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Wanted: Benevolent Dictator

David Magang
VIEW FROM MANA HOUSE     
  

Conventional  wisdom holds that democracy is the most palatable and efficacious form of government. I contend that that is not a matter of course: it is debatable.

Remember the dawg known as Joseph Stalin? He turned the largest empire of modern times, the Soviet Union, into a military and geopolitical power as well as an economic tour de force. As he was attaining to such insuperable feats, he was busy brutalising his own people, purging political opponents, and hounding dissidents to a frigid penal colony known as Siberia.

But dictators of the Stalinist mould do not strike much of a chord with me. It is the milder variety – benevolent dictators – who do, even more than archetypal democrats. The benevolent dictator does act aberrantly too on occasion, but not to indulge a thirst for blood or pillage the national treasury. Whatever excesses he commits are arguably in the interests of the nation as a whole as opposed to sheer megalomania Idi Amin-style. I have in mind people like China’s Deng Xiaoping, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, the Maktoum family of Dubai, and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

Lee Kuan Yew literally created a country – and a dizzyingly thriving one at that – in the manner, it is said, a certain “Anunnaki” from a far-flung planet in the cosmos called Enki fashioned mankind from Ape Man courtesy of Benson C Saili’s Earth Chronicles. Meanwhile, even as he incredulously turned a Third World country into a First World showcase, Lee made a hobby of muzzling the press, trampling on civil liberties, and allowing for only a caricature of plural politics.

Deng Xiaoping wasn’t even a savant of economics. Yet China is on course to be the world’s largest economy within a decade’s time or so thanks to a economic wizardry akin to pulling a rabbit out of the hat.  Deng, in case it has slipped your mind or you simply weren’t born at the time, is the antihero behind the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, in which up to 1000 peaceful and hapless protestors perished in cold blood.  

Dubai once was no more than a drab and dreary creek earning its keep from pearling and fishing. Then the dynastic and despotic Maktoum family (rulers for life) waved a wand and lo and behold, Dubai sand had turned to silicon! Today, Dubai is one of the world’s most prosperous economies.

Rwanda is hailed as one of Africa’s most dynamic and efficient economies. Once upon a time, it was wracked by genocidal warfare that claimed close to a million lives. Then Paul Kagame grabbed hold of the postage-sized country by the scruff of its neck and vowed to turn it into Africa’s Singapore. Of course he’s light years from making a reality of that grandiose dream but the odds are he’s incrementally getting there. This is the same Kagame, by the way, who liberally administers corporal punishment to government technocrats without blushing and who seeks out political foes wherever they are to silence them once and for all.     

There is yet another, newly minted benevolent dictator who is making waves.

He hails from the United Republic of Tanzania.

His name is John Pombe Magufuli.

MR BULLDOZER WALKS THE TALK

After being sworn in as Tanzania’s new President on November 5 2015, John Magufuli strode into office with guns blazing, having undertaken to rein in corruption, pare down wasteful spending, and radically improve delivery in the public sector. He wasn’t bluffing: within 100 days of assuming office, evidence already abounded that he was determined to walk the talk and not simply rant vacuously demagogue-style.

One of the first cost-containing measures he took only days in his presidency was to clamp down on foreign travel, which he restricted to only he, the vice president, and the prime minister. Ministers and the typically profligate top civil servants were no longer eligible for overseas trips they were wont to undertake on a whim. All routine international invitations were to be honoured, where need arose, by the country’s envoy in the nearest mission. In stark contrast to his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete,  who was christened “Vasco da Gama” (the legendary  Portuguese explorer) owing to the  obsessional frequency with which he took to the skies,  Magufuli travels only once in a long while. When he made his first foreign visit to Rwanda, he opted for a bumpy ride on the familiar macadamised road, just as he did when he went to officially open parliament 600 km away in Dodoma.   Any official who of necessity has to travel abroad has to do so by economy class.       

Magufuli’s own inauguration ceremony, where his alter ego Paul Kagame received the loudest applause, was frugal. When he was told the tab was $100,000, he took strong exception, chopped it down to $7,000, and gave instructions that the balance be spent on revamping a hospital in disrepair.

The customary, typically lavish Independence Day celebrations slated for December 9 he ordered scrapped. The $2 million that was set aside for the festivities (we’re splashing P100 million on the Golden Jubilee celebrations ourselves my foot!) he directed that it be used to construct a 4.3 km road section in Dar es Salaam. Eight days earlier, he had his country forego the observance of World AIDS Day – an “unnecessary expenditure” he said – and the monies so saved were used to replenish hospitals with pharmaceuticals.

He did not spend Independence Day rattling forth political platitudes. Instead, he squared up to a special, ad hoc chore: he took to the streets and hunkered down to shovelling mangy litter along with dozens of volunteers from a nearby food market. Never one to revel in razzmatazz of any guise, Magufuli, nicknamed “The Bulldozer” for the steamrolling manner with which he gets things done, substantially slashed the budget for the state banquet that always accompanied the opening of parliament.  

When he was shown a list of people who were preparing to attend the last Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting, he bristled at the unwieldy delegation of 55 and pruned it to a lean and mean four, saving the country millions in needless expenditure.

Cabinet positions were reduced from 30 to 19, with some ministries merged and others dispensed with altogether.  In March this year, he announced that he  was going to right-size the avaricious salaries of the civil service bigwigs. “It is shameful that some top officials are  getting  $18,000 a month while others are paid as little as $140 a month,” he raged. He served notice that he would cap public service salaries at $7000.

NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

Magufuli’s no-nonsense approach at taming corruption, sloth, and the business-as-usual syndrome among public servants has fanatically endeared him to most Tanzanians and engrossed the continent.  Eager to upend this ignoble image of his beloved country (which is ranked among the top 20 countries in Africa hardest hit by  corruption), the Bulldozer is kicking butt  hard and good, beginning with the top dogs in due heed of the Swahili aphorism that, “If you want to sweep the stairs, you have to start from the top”.

The President has axed and/or prosecuted at least seven government agency heads since he took office on allegations of corruption. They include the head of the country’s anti-corruption body (for the apathetic pace at which graft was being combated), the chief of  Tanzania Railways, the director-general of the Tanzania Ports Authority, the head of  Tanzania Revenue Authority, and a top immigration official. At the last count, a total of 150 big fishes, not small fry as is typically the case in our country, had been removed from office on suspected  corruption and about 600 cases relating to corruption are presently before the courts.

A favourite modus operandi of the President is to waltz into government offices or institutions unannounced and crack the whip on the spot.  On one such visit to the country’s largest public hospital, he found scores of patients curled up on the floor due to a shortage of beds. Snorting with fury, he terminated the services of the hospital chief forthwith, dissolved its governing board, and had new beds delivered there and then. He is even rumoured, like a Chinese emperor, to travel in disguise in order to sniff out malfeasance.  In May this year, a minister was given the marching orders for showing up in parliament in a drunken state and answering questions with a slurred speech. “There was impunity at all levels. Now it’s different,” observed a well-known social commentator delightedly.

Too often in Africa, exciting new leaders with a radical agenda and supposedly impeccable moral credentials have started off promisingly, only to ossify into ineffective autocrats. One hopes that won’t be the fate of the dogged and resolute John Magufuli.  

IF ONLY OURS WAS ONE TOO    

My autobiography, The Magic of Perseverance, came off the presses only months after President Ian Khama had ascended to the highest office in the land in April 2008. In Chapter 39 of the 700-page tome, I provided a prognostic perspective on the Khama presidency. The kernel of my argument was that despite fears to the contrary, the charismatic and likeable Kgosi, soldier, and politician rolled into one was going to rule democratically.

My prognosis has borne out. He has governed within broadly democratic parameters, but the 5thD hasn’t exactly nailed it. That is because he’s fettered by the constraints democratic governance automatically impose. He did start very promisingly though, with constructive government directives that had every hand on deck and the dismissal of five ministers by the stroke of a pen. Not very long after, however, the bureaucratic inertia and general languor in the ranks of Government we had been accustomed to once again became the norm.

Like the countries I have cited above, what Botswana needs in order to tick and prosper is a benevolent dictator. Certainly, if we had a benevolent dictator bearing down upon us Magufuli-style, the Fengyue scandal wouldn’t have reared its ugly head; the Morupule power plant blues would have seen a number of heads roll; the resident and work permit pace and processes wouldn’t be such a shambles;   much of the deadwood in the civil service and parastatals would have been weeded out; most private institutions of higher learning would have been shut down for churning out barely baked graduates; totally ineffectual and costly white elephants such as BNPC and to some extent BDC  would have long closed shop and  millions of  Pula saved; ministers who so  brazenly use their next of kin to enter into eye brow-raising contracts with institutions they oversee would have long been given the boot; and multi-million Pula  infrastructural projects would be getting complete timeously and without deliberately  inflated cost overruns.


President Khama is tender-hearted, but that virtue has turned out to be counter-productive. He has ample time remaining in his tenure still  to take off the gloves, roll up his sleeves, and begin to wield the cudgel. That is a benevolent dictator I’m talking about.

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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started

and

  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. ..so they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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