Thursday, April 28, 2011

Some Advice to Young People

It is often said that the young are our future leaders. This is a true statement, but it does not fully cover the reality of the situation.

I recently had the honor of being chosen to be a judge in the finals of the national Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) competitions, to choose the university team that will represent Zimbabwe in the SIFE World Cup competition in Los Angeles, California this year. The keynote speaker, Grace Muradzikwa, remarked that young people are not only the leaders of the future, but of today as well, and the young men and women representing their schools in this competition certainly validated her comment. They demonstrated beyond anyone’s doubt that they are able to identify need within their communities, and develop practical ways to address those needs.

One of the privileges of aging is giving advice to those who are younger, and I would like to take advantage of that privilege to offer a bit of advice to young people everywhere, based upon my observation of the outstanding participants in this year’s SIFE competition.

Get Involved and Stay Involved

Leaders don’t stand on the sidelines and complain about problems, they jump into the middle of the arena and look for solutions. More importantly, they involve others in finding those solutions and motivate them to participate. Leadership, true leadership, is not a short term effort; it is a marathon, and victory goes to the leader who continues to run no matter the obstacles or challenges.

Make Honesty and Integrity Your Watchword

One of the judging criteria of the SIFE competition is business ethics, the understanding that long-term success and prosperity of a market economy, businesses, and individuals are dependent on ethical business practices. Your word should be sacred; once given it should be an iron-clad guarantee that people can depend on.

Protect the Environment

I am extremely disappointed in the terrible performance of my own and previous generations in protecting and conserving our natural resources. In the pursuit of profit, we have plundered the earth and left ugly, naked scars all over the planet as a testament to our greed and short sightedness. Interstellar travel might be a reality at some future time, but for now, we have only one earth, and if we destroy it, we have no place to go. It will be you, the youth of today, who will have to undo all the wrong we’ve done and leave an earth for your grandchildren and their grandchildren.

Never Stop Learning

When you receive that diploma, don’t let that be the end of your education. Commit yourself to making every day a learning experience. Technology of the twenty-first century literally moves at the speed of light; we have gone from vacuum tubes to integrated circuits to the iPad just in my lifetime. Just 40 years ago, the personal computer was the stuff of science fiction movies, and today, I work with a voice command capable laptop computer with a built in mini-camera that allows me to use it as a video phone. If you stop learning when you leave school, you condemn yourself to obsolescence.

There are some cynics who say that ‘youth is wasted on the young.’ This is only true if during youth, we don’t take advantage of the opportunities to make a difference.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You . . .

null “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” With these words, John F. Kennedy inspired a generation of Americans to look beyond themselves and help others. It inspired young middle class whites to brave racist mobs in order to help rural blacks in the south exercise their constitutional right to vote. The Peace Corps grew out of this sense of service, as did Head Start and a host of other programs designed to help people help themselves out of poverty and despair. It was the spirit that helped put a man on the moon.

This injunction, though, presupposed that those in government would act in that same spirit; that they would truly be ‘servants of the people.’ It also assumed that those in positions of power would act in the best interests of the country, not look to line their own pockets.

The history of our country, since the ‘days of Camelot’ has been a decidedly mixed bag. There have been those who have given their all without regard to personal position or riches; but all too often, there have been those who have taken the low road.

During the Reagan years, there were the officials on the National Security Council who decided that acts of Congress, laws passed by the peoples’ representatives, did not apply to them. They decided that they knew best, and acted sub rosa in clear violation of the law, giving us the Iran-Contra scandal. We were inflicted with Watergate and the White House tapes, laying bare for all to see just how selfish and petty people in senior positions can be.

During the Vietnam War, an obsession with body count, and an inability (or refusal) to understand the enemy we fought, led to our own body count of over 50,000 of America’s young men and women, in a cause that we never understood, and which didn’t get the support of the American people. Furthermore, it led to a general public distrust of government that we still suffer from today.

It’s not only in government that we see examples of people in power ignoring Kennedy’s injunction. The recent Ponzi scheme, that involved hundreds of the famous, rich, and powerful, and resulted in the loss of billions, was but another example of greed in its most naked form; greed and a blatant disregard for others.

It is almost impossible to read the paper or watch the news and not see another example of a corporate executive being paid literally millions for bankrupting his company and leaving customers, stockholders, and employees holding the bag. The Enron scandal was but one of many.

We as individuals, consumers and investors, are not without guilt. The collapse of the real estate financial market, brought about by the proliferation of high-risk, non-traditional mortgages; while it might have been created by unscrupulous mortgage brokers and lenders, it was a result of the inability of individuals to delay gratification. People who insisted on owning houses that were valued way higher than their incomes could justify; who wanted to live in a million dollar residence on an income of under $60,000 per year; were willing markets – or marks – for brokers willing to cut corners and say anything to make a sale.

We are on the brink of an economic collapse to rival the crash of 1929, with foreclosures, layoffs and job loss at all time highs. The administration and Congress are talking bailouts and stimulus packages, tax cuts and assistance with mortgages. One would hope we have learned something from this disaster – but I am not holding my breath. Those who don’t learn and understand history, and pay attention to it, are condemned to repeat it. Remember the Savings and Loan scandals? The Chrysler bailout? What about the real estate collapse of about two decades ago? It seems to be a case of making the same mistakes over and over to see if we can make the perfect mistake.

This has been a wake-up call and I for one am fervently hoping we will finally wake up.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Not How Many Time You Fall Down That Matters, But, How Many Times You Get Back Up.

nullnullHave you ever noticed the tendency some people have of refusing to try something new because they fear they will fail, or that they might upset someone by it? This malady is especially prevalent in bureaucrats. For want of a better term, I call it preemptive capitulation; giving up before you start to avoid losing; and it drives me nuts.

I believe strongly in the old adage, “You never know what you can do until you try,” and have spent the past 49 years of my working life trying to infect others with the same attitude – with only modest and sporadic success. Happily, I’m not the only bureaucrat willing to push the edge of the envelope to get new things done, or who is willing to sometimes do things other than ‘by the book’ when the situation seems to call for it.

During my first tour in Vietnam, beginning right after the 1968 Tet Offensive, I worked with a young army sergeant who led reconnaissance patrols. He and one other American, along with ten Montagnard tribesmen, lightly armed and a long way from any support, would be dropped by helicopter in the jungle, far behind what passed for Viet Cong or North Vietnamese lines; and would have to try to evade the enemy for sometimes as ten to thirty days while they gathered information on enemy strength, positions, and movement. As luck would have it, on one mission, they were spotted and attacked by a far superior force within an hour of leaving their landing zone. Trapped; their backs against a hill; by a force of over two hundred well-armed fighters, the conventional wisdom was for them to dig in and call for assistance. The young sergeant knew, however, that help was several hours away, and they didn’t have two hours. So, he ignored the ‘book’ response to a situation like this, lined his team up and charged the enemy. Firing and yelling, these twelve lightly armed recon troops dashed headlong at two hundred main force North Vietnamese regulars. What was the outcome? The North Vietnamese, likely thinking there must be more than twelve somewhere in that elephant grass broke and ran, and the team made it to safety without an injury.

If that sergeant had played it safe and ‘followed the rules,’ the team would have been killed or captured.

The opportunity to think and act outside the box, to see what you can do, occurs in situations that are not as fraught with danger as the sergeant faced, and sadly, too many bureaucrats lack the courage or imagination to rise to the occasion.

Some years ago, I was in a job that came with a lot of unspoken limits on what I and my team could do, not because of any laws or regulations, but because a certain high level person had a personal interest, and no one wanted to risk angering him. When I proposed a certain course of action that the bureaucracy believed he might disagree with, I was slapped down. After a couple of futile attempts to convince my regular chain of recommendation of the wisdom of my proposal, I tried a different route; I bypassed the normal mid-level bureaucrats, and went directly to their bosses with the proposal; an act that caused me a few months of headache as the bureaucracy went into ‘retaliation overdrive.’ Bureaucrats don’t like to do new things, or show imagination, but they can be ferocious when their rice bowls are threatened, or their precious procedures are ignored. As luck would have it, the superiors that I approached agreed with me, and furthermore, the individual the bureaucracy thought would oppose my plan, became one of its most ardent supporters. Six years later, I was pleased to see a newspaper headline showing that bureaucracy vigorously defending my plan; the one they’d thought unwise earlier, and had flayed me for proposing.

As you go through life and work, you can take the easy route; do things the way you’ve always done them. You won’t be faulted for following the rules. But, you might also accomplish absolutely nothing. Trying something different doesn’t always work. I have to say honestly, there’s always the chance you’ll end up flat on your face. But, as my grandmother was fond of saying, “It’s not how many times you fall down that counts, but how many times you get back up.”

One of my favorite poems is Rudyard Kipling's "If."

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master,
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat these two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's Mine is Mine, and What's Yours is Mine

Beneficent Nevermore hated cabinet meetings.

As the government of Dyspepsia’s Minister of Indignation and Enrichment, he was the junior member of cabinet, and as the youngest of the government’s ministers his protocolary problems were compounded by the fact that all the other ministers treated him with thinly disguised disdain; thinly disguised because, as the son of the third cousin twice removed of Dyspepsia’s president Aimat Arrant, it would have been dangerous to openly show disrespect.

Despite his privileged position, Nevermore still hated cabinet meetings; and at no time more than when he was called upon to make a presentation; such as he was on this particular day. He’d been tasked by Arrant with coming up with a plan to assess and take a controlling interest in Dyspepsia’s principal industry, mushroom growing, and today was the day Arrant wanted his report. Taking over industries run by foreigners, or by those who were not fully supportive of the Dyspeptic government; and among the population there were many of those; was one of his duties – part of his enrichment portfolio; while the other part was devoted to preparing indignant replies to foreign criticism of the rather heavy-handed way Arrant ran the government and the country.

Nevermore sat at the foot of the long, rectangular conference table, as befitted his junior status, directly opposite Arrant, who sat, owl-like, facing him some fifty feet away; with the rest of the cabinet arrayed on either side, in descending order of seniority. Arrant glanced down the table at his junior minister and distant relative, his heavy lidded gaze seeming to stare off into some unfathomable distance.

“Well, honorable Minister Nevermore,” he said in his sepulchral voice. “Have you completed the task I assigned to you?”

Nevermore shuffled his papers, placing the thin report on the mushroom industry atop the pile of papers he routinely brought with him to cabinet meetings. “Yes, All-powerful and excellent Excellency from whom flows all that is good and wise; I have completed the report,” he responded.

There was a rustling of papers and scraping of chairs as the rest of the cabinet swiveled their heads to focus beady eyes on Nevermore.

Arrant waved a well-manicured hand in a regal manner. “Please, then, proceed with your report.”

“Most revered Excellency,” Nevermore cleared his throat. “As you know, mushrooms are our main industry, and the sector is dominated by our former colonial masters. You directed that I explore ways to obtain fifty-five percent of all operating mushroom facilities, and I have here, on these two pages, just such a plan.” He opened the cover of the bright green folder and laid a pudgy finger on the first page. “I propose we proceed in three phases; first we obtain fifty-five percent equity in the most productive farms; in phase two we go after the balance of the farms; and in phase three we take fifty-five percent of the processing and transportation facilities, thus giving us effective control over the industry.”

Pendleton Pincher, the acerbic finance minister, whose detractors derisively called Penny Pincher behind his back, coughed and raised a bony finger. “Honorable comrade minister,” he said. “Have you a valuation of the industry?”

Nevermore turned to page two of his report; he ran his finger down the page. “Yes,” he said. “The total value of the Dyspeptic mushroom industry is fifty trillion Zlopeks.” The Zlopek was the Dyspeptic national currency, which at the current international rate of exchange was valued at some fifty thousand Zlopeks to one US Dollar.

Pincher reeled back in his chair. “And, if I hear correctly, your plan is to acquire fifty-five percent of that value?”

“That is my plan,” Nevermore said.

Pincher took a gold Cross pen from the pocket of his exquisitely tailored suit, and made a few notations on a sheet of paper on the table in front of him. “Ah-h,” he said after a few minutes. “There is one small problem with your plan. After we take care of our normal annual operating expenses, our treasury will be left with approximately one million Zlopeks; hardly enough to buy fifty-five percent of even one mushroom farm.”

Nevermore’s porcine eyes widened. He hadn’t thought about from where the funds to achieve his grand scheme would come.

The Dyspeptic Central Bank governor, Caligula Whimsey, tapped the table to get attention. “That, my honorable friend,” he said, giving Pincher a look of disdain. “Is not a problem. I can merely print the necessary amount of currency.”

“But,” Pincher persisted. “Our industrial output is not increasing, so if you print more money, it’s worth less and less.”

Nevermore looked more and more dejected as this argument volleyed back and forth across the table; Pincher and Whimsey sat opposite each other, were sworn enemies since childhood, and bickered constantly in cabinet meetings until Arrant, with a withering glare, silenced them.

Saddam Shaim, the beefy, wide-shouldered, beetle-browed defense minister, who sat on Arrant’s right, the senior-most ministerial position, slammed a knobby-knuckled hand on the table. “Damnation,” he thundered. “What’s all this nattering about having enough money to buy the shares? Why don’t we just demand that the owners surrender fifty-five percent to us? After all, don’t we own the country?”

Byon Celle, the commerce minister, senior by one position to Nevermore, and only five years older, a man who seldom spoke in cabinet meetings, timidly raised a finger. “The problem with that, honorable comrade defense minister,” he said. “Is that we would have problems selling our mushrooms on the international market. Many countries frown on buying from countries who have expropriated private industries. We really need to offer value for the shares we obtain.”

Shaim snorted, and muttered under his breath something to the effect of “to hell with the international market.”

Arrant, who had been sitting regarding the verbal volleyball game like a vulture sitting on a fence waiting for some poor animal to die, raised his head and glanced around the table, starting with Shaim on his right; that worthy immediately ducked his head into his shoulders and slumped in his chair; and gliding his steely gaze around the table until it came to rest on the silent, scowling individual on his left; Lawrence Undercover, chief of the Dyspeptic Secret Intelligence Service, sometimes called the Keep Government Boiling, for reasons know one remembered or understood. “Now, honorable and loyal gentlemen,” Arrant said. “Comrade Celle is correct. We must do this according to the rules. We must be prepared to offer something of value for what we receive. Now, if I’m not mistaken, do mushrooms not require a great amount of fertilizer to grow?”

Everyone nodded agreement; of course, they nodded agreement with everything Arrant said as a matter of course.

“That is correct, most noble and generous leader,” Nevermore said. “They require large amounts of fertilizer.”

“And, where does that fertilizer come from?” Arrant asked.

“From the cows, sheep, pigs, and other animals of the small villages near the mushroom farms,” Nevermore replied.

“And do those animals not belong to citizens of Dyspepsia, and do the citizens of Dyspepsia not belong to the state?”

Habeas Corpus, the scholarly minister of justice, nodded. “Most benevolent Excellency, that is precisely right. We Dyspepsians are all wards of the state, and thus, belong to him who is the father of all.” Referring, of course, to Arrant, who often liked to call himself father of the country.

“Then,” Arrant said. “Why can we not put a value on the fertilizer, which is ours to start with, and then use that to purchase the requisite shares?”

Nevermore beamed. Again, his benefactor, and very, very distant cousin had gotten right to the heart of the matter. “An excellent idea, Excellency,” he said. “I will begin to implement this plan forthwith.”

Pincher, who had been sulking and glaring across the table at his arch-rival, again raised his hand. “What if the mushroom farmers refuse to accept your offer?”

Nevermore glared. Ever the spoiler that Pincher, he thought. Shaim came to his rescue. “We can declare the project a national priority,” he said. “And, anyone refusing to cooperate would face arrest and prosecution. That should make them all fall in line.”

Undercover, his cryptic expression changing not one whit, looked down the table at Nevermore, who had, earlier in his career been one of his most effective and vicious KGB agents. “And, be assured that my organization will most vigorously support the execution of that plan.” and he stressed the word execution.

“Well, there you have it,” Nevermore said. “The problem would appear to be solved.”

“Well,” Pincher said. “There is one other small problem; we don’t know anything about growing mushrooms.”

Arrant suddenly laughed. “My dear comrade minister,” he said. “That is not a problem. I’ve been reading about mushroom growing, and I can instruct you in the most effective and productive way to be successful in that pursuit.”

Pincher, knowing when it was wise to surrender, inclined his head toward the president. “I am sure you have solved any problems that I might have in my inexperience mistakenly detected, most gracious Excellency,” he said. “I beg of you, though, please enlighten those of us who do not possess your great wisdom.”

“It’s really very simple,” Arrant said. “We raise mushrooms the same way we handle the people of Dyspepsia; we keep them in the dark and feed them a lot of crap.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom - But, Don't Plant Weeds

“Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend.” With these words from a classic Chinese poem, former Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung opened the way for the people of China to level criticism at the government and the ruling party. In this he was supported by Zhou Enlai, who said, “The government needs criticism from its people. Without this criticism the government will not be able to function as the People’s Democratic Dictatorship.” Now, I have a bit of a problem with including ‘democratic’ and ‘dictatorship’ in the same descriptive phrase, but Zhou had a point that applies to all governments. He further stated, “We must learn from old mistakes, take all forms of healthy criticism, and do what we can to answer these criticisms.”
Unfortunately, the “Hundred Flowers” campaign failed, and led to a crackdown on dissent. Some intellectuals who study China have claimed that the campaign was designed to fail, and that it was just a ruse to smoke out dissidents. Others, and I am among them, disagree. I believe it was truly designed to attract criticism, but it failed because the party and government failed to do one fundamental thing before it was launched – listen, truly listen to the people.

Having not listened, or perhaps not heard, the voices of the common people, it then came as a shock when there was not the popular support that was envisioned.

Any government, regardless of the type, if it is to govern successfully and peacefully, must have the pulse of the people; all the people, and not just those with a certain pedigree. Even dictatorships, and the so-called “People’s Democracies,” must have at least tacit consent of the people in order to stay in power. Without it, such governments must rule through fear and intimidation. As a short-term strategy, the rule of the iron fist can be successful. But, such rule sows the seeds of its own demise in the end. When people cower in fear, often they opt out of the system; they don’t participate or contribute to the fullest of their ability; and in so doing, everyone is the loser.

Parents who fail to listen to their children are often surprised and disappointed later in life when those children follow unexpected paths, or simply, in adulthood, reject their parents and everything they stand for.
Listening takes an effort. Not just listening to what you want or like to hear, but listening to unpleasant things. If a government is to rule effectively, however, listen it must. But, it must not stop there. It must also make an effort to learn from its mistakes, and make an honest effort to answer the criticisms.
When you allow a ‘hundred flowers’ to bloom, the garden is a much nicer place.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Politics of Negativity

When you sow the seeds of discord, you should not be surprised when you reap a harvest of bitter fruit.

The perpetuation of negative political rhetoric, hate speech, and a constant negative spin on information creates an environment where those who wish to ingratiate themselves with the powers that be feel they are at liberty to ‘sock it to them’ in their informational approaches to rivals or those who hold different views. The problem with creating such an environment is that it’s akin to the project in the U.S. several decades ago to plant kudzu, a pernicious vine, alongside highways to cut down on the amount of mowing that maintenance departments had to do. Kudzu took to the rich soil of the southern U.S. like ducks to water, or flies to rotten meat. In short order, this green monster had crowded out all other vegetation, spilled over into nearby fields and onto the roadway, and had to be cut even more frequently than the saw grass it was intended to replace.

Negative communication, intolerance, and all the nasty things that we normally associate with them, are like that. They quickly crowd out temperate speech and rational discussion; the atmosphere becomes toxic, poisoned with the venom of hate speech and insult. Those who want to demonstrate their loyalty to the ruling elites often engage in these practices as a means of showing their allegiance. Things can spin out of control all too easily, leading to results that are not intended. The targets of our intemperate speech can strike back; in fact, often do strike back, leading to a vicious circle of recriminations and petty arguing that accomplishes nothing.

The politics of negativity does nothing to improve the world in which we live. Those who engage in such tactics contribute to the perpetuation of backwardness of their nations, keep the cycle of violence and repression going, and clearly demonstrate their lack of any real idea or philosophy. Like violence, negative rhetoric is a tool relied upon to level the playing field by those who lack anything useful to offer.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chatauqua Literary and Science Circle - Kindle Version - Launched in Zimbabwe

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 09:20AM
Chautauqua Institution and the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle are pleased to partner this spring with the U.S. embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, in launching a Zimbabwean chapter of the CLSC. The pilot program evolved from an idea from Chautauquan Sharon Hudson-Dean, the embassy’s public affairs officer and spokesperson, who was granted an “Innovations in Public Diplomacy” award to implement it.
U.S. Ambassador Charles A. Ray will lead the guided reading program, which will include in its membership a “senior group,” comprising several high-ranking Zimbabwe government officials, businesspeople and media figures, and a “junior group” of future leaders. Selected participants will be given Kindles with pre-loaded books.
“We will pilot two groundbreaking modern literary discussion clubs using Kindles to connect Zimbabwean political, opinion and youth leaders,” Hudson-Dean stated in her pitch to the State Department. “With our partner the Chautauqua Institution, we will take a leadership role in Zimbabwean intellectual circles and build strong bridges with key people who will determine, today and tomorrow, the direction of this country.”
With a 92 percent English literacy rate, Zimbabwe is an excellent country for the State Department pilot. Designed to give the Zimbabweans a well-rounded sampling of books that reflect literature, history and leadership, CLSC Zimbabwe’s inaugural reading list will include 12 titles from the last three decades of CLSC selections. Sherra Babcock, director of Chautauqua’s Department of Education, assisted in selecting the books.
“We are so proud to further the CLSC’s international presence, and to partner with the State Department to enhance mutual understanding and open discussion in a developing nation,” Babcock said. “If the program proves successful, we hope other embassies will want to replicate it.”
CLSC alumni classes will be given an opportunity to support this program by designating their class philanthropy toward the dues ($10/year/participant) of the Zimbabwe members.  

Ray rubbishes sanctions petition

Written by Vusimuzi Bhebhe
Thursday, 03 March 2011 16:52
HARARE – US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray, has poured cold water on Zanu (PF)’s anti-sanctions petition, describing the move as a desperate “political messaging campaign” unlikely to be taken seriously by both Zimbabweans and outsiders.
In an open letter to the state-owned Herald daily over full-page colour anti-sanctions adverts placed by President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party but which the paper passed off as Government of Zimbabwe announcements, Ray said the recently launched petition was discredited because it does not represent the aspirations of all Zimbabweans, most
of whom desperately want to see political change.
“Petitions are great things. On any given day, thousands of petitions are circulating in the US. But a petition becomes a wretched thing when only one section of the population is allowed the right to express its views publicly, while others seeking the right to assemble, petition, and demonstrate are arrested and tortured,” Ray noted.
Mugabe last Wednesday launched a petition calling for the lifting of a raft of Western visa restrictions and asset freezes imposed on himself and more than 100 senior Zanu (PF) officials. The party is seeking two million signatures and has threatened to seize foreign companies from countries that have imposed a travel and financial restrictions on Mugabe and his inner circle.
Thousands of people, mainly brought from outside the capital and Harare, were forced to attend the campaign ceremony yesterday. Ray accused The Herald and the rest of the state media of misleading the nation by claiming that the anti-sanctions campaign was a government project.
“Zanu (PF) is a political party, which does not speak for the Government of this great country. Additionally, Zanu (PF), which is part of the Government, has its own symbol that is quite distinct from the Zimbabwean coat of arms,” the ambassador. Mugabe’s partner in the coalition government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, boycotted the launch ceremony on Wednesday, arguing that it had been promoted as a Zanu (PF) event.
Zanu (PF) is hoping to use the petition to lobby the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union to push for the removal of the targeted measures. Ray insisted that the restrictive US measures are aimed at less than 120 Zimbabwean officials and are not hurting the rest of the economy.
“They may not travel to the US or do business with US companies because Americans do not want them to enjoy the fruits of their corruption on our soil. This does not hurt other Zimbabweans,” he said, adding “What hurts the rest of the country is the corruption, mismanagement, and lack of social investment that has brought development to a standstill.” Ray commented as US President Barak Obama extended by another year American sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies.

CharlesRay2010's photostream

Sunset, Tenerife, Canary Islands - 2011Pounding SurfPlaya Del Duque, TenerifeBird on a BowSoaring HighLooking for Food
Lonely GullWaiting for PreyAvian SilhouetteBird in a TreeNile River CrocodileTaking wing
Vultures in a treeRoosting birdsVictoria FallsWaiting for FoodRed Berries 2A White Goddess
FeatherA Touch of PurityWillowPink flowersReflectionBright berries

Photos taken as I've traveled around the world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Photographs Taken During My Travels

nullThe album at the link that follows contains photos that I've taken in various countries that I've visited.

Photographs Taken During My Travels

nullThese photos have been taken at the various places I've visited since 2009.

What Do Diplomats Really Do?

Diplomacy, and the role of diplomats, is often not clearly understood, especially in the highly polarized world we inhabit today.

The dictionary gives three definitions of diplomacy:

1. The management of communications and relationships between nations by members and employees of each nation’s government.
2. Skill in managing communications and relationships between nations.
3. Skill and tact in dealing with other people.

While the third definition refers to the general conduct of relationships between people, the first two refer to the profession of diplomacy and diplomats; those people sent abroad by their government to manage relations with the nation to which they are dispatched. It goes without saying, however, that skill, as defined by number three, is an essential for professional diplomats.

Many people, however, misunderstand the role of diplomats. They are often thought of as officials who spend their time at cocktail receptions, making small talk with others of their ilk; who never disagree, and who are never involved in controversy. This is unfortunately a common misunderstanding.

The profession of diplomacy got its start in the Italian City States, when the kings sent emissaries to neighboring states to manage the complex political and economic relations on their behalf. The emissaries, or ambassadors, were empowered to speak for and act on behalf of their sovereigns. While their task was to build bridges of understanding between their masters and the sovereigns to whom they were accredited; they at all times were charged with representing the interests of their sovereign.

Modern-day diplomats are no different than their ancient predecessors. The function of a diplomat in the 21st century is to represent and protect the interests of the state that sent him or her abroad. This includes, inter alia, protection of their own nationals who are present in the country, promotion of their nation’s economic and political interests, helping the host nation understand their nation, and helping the senior officials of their nation understand the host nation.

Diplomatic relations are, for the most part, carried out with tact and courtesy. But, when the interests of a diplomat’s nation are threatened, the first priority is to protect those interests. This might require, on some occasions, actions that under normal circumstances might not be considered courteous. At the end of the day, however, the diplomat’s objective is not to burn bridges, but to build bridges of understanding – and hopefully, mutually beneficial cooperation. This requires, in all instances though, honesty and forthrightness. There will always be disagreements between nations and people. The important thing is not that we always agree, but that we deal with disagreements in an honest and open manner.

Corruption is a Cancer that Retards Development

Unbridled corruption is a cancer in society that will, like uncontrolled cancer cells in the body, invade and corrupt the healthy parts, leading to the destruction of the body. Just as with cancer the disease, there are many forms of corruption. Some are relatively benign, while some are malignant and if not excised, eventually terminal.

Corruption distorts the functioning of economic systems, diverting revenue and resources from productive channels. It infects the bureaucratic process, making rational decision making and implementation of government policies all but impossible. Worse, though, corruption erodes the bonds of trust that must exist between a people and their government and among people if a society is to function rationally. It creates a ‘law of the jungle’ ‘dog-eat-dog’ environment where benefits go, not to those most in need, but to those who can selfishly manipulate the levers of power and decision making.

Everyone in a society has an obligation to help root out corruption. Government officials who engage in corrupt practices should forfeit their positions and be subject to legal action. It is necessary but not sufficient to merely have laws and policies against corruption. There must be direct, aggressive, and positive action to eliminate it. A government’s response to corruption should be ‘one strike and you’re out.’

Citizens too have a role to play and an obligation when it comes to rooting out corruption in a society. The citizen who thinks it’s okay to pay ‘grease’ money to speed up a slow administrative process might enjoy a short-term advantage, but he or she is helping to perpetuate the very inefficiency the bribe is trying to overcome. In addition, this act sends the signal of acceptance of the corrupt practice. Never underestimate the power of “NO.” If enough of the populace stands firm and refuses to cave in to corrupt demands, at least in the case of some of the minor forms, this will begin the process of excising them from the body politic. Even for the more serious forms of corruption, citizen demands for redress can begin the process of nudging a government to action. Not all cancers kill, but their very presence indicates an unhealthy body that would be better off without their presence. Corruption is truly a disease that can be cured by self-healing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Train Up A Child in the Way He Should Go

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” When I was a child, my grandmother often used verses from the Bible as teaching points. I no longer recall which specific book of the Bible this verse comes from, but I’ve never forgotten it. It has guided me in raising my own children and in my encounters over the decades with young people in schools, youth groups and mentoring activities.

The corollary to this is “Allow a child to depart from the path of right and when he is old he will stray.” Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung learned this the hard way during the Great Cultural Revolution when he unleashed the youth of China on a campaign of violence and intimidation. When young people, who are full of energy and zeal but who often lack the inner restraints to control them, are allowed or encouraged to act out their passions, it often has negative societal impacts that take decades to correct.

Behavior that is rewarded becomes habitual. When the behavior is good, this is a good thing. Bad behavior that is tolerated or unpunished also becomes habitual. When young people engage in violent or anti-social behavior and there are no consequences, they grow up to become adults who have the same propensity. The young are the future – the future leaders and opinion makers of our societies. It behooves us, therefore, to consider what kind of future we are building when we either involved them in violence, or when we look the other way when they misbehave. It is our sacred obligation to help mold the kind of society we wish to bequeath to our children by teaching them appropriate behaviors. We do this in a number of ways, but one of the most effective is by our example. When the young see their elders using violence as a means of resolving disputes, they learn that this is how to resolve disputes. When we make them a party to violence and intimidation, we inculcate in them a tolerance for violence.

Youth should be a time of wonder and exploration; the young should be allowed to enjoy this all too brief period of their lives. At the same time, they should be aided in preparing themselves for the great responsibility they will have to shoulder when childhood has ended and they put away the things of youth. One of the most important things we can do for our young is teach them that violence is the last resort of those who have nothing productive to offer.


Train a Dog to Bite, and Don't Be Surprised if You're Bitten

During the Great Cultural Revolution in China, Mao Tse-Tung unleashed the Red Guard, young people of high school and university age, upon the country in an effort to purify the revolution. Young people were basically encouraged to victimize anyone considered ‘an enemy’ of the revolution. A reading of history shows that this was a mistake of catastrophic proportions, and one from which China suffered for several years.

Young people who had spent the days, months and weeks of the campaign victimizing others didn’t easily return to peaceful, productive pursuits. In addition, the emphasis against imperialist courtesy was causing problems for China’s commercial sector as late as 1983 when I first went there to work as a new diplomat. Common courtesy from people in stores and restaurants toward customers had been indoctrinated out of China’s young people. There were also problems of increased domestic violence as an entire generation that had been raised in violence grew to adulthood.
Other leaders have mobilized young people to support their political agendas. Some, in fact, still do; engaging young people in violence and intimidation against opponents of this or that regime or political party.

When I was growing up, I often heard old people say, “put a snake in your pocket, and it will bite,” and “if you teach a dog to bite, one day he will bite you.” Training young people in the ways of violence can lead to similar disastrous consequences. The biblical injunction, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” holds as true for negative training as it does for positive virtue. When young people are schooled in violence as a means of solving problems or settling disputes, they grow into adults who have the same philosophy – to the detriment of their society.

Politicians who exploit youth in this way are, wittingly or unwittingly, creating a demographic crisis that will at some future date surface to haunt them and their nation. The use of violence to advance a domestic political agenda is wrong; to use young people to do it is despicable. Instead of teaching the young the use of violence to achieve their aims, political leaders should be teaching them the skills necessary to be productive, law abiding citizens. They should be implementing policies that create jobs so that young people can make their own way and grow up with a sense of self worth and self respect.

Those who create these young ‘dogs’ of war, and teach them to bite, shouldn’t be surprised when one day, they get bitten.

Monday, April 11, 2011

When Truth Becomes the Victim

In the arena of political and ideological competition it is understandable that each side or faction will endeavor to put forth its views vigorously, and try to downplay or even demean opposing views. When this is done on the basis of factual comparisons of viewpoints, while it can become quite rancorous at times, it is part and parcel of the game of political one-ups-man-ship. But, when a player in the political and ideological game resorts to outright distortions of the facts, and repeated falsehoods, it makes a mockery of the entire process.
The “Big Lie” is a propaganda technique, and the expression was coined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 book, Mein Kampf, to describe a lie “so colossal that no one would believe that someone could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” One of Hitler’s lieutenants, Joseph Goebbels, later refined this definition when he accused the English of using lies in their anti-Hitler propaganda; “. . . when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”
A psychological profile of Hitler further expanded this concept. His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong, never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Big Lie theory is mentioned a number of times. In one passage, for instance, he writes, “the key word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts.” In another passage, he writes, “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed.”
American author Richard Belzer summed up the Big Lie theory quite succinctly; “If you tell a lie that’s big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth, even when what you are saying is total crap.”
Using falsehoods to gain political advantage can accrue short term benefits to the liar; can even work for a time. But, policies built on lies are like a house built on a sandbar; at some point, the water of truth will erode the sand, and the house will crumble. While it can be inconvenient, building on a solid foundation of truth results in a structure that will endure.

Comments from Georgia sponsor of Shona Sculpture Exhibit.

The following is excerpted from an email from one of the Georgia sponsors of the Shona Sculpture Exhibit:

I can't put into words how much the video and the letter meant to the museum and the schools. It was absolutely amazing. I had not seen the video until opening night and was overcome with emotion. It was just PERFECT!

After opening remarks from the school and the museum, the program started with the President of the student art club reading the letter from the Ambassador and introducing the video. It was magical. Everyone in the audience was so impressed. The video was so professionally done and the Ambassador is so engaging. It is a gift that the museum will cherish.

It was so rewarding to see Shona sculpture in the gallery - even more to be surrounded with evidence that the students learned so much about Zimbabwe and the Shona - student paintings and drawings of Zimbabwe, African animal soap carvings, written student critique of the Shona sculpture, student documentary, African song and dance, and much more.

Thank you and Sharon again for helping make this opening so special. And please let the Ambassador know how moved and inspired we were by his words; and by the fact that he took the time to create such a wonderful message.

Debbie Thompson, Bell South

Introduction to Shona Sculpture at Museum in Georgia

Following is a YouTube video of a promotional program I did for a display of Shona Sculpture at the Madison Museum of Fine Art in Georgia:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Care Package

Another of my short stories at Fiction Writers Platform that received an Editors' Choice Award:


Editors Choice Award

A Young Man's Fancy

A story in my series featuring Louis Dumkowski and his friends - winner of an April Editors' Choice Award on 


Editors Choice Award

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Suggested Fiction Reading

In addition to the political and social commentary you will find on this site, I also write fiction.  My short stories can be found at and any reader views are welcomed.  I have also written several books, both fiction and non-fiction.

My two non-fiction books are on leadership, and are available at

Things I Learned From My Grandmother About Leadership and Life

Taking Charge:  Effective Leadership for the Twenty-first Century

The first is rather self-explanatory, from the subject; it is an account of my leadership philosophy which was shaped by my grandmother with whom I lived from the time I was twelve until I graduated from high school.  The second builds on the first, giving examples of effective leadership from my personal experiences and observations of other effective leaders.

My fiction is in both paperback and e-Book format.  The e-Books are:

The paperback books that I’ve published are:

Dead, White, and Blue

A Good Day to Die

The Day the Music Died

If I Should Die Before I Wake

These four books and the three e-Books are part of a mystery series featuring Al Pennyback, a DC-based private investigator.  The paperbacks are also available in e-format at

Two other books that I’ve written are in the fantasy genre and in addition to the paperback versions are available as e-Books at

Child of the Flame

Angel on His Shoulder

A School Shooting in Brazil Causes a Rational Political Reaction - When Will It Happen in The Us?

A School Shooting in Brazil Causes a Rational Political Reaction - When Will It Happen in The Us?

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Big Lie Theory - The First Thing Dictators Imprison is The Truth

The Big Lie Theory - The First Thing Dictators Imprison is The Truth

Seven Tips to Help You Ace Job Interviews

Seven Tips to Help You Ace Job Interviews

Kindle and Kin: Changing The World's Reading Habits

Kindle and Kin: Changing The World's Reading Habits

Halle Berry: The Sexiest Woman Alive

Halle Berry: The Sexiest Woman Alive

You're Known by What You Do, Not What You Say

People know you by what you say, but they judge you by what you do.  When I was growing up, the highest praise that one could receive is that you were a ‘man of your word.’

If your good words are not supported by good deeds, pretty soon people will know you as a person lacking integrity.  Your words will not be believed.

It is important that we speak truth; plainly and honestly – and as tactfully as circumstances permit; but it is even more important that we ‘practice what we preach.  As my grandmother was fond of saying, “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you say.”  An example of actions negating words comes from a colleague of mine who described a boss that announced an ‘open door’ policy when he took charge, and then immediately organized his office in such a way that it was nearly impossible for the average employee to see him.  The details are not important, but suffice to say, his actions completely contradicted his words.  I don’t need to tell you what people thought of him or his policy.

Keep foremost in your mind as you go about the business of daily living:  if you don’t ‘walk the talk,’ people will quickly reach a state of not believing a word you say.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Future is What You Make It

We are all of us on a journey.  Each day, whether we do it consciously or not, we are journeying into the future.  This is, I must point out, a journey that has no end; no matter where you stand, the future always lies ahead of you.
As we move into the future, we can move into darkness or into light; it is entirely up to us as individuals.  The actions we take, and the decisions we make will determine whether we have a future that is bleak or one that is bright.  One essential item we need to pack for our trip is – self respect.  If we don’t respect and honor ourselves, we can hardly expect others to respect us.
A key element of self respect, though, is how we treat others.  Respect breeds respect, and this, in turn, builds self respect.
While we must accept individual responsibility for what we do and achieve, never think that we’re on the journey to the future alone.  As you move toward that brighter future, lend a hand to your fellow travelers.  In so doing, you just might find your burdens lighter and your journey easier.

Core Values to Live By

When I was growing up, my grandmother, a woman with a minimum of formal education, was my principal teacher and guide.  She instilled in me the importance of some core values that have guided me, I hope successfully, through over six decades of life.

I offer for the reader’s consideration, the values passed along to me by my grandmother.


Steal my purse, and you take money that can be replaced.  Lie to me and you take something that is very hard to replace – trust.  The simple country folk in the small farming community in which I lived seldom used written contracts.  A promise and a handshake was all that was usually needed.  Their reasoning was this:  if I can’t trust a person to keep his word, what good is a piece of paper?  Your word was your bond, break that word, and no amount of fancy paper with legal language and fancy seals would make anyone want to do business with you.


Honesty and integrity are inextricably linked.  A dishonest person has no integrity.  But, it is more than merely telling the truth.  Integrity is living the truth.  It is doing what is right, even in the face of difficulty.  Your reputation is what others think of you, but integrity is what you are; it is the things you do when no one is watching.


By this, I don’t mean the kind of courage of soldiers in battle; this is the courage to do the right thing when the crowd is going the other way.  The kind of courage my grandmother taught was that which allows – no compels – you to say the truth even when you know it is unpopular and you will be hated for it.  The courage that each person needs is that which allows you to take the road less traveled, to do the thing you’ve never done before, fail, and start again at the beginning.


If you can fill each unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of distance run, if you can pick yourself up after falling, and go on, you will succeed in the end.  The hardest job becomes easy when you stick to it, doing it one task at a time until it’s finished.  There’s an old saying, ‘quitters never win, and winners never quit.’


Never forget that everything you say or do has an impact on those around you.  Feel the pain and suffering of those around you, and do whatever is within your power to ease it.  Compassion is not about giving a hand out, but it’s all about giving a hand up.

A life that is guided by these simple principles, regardless of how short, will be a life well lived.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Free flow of ideas is the cornerstone of democracy: The Importance of Leadership to the Development of...

Free flow of ideas is the cornerstone of democracy: The Importance of Leadership to the Development of...: "Africa is a continent of remarkable contrasts. On the one hand, it has some of the world’s richest deposits and col..."

The Importance of Leadership to the Development of Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa is a continent of remarkable contrasts.

     On the one hand, it has some of the world’s richest deposits and collections of resources such as diamonds, petroleum, gold and other precious minerals.  Cash crops include cotton, coffee and timber.

     On the other hand, the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa are home to some of the world’s poorest people and are rife with disease and instability.  Of the 15 million HIV/AIDS orphans in the world, 12 million are in Sub-Saharan Africa, meaning that whole generations of future workers are in danger of extinction.

     The high rates of HIV/AIDS infection among soldiers significantly reduces the operational capability of Sub-Saharan military forces, and in countries like South Africa and Nigeria reduces the ability to project force beyond national borders for peace keeping or stability operations.

     Diseases such as Ebola, Hemorrhagic Fever, malaria and TB, strain already limited health resources; are a drain on weak economies; and retard economic and social development.

     Corruption, ethnic and religious conflicts, and extremely low literacy rates (especially among women and girls) pose not only internal problems for the individual countries, but create regional instability that impacts far beyond their borders.

     In the face of such seemingly intractable obstacles, it is perhaps understandable that, when the subject of development in Africa is brought up, the dominant moods are gloom and pessimism.  The problem, though, with adopting the doom and gloom viewpoint is that it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

     The opposite pole of that approach is just as bad for development of the poor countries of the African continent.  Adopting too rosy an outlook ignores the fact that development is an evolutionary process requiring patience.  Failure to see quick positive results in development projects more often than not also leads to dismay and disappointment.  Problems that have been generations in the making do not lend themselves to quick solutions.

     This then leads me to my main thesis, a view that has gained increased recognition over the past few decades, but that has still not taken the key role I believe it deserves.  My thesis is this:  The most important factor in the development of the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa – and the rest of the under developed world for that matter – is committed, visionary leadership.  This is the factor that is missing in most of the countries that are failing to make positive gains in bringing their people out of poverty and establishing economic and political systems that meet the needs of their populations.

     I must make one point absolutely clear:  effective leadership alone will not solve Africa’s problems, but without it, the problems also cannot be solved.  Without leaders committed to a clear vision of the future, and the courage to pursue that vision against all obstacles, all the foreign aid and outside intervention in the world will be about as effective as using an aspirin to cure a cancer.

     I would like first to describe the type of leadership that I believe is essential for development, and then give a real world example of that leadership.

     In the decades since gaining independence from their European colonial masters, the countries of Africa have had Transactional leaders at the helm.  Transactional Leadership is the kind of leadership that is based upon authority relationships and is characterized by big men wielding power – in some cases for the good of the country, and in some cases in order to enrich themselves and their cronies.  Transactional Leadership is a zero-sum game.  I have the power, and you don’t.  I give the orders, you follow.  In almost all cases in Sub-Saharan Africa, this type of leadership had resulted in impoverished economies, squandered resources, and instability.

     Transformational Leadership, on the other hand, is leadership based upon a compact between the leaders and followers, with followers having a significant input into the decisions affecting their lives.  It is leadership based on followers granting power and authority to those who lead them.  Transformational Leadership is grounded in the principle of leader as servant of the people.

     In over 40 years of moderately successful leadership of government organizations, large and small, I have concluded that effective Transformational Leadership is based on four basic principles:

     The first and most important principle is Caring for people as individuals.  The most effective and successful leaders demonstrate genuine concern and care for their subordinates and treat them as unique, valuable individuals.  This caring is unconditional and is bestowed without regard to whether people deserve or desire it.  Every person in the organization is valued for his or her uniqueness, is accorded respect and dignity, and is given the opportunity to make a contribution – no matter how small.

    Principle number two is the Promotion of shared values.  Transformational leaders clearly and passionately articulate a vision of shared values, which are reinforced aggressively and consistently by the leader living up to them himself.

     The third principle is the Creation of a climate that rewards risk-taking.  Transformational leaders are not afraid to take risks, and they encourage the kind of “out of the box” thinking that leads to progress.  They are not, and they encourage their followers not to be, limited by historical or cultural baggage.  “That’s the way we’ve always done it” and “we’ve never done that before” are not phrases in the transformational leader’s vocabulary.

    The fourth principle is Team building.  Transformational leaders are constantly building networks and teams, not only to handle the pressing problems of the moment, but to forecast and prepare for the future.  Effective team builders construct multi-discipline, cross-cutting teams, and take full advantage of every talent available.

     If you have done any reading on leadership, you will no doubt have seen many other traits of effective leadership enumerated.  These too are important, but frankly, I believe that all of the other characteristics of effective leadership can be subsumed under one of the above four principles.

     I would like now to describe a “transformation in progress,” and how I believe Transformational Leadership contributed to that progress.  It happens also to be one that I was fortunate to have had a small role in at the early stages.

     Sierra Leone is a small country on the west coast of Africa, and for decades it suffered from inept leadership, poverty and civil war.  I first went to Sierra Leone in 1993 as the Deputy Chief of Mission, or number two, in the American Embassy.  During that time, along with the death and destruction being visited upon the people by Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front, or RUF, the country had also had a military coup.  In 1993, the country was being run by a group of inexperienced junior officers.  The economy was in shambles and there were thousands of internally displaced persons, in addition to thousands of refugees from the war in neighboring Liberia.

     A country that had once been an exporter of rice, it was now dependent upon aid from the international community to feed its people.  It produced 25 percent of the world’s rutile, or titanium dioxide, but little of the revenue benefited the common people.  It is rich in alluvial diamonds, but instead of enriching the people, “blood diamonds” financed the war that was killing many of them.

     The problems were many, but in my view, one problem overshadowed all the others.  There was a lack of committed, enlightened leadership.  The leaky ship that was Sierra Leone had no shortage of self-appointed captains, but instead of steering it into calm waters, they were running it aground.  Compounding the lack of domestic leadership was the lack of visionary leadership in the international community.  Donor countries were so consumed with the immediate problems of feeding and caring for the displaced that no one seemed to have the time to look into the future potential.  Or at least, it seemed that way to me when I first arrived.

     Then leadership appeared in the least likely places.  The first was the living room of my public affairs officer, Kiki Munshi.  She had been in the country for some time before me, and had identified a group of local women who wanted desperately change the course of Sierra Leone’s history.  She offered them a safe haven where they could meet to discuss ideas and make plans.

     One of these women in particular impressed me.  A firebrand, Zainab Hawa Bangura was an insurance executive who demonstrated passion and zeal, and firmly believed that poverty and instability did not have to be the norm in her country.  Working together, Kiki and I were able to obtain a US Government grant to help her found a civic action group, Women for a Morally Enlightened Nation (W.O.M.E.N).  With that one small bit of support, she was off and running.  More about her later.

     Another unlikely leader was a former UN civil servant who had retired and returned to his homeland.  Al Haji Ahmed Tejan Kabba was a Muslim married to a Christian, and had been a UN technocrat with no political background.  Because he was considered to be politically neutral, the military junta asked him to head the commission that they had created to guide the country back to civilian rule, a job that he reluctantly accepted.    

     There were few in the international community who thought the chances of an orderly, peaceful transition to civilian rule was possible under the circumstances that existed in Sierra Leone in the mid 90s, so Kabba’s support, as he tried to broker a deal between the military and civilian political groups, was minimal.  After a few conversations with him and others who were pushing for elections, I believed differently, and quietly encouraged his efforts.

     It was extremely slow going at first, until the U.S. bureaucracy threw us a soft ball.  My ambassador, a career diplomat who, though she sincerely loved the Sierra Leonean people, was one of the people who thought elections were impossible, finished her tour of duty and was transferred back to the United States.  There was a several months delay in confirming her successor, so as the number two, I was left in charge of U.S. Government programs in Sierra Leone until his arrival.

     As a child, I had been taught to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along.  As a former military officer, I had learned that it is sometimes better to ask forgiveness than ask permission.  Relying on the fact that Sierra Leone was a very low priority in the U.S. bureaucracy and that as long as I did nothing illegal or unethical, or that strained the budget, it was unlikely that anyone would try to micromanage my activities – or even in fact pay much attention to them, I set about organizing like-minded colleagues in the international community around elections in Sierra Leone.

     There was such a pent up demand, it didn’t take much to jump start the process.  To everyone’s surprise, Kabba was tapped by one of the major parties as their candidate for president.  After several days of serious contemplation, he accepted.  I like to think that my encouragement played a small part in his decision, but the truth is that, without the support of many others, the electoral process would have been stillborn.  I have already mentioned the pivotal role played by the embassy public affairs officer, Kiki Munshi and the women of Sierra Leone whom she mentored.  Then there were our colleagues in the diplomatic community, whose names I unfortunately no longer remember:  the British and German ambassadors, and yes, even the Nigerians; as well as officials in the UN agencies, who all agreed that a concerted international approach in support of the fledgling democratization movement was our best chance of success.

     By the time John Hirsch, the new U.S. Ambassador, was sworn in and arrived in Freetown, the waves were building.  That, by the way, was our second stroke of good fortune.  A veteran Africa hand who knew and admired Nelson Mandella, he completely endorsed my actions and even ratcheted things up several notches.  He was fully committed to the process, despite continued skepticism in Washington.

     The road to democracy in Sierra Leone was not without potholes, even with such strong support from the international community.  At one point some in the military had second thoughts and attempted to intimidate voters with roadblocks and movement of army units.  Throngs of citizens, often led by members of Zainab Bangura’s group, faced them down at every turn, sending them back to the barracks.  Valentine Strasser, the head of the junta, allegedly urged on by his mother, decided to put his name in contention for the presidency.  His number two, a young captain by the name of Julius Maada Bio, decided to live up to the promise they had made to me and in a peaceful palace coup, arrested Strasser and exiled him to neighboring Guinea.  One of the civilian contenders for president, upset that he was losing the vote, threatened to take the electoral commission to court which would have derailed the process just days before the polling results were to be announced.  John Hirsch talked him out of that using the argument that his court challenge for personal reasons was not good for the country as a whole.

     In the end, Kabba was elected in the summer of 1996 and took office with the support of the majority of Sierra Leone’s citizens.  Even the post election period saw problems.  In 1997, a year after I had finished my tour of duty and come back to Washington to attend the National Defense University, disgruntled military officers allied with the rebels and overthrew Kabba.  It took aggressive actions by Britain and, believe it or not, Nigeria, to restore him to office.

     Sierra Leone has continued to have difficulties, as do many of the poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, but I believe it is on the right path.  It recently had a peaceful transfer of power to a new president, and has for the past several years been at peace.

     I am convinced that what put it on the right path was the emergence of transformational leadership.  It has been by no means perfect, but it has the country moving on the right trajectory.  And, it was dedicated people applying the four characteristics of transformational leadership that made possible what many believed to be impossible.

     Kiki Munshi, and to a small extent I, took enormous risks in supporting the democracy movement as early as we did.  Our efforts could very easily have been aborted by the “play it safe and by the books” bureaucracy.  John Hirsch, who supported our risk taking, put his career and reputation on the line.  Those members of the international community in Freetown who recognized the power of committed coalitions.  Former president Kabba who, though he made some political mistakes, was committed to building a Sierra Leone for all Sierra Leoneans.  A man of compassion and integrity, he even refused to accept a salary during his first year, or to spend government funds to rehabilitate the presidential residence because he believed it would be inappropriate with so many of his countrymen living in poverty.

     Of all the people in Sierra Leone who put themselves at tremendous risk to move the country on the path of democracy though, the head of my list is the firebrand, Zainab Bangura.  Working from a makeshift office, equipped only with the meager equipment and supplies Kiki and I were able to provide, she mobilized the women of Sierra Leone.  They played a pivotal role in keeping the process on track.  She has since gone on to even greater achievements.  After a failed run at the presidency after Kabba’s first term in office, she went to work for the UN in neighboring Liberia for a short period.  Last year, the newly elected president called her back to be foreign minister.  Not bad for a former insurance executive who signed her first grant proposal while strapped to a hospital gurney just prior to going into surgery.

     The process of bringing democracy to Sierra Leone, and the role played by transformational leadership, was long and involved.  There were many more incidents, and hundreds of participants who I have not named.  I’ll spare you the details, but the outcome has been significant.  Sierra Leone is now at peace.  Economically and socially it still has a long way to go.  But, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.  If it continues on its present course, and if it continues to nurture leaders like Tejan Kabba and Zainab Bangura, I predict it will weather any storms in its path.

     There you have it.  My unscientific view of what it takes to pull the poor countries of Africa out of the mire of poverty and instability, and allow them to take their rightful places among the community of nations.

     Leadership alone cannot do it all, but without effective, transformational leadership, it will not be done at all.

 Author's note:  This is a speech I delivered to a group of MBA students in Chicago in 2006