Our Nation’s Leaders


President Hifikepunye Pohamba this week touched on something that is very close to the general problem bedevilling leadership in some sectors of our economy and public institutions. And this begs the question – are leaders born or made, and in Namibia, do we have leaders that are born or made by circumstances. Still, do we have them in abundance? A national debate about leadership in Namibia would suffice. The president told a two-day Cabinet review session Monday that lack of planning in most government institutions is at the core of poor implementation of government programmes and policies. According to the president, we have an abundance of programmes but not much is done to implement them with the result that there have been delays and even revenue loss. In view of the aforesaid, we are inclined to ask – is the act of entrusting leadership positions to persons sufficiently weighed in terms of their ability to provide quality leadership? Perhaps this is a matter for our social scientists, to look at and define leadership and how we have faired over the past 16 years because we may be running the risk of taking this serious issue lightly. It would appear Namibia is being caught in the grip of a situation where just anybody can become a leader. We have to define leadership carefully and apply certain merits when entrusting leadership positions to individuals. Often, it is assumed that those selected to lead on the basis of whatever merit will provide good leadership without thorough scrutiny being made of the potential and availability of such qualities in a person. The assumption is always that whoever qualifies on paper to lead would make a good leader. This is not entirely correct in our view. Not much thought is given to the fact that people are at the core of any enterprise and that whoever heads an institution is required to provide leadership in more than just one area. The president is right that public institutions have failed to adequately implement certain policies and programmes. He is also right in attributing this shortcoming to lack of human resources and finance. On the other hand, however, there are other reasons. Public institutions cannot implement programmes when they have been turned into war zones. Nowadays, these places are stinking with gossip, plots and witch-hunts against those perceived to be disloyal to the leader. In some instances, the workplace has become a theatre of war where plots are hatched against individual workers, hit lists drawn up and clandestine meetings held ostensibly to crush those perceived not to be bidding to the liking of the ‘boss’. You also have those who sit all day strategising on how to lock legs with female colleagues, those who sit all day devising illegal schemes to steal more money. The grapevine has it that it is not uncommon nowadays to find a leader and his or her deputy not on speaking terms or two leaders who communicate through subordinates. Others hardly talk to their subordinates. Under these circumstances, how can programmes and policies be implemented – in all likelihood not. And what does this say about the leadership qualities of those entrusted with these offices? The atmosphere in some offices has been poisoned by self-serving machinations, external factors and poor leadership that is not conducive to productivity let alone implementation of programmes. Some leaders are self-opiniated and lack a consultative management style. These problems do not bode well for service delivery and we have to look inside the box if we are to make some progress. The president advocates that he is at the service of the people and therefore a servant of the people. But some of those entrusted with public office do not behave, let alone see themselves, as such. Theirs is a ‘baas’ mentality. It therefore comes as no surprise that they would not timeously execute service delivery. The ‘baas’ mentality inhibits progress because it stifles initiative and creativity and instils fear of the leader by those below. Leaders are not supposed to be feared. They have to earn love, admiration and respect from those that they lead. To achieve that, they have to create a harmonious environment that stimulates organisational and human development. Among the traits of a great leader is one with a vision, one who listens, inspires and motivates and not those who run the affairs of institutions with brazen arrogance and inflated egos. Only when we have many of such leaders would we be able to talk about public service delivery. Simba Makoni, the former SADC Executive Secretary recently hit the nail on the head. He said Africans face a leadership crisis in all areas, be it organisational, church, politics or business which arises mainly from the abandonment by leaders, of the basic mission of leadership, in preference to themselves being served. “I define the basic mission of leadership as being to serve, but instead we see leaders seeking services from those they are supposed to serve. We also see pervasive styles and forms of leadership that demand obedience and subservience from the led.” According to Makoni, there are many businesses and organisations that operate in outdated oppressive ways, with leaders steeped in the culture of power, command and control, directing and ordering those under them from the dizzying heights of executive rooms. “I would therefore, like to urge those of us in leadership, to accept that our main role is to facilitate, guide and assist those we lead, so that they themselves successfully and effectively do what they have to do.” These are wise words from a wise man and perhaps those in leadership positions across the spectrum in our country can heed his call and accept the challenge to lead us through the path of peace and progress.