Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The tragedy of charismatic leaders in the developing world

Whatever his faults, not even the most bitter of the President's critics will accuse him of a lack of charisma. He is without doubt a strong leader, capable of rallying the masses.

Similar leaders have appeared at various times in the third world, this article (which I have quoted before) argues that this is not a good thing.

Some excerpts below (read the whole thing and see if it makes sense).

The history of Ghana is one of sadness and tragedy, of unnecessay tragedy. The post-independence history is that not uncommon case of a charismatic leader feeding the populace on a fantasy that it takes decades to recover from. In Argentina it was Juan Peron. In Ghana it was Kwame Nkrumah.
Before going into the details of the Nkrumah era it is helpful to get some perspective on the nature of the fantasy that has entrapped so many countries. A major legacy and burden of tribal and feudalistic societies is the notion that leaders have the power to solve problems and bring justice.
The village chieftain takes resources from the villagers and to the powerless villagers the chieftain seems like a potential foundation of wealth and luxury. To those who aspire to be chieftain it seems that if only they could achieve that status they could not have a pleasant living but could do good for the villagers. In the American idiom they could be fairy godmothers, solving all problems with the waive of a magic wand. So the possibility of becoming a fairy godmother is a powerful motivation for those who seek leadership. On the other hand, for the powerless who have no hope of becoming a leader the notion of there being fairy godmothers who can solve all problems is likewise a powerful influence. But of course there are no fairy godmothers and can be no fairy godmothers. The resources that the village chieftain dispenses come only from the productive efforts of the people themselves. If the people neglect their own productive efforts in seeking benefits from the chieftain then soon even the chieftain has no resources.
The romance of Third World leaders with socialism is just an attempt to create the status of the village chieftain on a larger scale. Socialism's main function ideologically is to provide a rationale for having all power concentrated in the hands of the central government. (emphasis mine)

The ever-growing role of the state in Sri Lanka indicates this is underway; the expropriation of assets (Hilton, the sugar companies), re-nationalisation (Sri Lanka Insurance, SLT, Sri Lankan Airlines), interference in the banks (changing of directorates), new ventures (from Lankaputhra Bank to military run hotels and restaurants). They don't call it socialism, but that is what it amounts to. (This is quite apart from the enormous centralisation of political power that is also taking place.)

The charisma that the leader exudes and the nationalistic gospel that is preached strikes a resonant chord with the people; one that blinds them to the fundamental flaws that make the whole edifice unsustainable.

How to warn the slumbering population?

W S Senior said Lanka called for bard. We never needed one so badly, will he ever emerge?

“ My cities are laid in ruins,
“Their courts through the jungle spread,
“My sceptre is long departed
“And the stranger lord instead,
“Yet give me a Bard,” said Lanka,
“I am living, I am not dead.”

-W S Senior- The Call of Lanka


Java Jones said...

Here's a 'wishful thought' from the same poem that Senior wanted the Bard to "sing" about:

But most shall he sing of Lanka
In the brave new days to come,
When the races all have blended
And the voice of strife is dumb;
When we leap to a single bugle,
March to a single drum.

No chance in the near future with this lot in charge!!

Jack Point said...

Yes Java, lets hope for that.