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A Crisis Or A Leadership Crisis

A Crisis Or A Leadership Crisis

A Crisis Or A Leadership Crisis

Power, greed and pride – a toxic triumvirate driving decisions of bad leaders. Scratch the surface of a crisis and, predictably, individuals, groups or nations with toxic motives will be revealed. Typically, the origin of man-made crises is flawed leadership.

Historical examples of inept leadership

History is littered with examples. The extreme divergence of fortunes of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, despite their sharing the island of Hispaniola, can largely be attributed to poor leadership and a litany of bad decisions by French and Spanish colonisers and merchants and slave traders of the day – especially so in French-dominated Haiti. Both nations endured the despotic rule of dictators – Duvalier in Haiti, and Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Duvalier failed to develop Haiti and Trujillo exploited the Dominican Republic as his own personal business. Economic, cultural and linguistic troubles proliferated in Haiti and it is now the poorest nation in the western world. Haiti’s in free fall with gangs ransacking the country and ongoing food and fuel shortages and outbreaks of disease further battering Haitian citizens. The Dominican Republic, conversely, is ranked 73rd on the Legatum Prosperity Index, ahead of South Africa which ranks 85th.

Modern examples of inept leadership

Despite the diverse histories and cultures of China, the UK and South Africa, parallels can be drawn in terms of entrenchment of power resulting inevitably in mediocre leadership. In China, the re-election of Xi Jinping at the October Communist Party conference – an event, as usual, shrouded in vagueness – raises red flags, coming as it does with changes to the Chinese constitution designed to entrench the leader and lauded by Xi’s throng of apparatchiks as they danced attendance.

The UK’s leadership debacle and Liz Truss’s inglorious tenure at Number 10 saw her slinking from power amidst feeble attempts at self-justification. Ashwin Desai’s recent comment about the path to power being enabled by ‘a conveyer belt of privilege’ is spot on. It remains to be seen if Rishi Sunak has the power to unslump the dejected shoulders of the British public.

In South Africa, the ANC’s December conference will see acolytes kneeling at the clay feet of the idol so long worshipped in hope of deliverance from an iniquitous past. Ramaphosa’s Neroesque ‘treading water’ presidential style offers scant hope for South Africans. Noble promises abound but the parlous reality faced by citizens is worsening. Cadre deployment and nepotism continue to plague government and business. Driven by their voracious hunger for power and wealth, those plundering billions appear to do so with impunity. SA’s leadership is making a mockery of the citizens it is intended to serve. The leadership crisis is reaping the whirlwind – the harvest is a national crisis.

Ineptocracies and kleptocracies – fallout and casualties

Africa bears frequent witness to the double-whammy of ineptocracy – a government where the least capable of leading are elected – and kleptocracy – a government by those seeking status and personal gain at the expense of the governed.

Instances abound in Africa. Nigeria’s ironic example is that despite extensive oil reserves, is now a net importer of fuel. Nigeria’s crippling fuel subsidy policy (one-third of the 2022 budget) coupled with the dilapidated state of oil refineries, has spawned informal oil refineries resulting in extensive environmental damage. Theft from fuel pipelines is rife. President Buhari – conveniently doubling as oil minister – announced that the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy planned for mid-2022 will now take place in 2023. Expediently delayed, it would seem, until after the 2023 election.

South Africa’s oil refineries fare little better. In the wake of the recent much-proclaimed Africa Oil week in Cape Town, ‘unrivalled opportunities driving investment and deal-making’ were announced. Really? Perhaps the decrepit state of PetroSA’s plants merited a mention during the coffee break.

Addressing the leadership vacuum at PetroSA, Chairperson Nkululeko Poya’s declared that strong company leadership is critical. Puzzlingly, however, the long-vacant COO and CEO positions remain vacant. Surely some eyebrows were raised by the maladministration and corruption investigations hanging over Poya’s head? We fervently hope that the onerous task of appointing leaders doesn’t detract from the business of fixing the refineries. Currently, only two South African refineries are functional and fuel imports will increase next year. A weaker rand means higher fuel prices with far-reaching economic and social consequences.

Ripples in the South African fuel crisis pond will widen. Real and imminent economic threats are posed by Eskom’s fuel requirements due to coal shortages, and increased transport costs will have a knock-on effect on CPI and, ultimately, be felt by beleaguered citizens. Transnet’s woes continue with Transnet Pipelines reporting ongoing theft from the pipeline between Durban and Gauteng resulting in fuel losses and environmental damage.

Where does the buck stop?

Are South Africans becoming inexorably desensitised to crime and corruption? Is the lack of accountability spawning a culture of complicity by silence and, worryingly, are we relying on whistleblowers to reveal corruption? SA’s leaders are guilty of miserably failing those who stood proud and hopeful in the 1994 queues. Their hopes of a brighter future have dimmed to a sputtering flame in the wake of broken promises.

Who has the answers?

The Legatum Prosperity Index is an annual ranking of countries in terms of wealth, education, health and well-being. In 2022, South Africa ranked 85th out of 167. Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland led the pack. What are their leaders doing right – could we learn a thing or two? Scandinavians are generally regarded as egalitarian, frugal, unpretentious and practical. Lofty ideals? Perhaps. Failing a mass Damascene conversion of the criminals plundering state coffers, our hopes for accountability shift to the Zondo Commission’s recommendations with a hasty dusting-off of the 2018 Public Audit Amendment Act. A succinct summary appeared in the Washington Post – ‘Many of the institutions investigated were crucial to South Africa’s rebuilding effort after 1994, but the same institutions are complicit in the destruction of the democratic and accountable South Africa’.

January looms Mr Ramaphosa, and high on our wish list is the hope of true leadership in 2023.