say, Kagame’s leadership was front and center in this relatively fast paced growth.
The notion that we must have all the answers to initiate dialogue and robust debate is less than accurate. There are political analysts whose interest in politics itself is as meagre as my knowledge of how to command the (now retired) space shuttle Discovery. What I am advancing here is the dire need for engagement in a policy debate (not politics) and discourse regarding the essences of my primary argument: that ideas and plans are important for a country to rise from the abyss. However, the cornerstone of making a significant and impactful difference is the presence of visionary, focused, and committed leaders. These types of leaders are more than half of the solutions because ideas are abundant, plans are over-spilling from our academic and practical researches, but true leaders with the right intentions are in short supply.
I am trying very hard to stick to my hopeless belief that within my life time, given the right leadership, we will rise as a nation and start to move towards developing and pivoting away from being the butt-end of jokes and pettiness of worthless commentators and political pundits. Maybe even provide prosperity to our people by creating a country where our children can grow comfortably and be proud of- a place where our children would actually stay and not be making a constant dash towards the exit signs.
Of course I can keep going on and on giving more anecdotal examples to further support my argument, but that would not be necessary. It is not my goal. My goal is to shake the state of intellectual paralysis that we feel (including myself and a few others I know) and to really start advancing towards coherent policies that would foster the environment to attract the leader(s) and provide the practical and the theoretical tools to guide them to lead.
I will come back to link and tie this to our pathetic state of stalled air craft where we are no longer gliding, but rather headed toward a fiery crash. I will also attempt to bring a few ideas to rehash and discuss our abilities to collectively inspire new and old generations to bridge gaps for advancement.