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Leadership Lessons From Mujica, Pohamba


Image source blueskypersonnel

Image source blueskypersonnel

At a time Nigerian politicians baffle and even scare in their bid to grab power at all costs, the exemplary leadership of two immediate past presidents, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, provide an auspicious interlude for leaders to have a rethink about their models of development.

Through a public life that spells extra-ordinary commitment to simplicity and vision, these two men turned around their small enclaves into beacons of hope.

Nigerians, especially, have a lot to learn from them.

For his part, Jose Mujica, a former leader of the Marxist Tupamaros guerrilla group, left behind a progressive model of governance, characterized by frugality, simplicity and focused leadership. With a moral and ethical underpinning that emphasizes love, concern and sacrifice, his model of leadership is a telling lesson to a world run by cabals and institutions whose sole idea of development revolves around exploitative and lopsided power relations.

Mujica, who rose from being a dreaded guerrillero to a toast of the democratic world, spent 13 years in prison during a repressive military regime that held power in Uruguay from 1973 to 1985. He endured two of these years of incarceration in mind-searing solitary confinement that changed his ideological orientation. But in November 2009, at 74, Pepe, as he is fondly called, was elected president, having polled 53 per cent of the vote. The result is a new, improved Uruguay, economically strong, politically stable, socially bonded and with a reduced crime rate.

In proud reference to Uruguay’s steady progress, Mujica once said: “We are a republican voice for the world” – a proclamation that has been interpreted to signpost a “possible future, a path, however modest, to take for the common good with politics as its ethical base and honesty as its guiding light”. Mujica, here, demonstrates a genuine spirit of selflessness and concern for his people.

The 79-year old Mujica, who as president, lived with his wife in his rustic farm settlement in the country-side and drove to work in his weather-beaten 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, has been renowned for other eccentricities: even while in office, he grew flowers, enjoyed the bucolic wild, and continually soaked his intellect in classical philosophy texts from Plato, Seneca to Marx and Segundo. While he sees himself as a ‘humble peasant’, he has been variously described as ‘the most incredible politician’, ‘best leader in the world’, and even ‘the world’s poorest president’.

The paradox of Mujica’s extra-ordinary leadership is that his success has been judged not only by the way he lives, but also by the very same indices of development fashioned by the global socio-economic order, which he has often criticised.

Like Mujica, Mr. Pohamba’s acknowledged exemplary leadership is another gallop for developing nations. Pohamba, who is of the same age as Mujica, clinched the $5 million Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s African Leadership Prize – the fourth person to do so since 2007 and the first in four years. According to a statement by the foundation’s prize committee, Pohamba won the world’s most lucrative award for promoting the rule of law, respect for the constitution and promoting gender equality. The committee remarked: “His ability to command the confidence and trust of his people is exemplary.”

Notwithstanding the fact that these two men are Septuagenarians of the same age, their accomplishments challenge the youthful leadership of contemporary Africa, and interrogate the misconstrued notion that the power to socio-economically and politically carry out transformation is solely dependent on the age of the leader.

Leadership, a management attitude better explained by influence, is not about the position one occupies; neither is it in the amassment of material possessions and such mundane cravings. It is a disposition of moral strength to carry out a mission for the common good, accountably and sincerely.

If Nigeria is to extricate itself from the mess it has sunk into, it must spew off leaders who are not only willing to sacrifice, but are also impervious, even opposed to scandalous perks of office. Against the culture of primitive acquisition that has enslaved powerful politicians home and abroad, Mujica was once quoted to have said: “My definition of poverty is the one we owe to Seneca: It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”

Nigeria, indeed Africa, a land saturated with megalomaniacs and self-serving public officers and politicians, is once again visited by historic message of hope in this critical moment. The Mujica and Pohamba examples are an opportunity to redefine the kind of leadership Africa and Nigeria need.

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