Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Africa Needs More Enlightened Leaders, Not More Strong Men

It has been more than fifty years since the first countries in Africa began coming out from under the yoke of European colonialism, and less than twenty years since the fall of the last apartheid regime on the continent.  It can’t be argued that colonialism created problems for African countries; distorted economies, ethnic struggles caused by arbitrarily drawn borders, lack of enough educated people in the early years of independence; but, after so many decades, is it still possible to blame colonialism for Africa’s problems?

What of the leaders of the African countries; countries that at independence were wealthier than their Asian counterparts, but are now among the poorest countries of the world?  What of countries ruled since independence by dictators who, because they fought for independence, feel that it entitles them to rule for life, and who treat their countries and fellow citizens as property belonging to them and their cronies?
Does Africa need more strong men, men on the model of Libya’s Gaddafi, or does it need more statesmen like Nelson Mandela?  What of the institutions that underpin governments and give citizens a stake in how their countries are managed?  Institutions, by the way, that Africa’s strong men seem to fear; fear to the point that they either block their development, or where they have existed, destroy them.  No, Africa doesn’t need any more strong men.  It needs strong institutions to mitigate the damage done by those strong men who have been inflicted upon it.  No more the iron fist of strong men, more the shining beacon of enlightened leadership and the anchorage of functioning institutions. 

Independent Dialogue on Role of Youth in Rebuilding Zimbabwe

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Internet and Social Media Have Redefined Journalism

Citizen journalist, blogger; call them what you will, but with the pervasiveness of the Internet giving them a platform, amateur scribes have become a permanent part of the information landscape. Social networking sites, content sites and blog sites offer them a platform to air their views and report on events that might not be covered by more traditional news organizations. Sometimes, though, the more traditional, or mainstream, Internet news sites, such as AOL, Yahoo, or Huffington Post, tap into this population for well written pieces on interesting news.

This is competition for hard working, card carrying journalists, but then, free lancers have always been around to keep the full time scribes on their toes. The real challenge of the new type of journalism is to bureaucratic organizations that like to control the messages that get published, and that have more or less established relationships with the mainstream media establishment. It now has to learn to work with this new breed of journalist; the private citizen who gets wind of a story, has a means of getting it into the public eye, but who might not know or feel obligated to follow the same procedures that employees of big news organizations follow.

The Internet, for instance, has redefined local news. When something is posted on the Internet, whether it’s a news media site, a personal blog, or a social networking site, it is global, regardless of the intent of the writer. Unless the site is restricted, and few news sites are, it is open to view by anyone, anywhere who has Internet access.

Social networking sites, such as Facebook, for instance, have privacy controls, but they aren’t foolproof, and if anyone else has access to the information you post, in essence, everyone has access. There have been instances of people abusing such access, but that’s not the real issue. The real issue is that what you post; in discussion streams for instance, is basically in the public domain once you hit ‘send,’ and can be relayed, reposted, and shared around the world. How, then, do you control who says what, to whom? The answer is, unless you prohibit employees from using social networking sites, you have no control. And, banning access is really not the answer, because it’s difficult to enforce, and efforts to do so can create more problems than allowing it.

Organizations that avoid social media are increasingly finding themselves behind the information power curve; out of touch with customers and employees alike. I don’t have a ready answer, other than to say that we need to accept that the information landscape has shifted, and we all need to learn to navigate it. The information super highway is a reality; we can travel along it, or we can be left stranded in the ditch.

American Aid to Poor Countries Comes From Our Hearts, Not From Our Taxes | Socyberty

American Aid to Poor Countries Comes From Our Hearts, Not From Our Taxes Socyberty

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Signs of Normalcy

There are times, despite my long experience and knowing better, that I am lulled into thinking that Zimbabwe is a normal, fully functioning country.  I find myself pinching myself when that happens, as a reminder that things are not all as they should be, that a relatively small group of vicious, greedy, and unprincipled people have run the country into the ground, and continue to resist creating an environment where all Zimbabweans can fulfill their potential and live in peace and prosperity.

What, you might ask, then causes the momentary lapse in my ability to see the reality of the place?  Saturday, May 21, 2011 - coincidentally, the day Harold Camping predicted the world would end, which, since I'm writing this on May 22, it obviously didn't - I played a lackluster round of golf with some diplomatic colleagues at the recently renovated Country Club Golf Course, bought by a group of enterprising young Zimbabweans, black and white, who used their own money to yank the crumbling entity from obscurity.  After golf, and a few drinks of Malawi Shandy in the Country Club's restaurant, I went home to shower and change.  The young policeman who stands watch at my front gate along with the privately-hired guards we employ, saluted as he usually does. But, I noticed on the chair behind him, he had a bookmarked copy of my book on leadership, "Things I Learned From My Grandmother About Leadership and Life."

After showering and changing into appropriate smart casual attire, I went to Borrowdale Race Course, not too far from the center of Harare, to watch the final race of the Castle Tankard race, an annual high-money, high-voltage horse race that began in the 1960s and ran continuously until the 2007-2008 political violence here.  This is the first year its run since 2008, and the sponsor, Delta Beverages, pulled out all the stops.  In addition to a large purse for the winning horse, they had raffles for the people who came out to enjoy the races, including a brand-new double cab pickup truck.  I enjoyed the race, and the conversations with people in the Stewards' Quarters on the third floor of the facility.  But, most of all, I enjoyed watching the crowds, up where I was and down on the field as well.  A thoroughly mixed crowd; black, colored, and white, mixing and mingling and having a good time.  It almost made me forget the racist rhetoric and often violent actions of some elements of this government.

No, Zimbabwe is not quite yet a normally functioning country.  There are too many unhealed wounds; too many skeletons in too many closets; but, it does at times function normally.  It has people who know what normal is and what it can mean to a country with the potential Zimbabwe has.  It's just too bad that not enough of the people who control the levers of power are paying attention.

Friday, May 20, 2011

They're Watching You

Yesterday, I participated in the launch of a program of HIV/AIDS education for professional soccer players of Zimbabwe, funded by the U.S. Embassy and run by Population Serices International (PSI).  In my remarks to the players, owners, officials, and coaches, I reminded them that not only are they sports roles models for the young people of Zimbabwe, but lifestyle role models as well.

We would all do well to remember this.  Whether we intend it or not, whether we even wish it or not, we are role models for someone.  For good or bad, deliberately or inadvertently, we influence the behavior of someone around us.  As parents, our actions, more than our words, shape the behavior of our children.  As government employees or teachers, we often have more influence than we think on the young people around us.

Keeping this in mind, it behooves us to be aware of our words and actions as we go through the day.  Remember, they're watching you!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

With the Young People of Zimbabwe There's Still Hope

Since arriving in Zimbabwe in November 2009, I've heard one conversation after another about the hopelessness of the situation here. I've been accused by some of being overly optimistic, because I persist in holding the view that there is hope here, despite the warped political situation and the hammerlock one party; or by elements of one party; have on the country, and the misguided policies they maintain.

I believe that the hope in Zimbabwe resides in its young people; bright, energetic young people who are just waiting for their chance to put their country back on the right track.

My optimism is validated every day, with every encounter I have with Zimbabwe's young people. Just now I put my writing on hold for a few minutes to 'chat' with one of them via computer. He is part of a group of young students who have come together on Facebook to discuss how they envision Zimbabwe in 2039. In a country where the older politicians are obsessed with the past; when they're not occupied in protecting their ill-gotten gains; this is definitely cause for hope. These young people are a symbol of what I had in mind when I did my book of essays, Where you come from matters less than where you're going. When young students can concern themselves with the future twenty years hence, we of the older generation should take note.

Another encounter recently further validates my hope. I was playing golf with a young businessman, a gentleman younger than my youngest child, who, despite the efforts of politicians to thwart his progress, continues to look for new fields to become involved in, who often says that it's time for people to leave the past behind and think about the future.

I salute these young people, and others like them all over the world. They could, like some of their elders, stay anchored in a past they cannot change; but they refuse to do this. They realize that going back is not an option. There is only one choice - forward into the future. How you take that journey will determine what kind of future you reach, and they are taking the right steps.

Honor those of advanced years, but pay attention to the young. They've broke tne code.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Keys to Effective Communication

null As I was sitting at my computer trying to get my hero out of a pickle in the latest novel I’m working on, I thought I would take up some specific leadership topics. The first is the art of communication. After honesty and integrity, the ability to communicate effectively is probably one of the most important traits of successful leaders.

The greatest idea in the world is worthless if you cannot communicate it so that it can be implemented. If you lack honesty and integrity, you are not a true leader, but a charlatan. But, if you are unable to communicate, you are a nothing.

There are essentially four objectives of any communication: we wish to persuade, influence, inform, or entertain. At every step in the communication process, the objective must be kept firmly in mind, or you risk getting “off message,” and failing to communicate effectively. Before you write or utter a word, you should ask yourself these two questions:

1. What is the purpose of this message?
2. Who is the audience for this message?

The answers to these questions will help shape the structure of the message, and will help in selecting the method of communications. If your message is to be verbal, you must also keep in mind how non-verbal communication (e.g., body language, facial expressions) will affect how an audience interprets your message. The wrong facial expressions, for example, can negate your message. You must also be aware of how your actions impact the message. Publishing an open door policy, for example, can be undercut if you keep the door to your office closed, and require employees to go through a formal appointment process in order to see you.

There are three key elements in any communication; the medium or means of transmission, the content or message, and the audience.

In order for a communication to be effective, all three elements must be in congruence. If one or more of the elements does not match, you have a communications gap, or misunderstanding of your message.

An example of incongruence of the three elements is in a joke I heard as a young soldier many years ago. There was a sergeant who didn’t like delivering bad news directly. One day, he was told that Private Jones’ mother had died and he was to inform the soldier of the sad news. The sergeant assembled the entire platoon and in his best parade ground voice bellowed,

“Everyone in first platoon whose mother is still alive, take one step to the rear. Stand fast, Private Jones!”

Right message, right audience (for the most part), but the wrong method of communication for the type of message to be delivered. As leaders, when we communicate, we should not make the sergeant’s mistake.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What is a Constitution

Following is an essay I wrote during the beginning of the constitutional reform process in Zimbabwe in 2010 - which was printed in local independent media, though ignored by the state-controlled press. Needless to say, it applies to any country at any time.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

With these brief words, a group of men in the New World colonies of New England, set in motion a chain of events that have continued to impact on lives around the world down to this day.

What the American founding fathers did was to create a contract between the government and the people. In that agreement, the people agreed to grant certain powers and authorities to the government, and in return, the government agreed to provide certain services and protections. This was not a document set in stone, meant to be permanent and unchangeable. That is evident by the fact that in over 200 years it has been amended more than 20 times, each time making it better. For instance, the original Constitution classified persons of African origin as 3/5th of a person; basically, not an adult person, not even a real person. This was amended with the 14th Amendment which gave blacks the right to vote. It might be noted, however, that women in the United States did not get this right until the 1920s.

What this points out is that writing and adopting a Constitution is not the culmination of a process, but the beginning. It is a document that seeks to reconcile the interests of diverse individuals and groups within a society; often imperfectly, but to at least reach a point at which all stakeholders agree that it is a compact that they can live with.

Does it matter who writes a Constitution? The answer to that question is: it depends upon the unique circumstances of the society in which it is written. In the case of a society in which some groups have been historically left out of the political dialogue, it is perhaps wise to include at least representatives of such groups in the process, to begin the process of integration. In the end, though, what matters is that the Constitution takes them into consideration and provides protection for their rights.

In the final analysis, what is most important is that the Constitution be a contract that all stakeholders can agree on. It doesn’t matter who builds the car as long as it runs and you can ride in it.
Another aspect of the constitutional process, and one that seems sometimes to get lost in all the debate, is the commitment to honor and obey it. The most finely crafted Constitution, if government and the people ignore it, is just a worthless piece of paper.

What Constitutes a Credible Election?

Elections do not create democracy. But, elections are a potent symbol of democracy and a concrete manifestation of expression of the will of the people, and are thus an essential underpinning of democracy.

In order for elections to be meaningful, however, they must have credibility. They must truly represent the will of the electorate. What makes an election a credible exercise in democracy?

Universal suffrage: When every eligible voter is properly registered, has unfettered access to information about the issues, and can cast a ballot without fear of intimidation or violence, the basis of a credible election will have been established. This is a necessary first step, but in and of itself; is not sufficient to make an election credible.

Independent verification: In order for the outcome of an election to be trusted, especially in situations where there has been conflict or previous flawed or contested elections, it is important that there be some form of independent verification of the lead up, voting, vote counting, and aftermath of an election. This is usually in the form of external election monitors. Contrary to urban legend, the purpose of external monitors is not mainly to assure foreigners of the results, but to secure the confidence of voters.

Abiding by the results: The final, and perhaps most important, step in ensuring credible elections is a commitment by all participants to respect and carry out the wishes of the electorate as expressed by their votes. An election can be run efficiently, media can be free to report, and people can be allowed to vote in an environment free of violence and coercion; but, if at the end of the day, individuals or institutions exist that can arbitrarily nullify the results, the process will have been a waste of money and time, and can set the cause of freedom and democracy back significantly.

A credible election is not just an election that allows the people to express their will, but it is one where that will is respected and carried out.