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Opinions of Saturday, 17 May 2008

Columnist: Abdul-Hamid, Mustapha

Humility and leadership

Often times, apologists for leaders, especially in Ghana are at pains to present their leader as humble. Indeed most people who seek public office, right from the position of Class Prefect to President in Ghana tout themselves as humble. We have therefore almost come to the point where to be seen as not humble is to be unfit for public office.

Strangely, I have never voted since my school days for an aspirant for office who touts himself or herself as humble. Why must you be humble if you seek to lead? The third edition of Roget’s International Thesaurus gives the synonyms for humility as “humbleness”, “meekness”, “lowliness”, “poorness”, “meanness”, “smallness”, “ingloriousness”, “undistiguishedness”, “modesty”, “unpretentiousness”, “plainness”, “simpleness” and “homeliness”.

Perhaps Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus is more precise. It defines humble as “lowly; unpretentious, modest”. But more importantly, it adds, “to bring down in condition or rank; to abase (oneself)”. It beats my imagination why anybody would want his or her leader to possess any of the above qualities. Indeed the qualities of humility are opposed to the grain of leadership.

The same Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus defines a leader as “one who leads or goes first”. It states further that to lead is “to show the way by going first; to precede; to guide; to direct by influence; to be head of…”

After fifty years of existence as a nation we are still talking about having reached a point where we are about to “take off”. It is generally agreed by all sides of Ghana’s political divide, that the Kufuor administration has gotten the fundamentals of the economy right. What we need in the next stage of our political and economic journey is for a leader who will take us out of our “lowly”, “unpretentious” and “modest” condition to states of “achievement”, “pride” and “glory”.

Edmund Morris, a biographer of Theodore Roosevelt says that four qualities combined to make Theodore Roosevelt one of the greatest American leaders of all time: “aggression, righteousness, pride and militarism”. These are the same qualities that stood Winston Churchill as one the greatest if not the greatest of all British Prime Ministers.

On the 7th of May 2008, Professor John Evans Atta Mills launched his campaign for the presidency by declaring that, one of the reasons for which he wants to lead us is that he was born in lowly circumstances and more importantly, that he “was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth”. Indeed ever since Prof. Mills first contested the Presidency in 2000, he and his apologists have been at pains to present him as a “meek” and “lowly” person.

In line with creating that image, he arrogated to himself the title of “asomdwe hene”. Perhaps I would let Jean-Jacques Rousseau answer Atta Mills. In his “Social Contract”, Rousseau states of peace that it is okay if a leader gives his people an assurance of civil tranquillity. However, he adds, “What do the people gain if their very condition of civil tranquillity is one of their hardships?” “There is peace in dungeons” states Rousseau “but is that enough to make dungeons desirable?”

Rousseau adds, “The Greeks lived in peace in the cave of Cyclops awaiting their turn to be devoured”. Indeed in the years that Prof. Atta Mills was Vice President, his “lowly” self watched in “meekness” as his boss turned the seat of government into a torture chamber where teenage boys like Selassie Djentu were given identification hair cuts.

Perhaps if Atta Mills had risen above his “lowly” self, he would have challenged the goings on in the castle and perhaps saved a number of Ghanaians the ordeal of identification haircuts. His humility did not serve us then; it will not serve us now or later or ever.

On the contrary, I am looking for that bold and confident leader who is assertive and sure of himself. One who will fight for Ghanaians to be proud of themselves and of their country. One who believes in Ghana. I find that leader in Nana Akufo-Addo. First of all, it is to the credit of Akufo-Addo that inspite of the fact that he was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth”, he “rebelled” against the ivory tower to take the side of the ordinary people of this country.

In the years when men in uniform stole the power of the “meek” and “lowly”, and unleashed terror on them, we needed equally “meek” and “lowly” people to come on their side. Unfortunately “meek” and “lowly” people like Prof. Atta Mills quickly swapped positions with people like Akufo-Addo. Prof. Atta Mills was content to ascend to the ivory tower of academia and leave the people to their fate.

It was the Akufo-Addos who descended the trenches to fight for freedom and democracy. As Akufo-Addo himself said at the Alisa Hotel on the 28th August 2007, “the next leader must be able to stand and fight legitimate causes for both party and country. We need a leader who can transform the ideas and hopes of every man and woman of this country into our new reality, a reality where we stand erect as a nation together, on our own two feet”.

One cannot agree more with Akufo-Addo. To stand on our own two feet, especially among the comity of nations is not to be “humble”, “meek” or “lowly”. Besides, it does not matter whether you were born in “lowly” circumstances as Prof. Atta Mills proclaims of the circumstances of his birth. Even so Prof Atta Mills mother was a trader and his father a teacher.

In those days in Ghana traders were the embodiment of our economic growth and achievement. Through trading, people like Paa Grant almost single handedly financed the early independent movements. In any case are these not the same traders who were stripped naked and beaten and whose markets and stalls were razed to the ground by his ideologue Jerry Rawlings? If traders were “lowly” people, why would Jerry Rawlings target them?

To suggest that teachers are people of low social stature even today is rather laughable. By all means those train the brilliant minds of our society, can by no stretch of the imagination be termed lowly people. I put it to the learned professor that he was not born of lowly circumstances. As for his running mate’s circumstances of birth, the least said about it the better. I would leave it to the learned professor to say for himself what he thinks of the status of the late E.A Mahama.

Listen to Akufo-Addo on his background: “I come from a background where public service is considered a duty and where privilege and good fortune demand even greater commitment to the public good”. That is the crux of the matter. Henry Cabot Lodge once asked Roosevelt: “I don’t see how you understand the common people so well, Theodore”. “No Cabot, you never will, because I am one of them and you are not”.

But we are aware that Roosevelt came from a class background. What he meant by being one of the common is that he understood them. He believed in what he called “aristocracy of worth”. Poverty is not a virtue. In Ghana we are still steeped in what Andrew Awuni calls the “poverty mentality”. People in Ghana are actually afraid to get rich.

Indeed a lot of people in Ghana are very suspicious of rich people. But we have seen what this poverty mentality has cost us in the past. Former President Rawlings rode on the back of that mentality to destroy entrepreneurship. The Tamale market was razed to the ground in 1979 under the direct instruction of Jerry Rawlings with the excuse that it was a den of hoarding and profiteering.

At that time, today’s proud owner of a fleet of luxury vehicles and houses argued that it was criminal for one person to have more than one water closet in his or her house. Today the ideologue of the National Democratic Congress, NDC, (Jerry Rawlings) educates his children in prestigious universities abroad. Yet the direct beneficiary of his ideology, Prof. Atta Mills sits on television to cast aspersions at people who were born with silver spoons in their mouths. By the way, is casting aspersions at others a mark of “humility”, “lowliness” and “meekness?”

I don’t want to “humble” or “lowly” or “meek”.



Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.