A CALL TO CHILDERMAS

Leadership Matters

 

There is an illustration that is even better that Fortune magazine's famous saying: “Managers do things right; leaders do the right thing”.  It says that management is about the efficiencies of climbing up the ladder of success; whereas leadership is about deciding which wall to lean the ladder against.

 

The theme of Childermas, as introduced on the home page, puts the emphasis on what  each of us might do, to act in solidarity with “innocents” who are dying or orphaned from the AIDS pandemic.  That is the easy part.  It has more to do with the efficiencies of climbing the ladder of success – that is, with executive action.  Important as that is, it is not the whole story.  For there is always the larger question – on which wall should the ladder be leaned against?

 

The other side of the coin in the Childermas theme is the leadership crisis.  King Herod was not unlike so many African rulers of today, in trying to remove any trace of emerging contenders.  So the question is, to what extent are these leaders responsible for what is happening to the “innocents”?  Obviously one has to be cautious in commenting.  While it is unlikely that any one's head will be served up on a platter, there are certainly other ways in which – once provoked – African leaders can make life miserable for those who challenge them - when they lean the ladder against the wrong wall.

 

Mentioning the term “state indifference” is not enough, one has to look at some particulars.  Let's take Jacob Zuma, whose intentions to take over as president of South Africa have been clear for a long time.  Aside from the corruption charges that he soon faces in court, because of which he was dismissed as Deputy President last year, and aside from the fact that he was not convicted of the rape charge that has occupied him in another court of late, one has to observe his leadership on the AIDS issue.  (Remembering that up until his dismissal, he was chairman of the country's coordinating body for HIV/AIDS.)  He confessed to having what he calls consensual sex with an AIDS activist who he knew to be HIV-positive – without wearing a condom.  He testified that he took a shower shortly thereafter, to diminish the possibility of contracting the virus.  Some one has said that after his trials for rape and corruption, he should be tried for stupidity!  These are harsh words, but people in power must be held to the highest ethical standards, as they are role models – including for the “innocents”.  They are the elders that African people look up to.  They are the ones who decide which wall to lean the ladder against.  In this case, the accuser may have to leave the country under a witness protection programme!

 

Or what about the king of Swaziland?  He practices polygamy, in a world that knows that having multiple partners hugely increases the risk of HIV-infection.  Last year he took another wife, who was only 16 years old at the time.  Even though his country, in which he has the highest executive power, is a signatory of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Women - which prohibits marriage before the age of 18.  This is the dark side of Childermas.

 

Africans simply have to change some cherished behaviours.  It is a matter of survival.  Unless they put the ladder on another wall, there will eventually be no more managers or executives left to climb up it, and therefore no success.  The dream of an African Renaissance will be traded for the nightmare of an Great Plague.  HIV-prevalence in Swaziland has already reached 43 per cent, and there are more people infected - in absolute terms - than any other country on earth, in Jacob Zuma's homeland.  Is there no co-relation between these facts and the behaviours of such top people? 

 

What about the Thomson family?  They recently spent $116 million on a painting of dead babies heaped up in the streets of Bethlehem by King Herod's order.  What message does that send out?  The  world is not awash in surpluses, as long as there continue to be deficits.  No where is disparity more vivid than in the contrast between rulers who command unbridled power and wealth, and innocent children who live in trauma, poverty and hunger - on their watch.  This is the meaning of Childermas.

 

The story of the Magi is about well-to-do foreigners encountering a local leader driven by self-interest.  They are such a contrast to Herod!  They have sacrificed their time and resources to come a long way, to celebrate the birth of a new leader.  They even bring gifts.  They show respect for the existing ruler, to the extent that Herod enlists them to locate the new contender.  Off they go to Bethlehem, not realizing how threatened King Herod is.  His true intentions only come to light after they locate the birthplace – not just of a new leader, but of a new way of leading.  So they withdraw their support from the incumbent, and make themselves scarce...

 

There are lessons here about how to engage leaders who put self-perpetuation ahead of the survival of their subjects:

 

Š       Approach them with caution

Š       Avoid getting enlisted

Š       Resource the contenders

Š       Vote with your feet if you have to

 

Stephen Lewis thinks that there a case cannot be made for “the right to intervene”.  But in the last analysis, foreign aid of any description is really part of a broader strategy for “homeland security”.  Are we safe in a world that celebrates the 25th anniversary of the discovery of HIV/AIDS on June 5th, 2006, when already 40 million people are infected with HIV and living positively? 

 

It won't be any easier to step into the not-so-fanciful scenario of failed African states (as a result of capacity shrinkage caused by the pandemic, thus meltdown).  Better an ounce of prevention... to tackle the leadership crisis - the dark side of Childermas - without losing sight of the “innocents” and their needs.

 

Out of 54 countries in Africa, only 12 have HIV/AIDS legislation today.  Even though only 7 of the 153 heads-of-state since independent African countries started to emerge in the late 1950s have stepped down voluntarily.  Ostensibly Africa has a preference to perpetuate leadership, as opposed to the rotation of leadership.  That people who articulate that view are usually called “pro-African” is confusing!?

 

Well, if they are going to stay in power, can they be held to minimum standards?  Who can insist on there being HIV/AIDS legislation, for example?  Is there any way to enforce compliance?  Or is the infection just going to spread over the planet, whether we like it or not?

 

Changing cultural behaviour is not unthinkable.  What about smoking?  Seat belts?  Single-use injections?  Racial and gender discrimination?  Above all, it takes leaders – who are role models, trend setters, protest marchers, attitude shapers, wise men.  Helping Africa means more than providing quality services in prevention, treatment and care for those who are “at risk, infected or affected”.  It means engaging the powers.  Holding its leaders to high ethical standards.  Becoming change agents.

 

One thing can be said for Jacob Zuma.  He apologized publicly for his behaviour, on a continent where so many leaders, like King Herod of old, have been recalcitrant.  Not just new leaders are needed, but a new way of leading.

 

A CALL TO CHILDERMAS