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Opinions of Sunday, 1 January 2017

Columnist: Nana Ama Agyemang Asante

The heart of leadership

By Nana Ama Agyemang Asante

To be the leader of a country is no joke. You have all kinds of issues coming at you all day. As a professor of mine always used to say, it’s like sipping water from a fire hose. But every now and then something should come across your desk that makes you go “Whaaaat?”

Something so shocking to your system that you hop off the presidential treadmill of things to do and bulldoze your way through the system to right the wrong.

Say, “Whaaaat? You mean the people of Nsawam are drinking brown water?”

“Whaaaaat? You mean our main government hospital, one that my minister calls ‘the best in Africa,’ has run out of gauze?”

“Whaaaaaat? You mean more than 150 Ghanaians have been killed in a fire at a gas station?”

At which point you’ll summon the ministers responsible, roll a few heads and knock the rest together to rectify the matter within X number of days.

It’s not that novel, you know.

Days after he was inaugurated, Tanzanian President Magafuli is reported to have paid a surprise visit to the main state hospital (their Korle-Bu), found patients lying of the floor and said, “Whaaaat?” And so he fired the head, canceled some state parties, and found money to buy beds. Truth of hype, it’s set a tone for his leadership.

When 20 elementary school children were killed by a gunman, Obama said “Whaaaaat?” He even wept about it. And he bulldozed his way past a hostile Congress to use whatever legal means were open to him to control guns, at least move the needle a little.

It’s not micromanagement; it’s outrage. Very human.

So the real test of a leader’s heart, and therefore the soul of the country under his or her watch, is what his or her Whaaaat is.

“Whaaaaaaat? You mean another gas station fire has happened?”

Yes. Another year, 10 more Ghanaians lost needlessly and the lives of their loved ones shattered, partly, I would argue, because a leader didn’t say “Whaaaat?” in June 2015. If he did say it, he didn’t mean it. At least not enough to roll heads, knock heads together, fine some, jail some, put the full final report before the people of Ghana and use that tender moment wisely for all of us to debate and support a plan to implement the report’s recommendations so families wouldn’t be mourning 10 souls at Christmas.

To be fair, every leader has a Whaaat moment. Like, “Whaaat? You mean people have to bid competitively for this contract?” And then proceeds to knock heads together to find a reason to sole-source.

So what is your Whaaaat?

PS: It’s been brought to my attention that most Ghanaians can’t relate to the imagery of water coming out of a fire hose because the Fire Service never has water.