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Why leadership calibre matters

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BRITISH Prime Minister Boris Johnson dramatically announced his resignation on Thursday this week after the mass exit of ministers and other top officials rendered untenable his continued stay at the helm.

His fate was sealed when he lost the trust of his lieutenants during a turbulent tenure plagued by endless scandals.

Johnson wrongly assumed he could simply replace cabinet ministers and move on with life, but he came unstuck when his newly appointed ministers also resigned in disgust. It increasingly became clear that there was no way out for a colourful politician whose controversial methods have prioritised style over substance.

Although the United Kingdom is generally viewed as a declining global power in contemporary times, many people around the world were still transfixed by the political intrigue unfolding in London.

In Africa, many watched in bemusement as Johnson defied calls to step down. It was difficult to avoid drawing comparisons between his actions and the behaviour of power-crazed African dictators who stubbornly cling on to high office even when they are destroying countries.

From their ivory towers, Western governments often bark instructions to the rest of the world. They fancy themselves as the citadels of democracy – without blemish and beyond reproach.

And so it was understandable that many people in Africa, Asia and Latin America erupted in mirth as the political circus in the UK hit the headlines. One commentator wryly noted that it was satisfying to know that the British people were realising how tough it was to end British rule.

But beyond the jokes, there are many lessons from the Johnson debacle.

The first one is that leaders must be accountable for their actions. A politician cannot live in perpetual scandal and hope to remain relevant. These are very difficult times in the history of the world; countries need leaders who show seriousness in focusing on the urgent issues of the day: runaway inflation, high unemployment, post-Covid recession, geo-political uncertainties and a general sense of hopelessness.

Another important lesson is that institutions must be stronger than individuals. In the end, Johnson – despite his reputation as a charismatic and unorthodox teflon character – could not continue obstinately opposing the force of logic.

This is where Western democracies often do better than African countries. Here in Africa, a leader can repeatedly rig sham elections and hold an entire nation to ransom – for decades – while presiding over the plunder of national coffers and the murder of dissenters.

Africa has all the necessary ingredients for socio-economic progress – except competent leadership. One-man rule has ruined the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Strongman politics can only be checkmated through the strengthening of institutions and the crafting of smart policies.

Today, Zimbabweans are languishing jn untold poverty, yet the country is endowed with vast natural and human resources. The control and ownership of precious minerals  are reposed in one man: the President. It is unbelievable.

We report elsewhere in today’s newspaper that gold worth US$157 million is being smuggled out of Zimbabwe every month. This is way higher than the government’s own estimate of US$100m. While this astonishing plunder proceeds unabated, the World Food Programme, a United Nations agency, says Zimbabwe is now one of the world’s most worrying hunger hotspots.

The calibre of Zimbabwe’s leadership is the reason why precious resources are looted with impunity and public hospitals lack life-saving drugs and equipment.

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