Governing for Self, with Self

Many positive things indicate our common identification. But currently, if our identification is based on association with the governing system, many negative things identify us. We have become a nation where stealing national wealth is a norm. Rather than objecting, we adore a person who uses his position for robbery. More than knowledge, we seek for letters for recognition.

Instead of rationality, we prioritise servility. Rather than honouring professionals who plunk for truth, we honour phony “elites” like the bogus doctor engineer Samuel Zemichael. In addition, our responses in social media to the terrorist attacks in France and the drought that is exposing about 15 million people to food insecurity, indicate where we are.

As human beings, not only are we distressed by the death of 124 people in Paris, but the death of even one person due to a ruthless cause pains us. Many Ethiopians have raised their objection to terrorism and have forwarded their sympathy to the victims on various media.

In social media, the expression of sorrow goes up to making France’s flag a profile picture. The question is how do those fingers that are afraid to express concern about the current drought in the country, get the courage to fast forward messages of condolence for the Paris attack? Why would those same people that have gone so far as to denounce the Paris attacks, fail to raise their voices for their brothers and sisters facing food insecurity?

I strongly believe our communality, by blood, culture and nationalism, makes us ethical in community affairs that are governed by indigenous and communal respects. But I also feel that we are directly or indirectly serving as a tools to the cause of our failures, being driven by the governance systems. Therefore, the question is, as a nation, how did we allow the ruling party’s governance and leadership system reach this sordid level and how do we move away from it?

I think, all people are political thinkers. Whether they know it or not, people use political ideas and concepts whenever they express their opinions or speak their minds. Everyday language is littered with terms such as ‘freedom’, ‘fairness’, ‘equality’, ‘justice’ and ‘rights’.  In the same way, words such as ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, ‘socialist’, ‘communist’ and ‘fascist’ are regularly employed by people either to describe their own views, or those of others.

As John Maynard Keynes has said, “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribblerof a few years back”.

Politics has sometimes been thought to be little more than a naked struggle for power. If this is true, political ideas are mere propaganda, a form of words or slogans designed to win votes or attract popular support. Ideas and ideologies are, therefore, simply ‘window dressing’, used to conceal the deeper realities of political life.

Political ideas are not merely a passive reflection of vested interests or personal ambition, but have the capacity to inspire and guide political action itself and so can shape material life. At the same time, political ideas do not emerge in a vacuum: they do not drop from the sky like rain.

All political ideas are molded by the social and historical circumstances in which they develop and by the political ambitions they serve. Quite simply, political theory and political practice are inseparably linked. Any balanced and persuasive account of political life must therefore acknowledge the constant interplay between ideas and ideologies on the one hand, and historical and material forces on the other.

Ideas and ideologies influence political life in a number of ways. They provide perspectives through which the world is understood and explained. People do not see the world as it is, but only as they expect it to be; in other words, they see it through a veil of ingrained beliefs, opinions and assumptions. Consciously or unconsciously, everyone subscribes to a set of political beliefs and values that guide their behaviour and influence their conduct.

Political ideas and ideologies, thus, set goals that inspire political activity. In this respect, politicians are subject to two very different influences.

Without doubt, all politicians want power. This forces them to be pragmatic, to adopt those policies and ideas that are electorally popular or win favour with powerful groups such as business or the army.

However, politicians seldom seek power simply for its own sake. They also possess beliefs, values and convictions about what to do with power when it is attained.

Political ideas and ideologies can act as a form of social cement, providing social groups, and indeed whole societies, with a set of unifying beliefs and values. In providing society with a unified political culture, political ideas help to promote order and social stability. For that reason leadership, governance and nation building are born from political ideas and ideologies.

The interplay of leadership, governance and nation building is intricate. This is so because the context of leadership, both theoretically and practically, impacts governance and reflects on nation building processes. Warren Bennis, a leading authority on leadership, once stated in his Becoming a Leader that “leadership is like beauty: it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.” That could not be further from the truth.

In the 1960s, West African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria had higher gross domestic product (GDP) per capita than countries in Asia, like Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and South Korea. In an interval of thirty years, the latter became the Asian Tigers, while the former are immersed in perennial violent wars, armed conflicts and small scale insurgencies, cross-border terrorism, unrelenting economic crises, financial corruption, kleptomania, famine, diseases and poverty, political instability, to name a few phenomena, which have become emblems of the African continent.

I assume the concept of “governance” in a generic sense involves the task of running a government or any other appropriate entity, such as a nation. It encompasses a set of ideologies, values, policies and institutions through which the society manages economic, political as well as social processes at different levels, on the basis of interaction among the government, civil society and private sector. Governance straddles the exercise of power, exertion of influence and management of social and economic resources to achieve development.

I recognise transformational leadership as an interactive process which transforms both leaders and followers “to higher levels of motivation and morality”, resulting in positive outcomes. In practice, transformational political leadership synchronizes social justice, equity, service, fairness, collective participation and collegial leadership. Transformational leadership stems from the servant-leadership and ‘committed leadership’ paradigms, that is, leadership viewed as service to the people, and as a resolute responsibility to empower, defend, and fend for followers, not an opportunity to pursue selfish experimentations. It transcends inept governance and selfish political pursuit, or transactional (anti-people) leadership.

Yet, governance and leadership in our country has witnessed the “big men” syndrome. A country’s “big men” leaders are usually aristocrats, often showing tendencies that they could compromise and pocket the resources of the state apparatus and direct them towards personal ends. These so-called ‘big men” seem to revel in delusions of grandeur, a self-conceived larger than-life image.

Above all the state “big men” implement their divide and rule governance system to sustain their power for unlimited time. They leverage national resources to demolish community as well as people-based institutions, knock down community social capital, eradicate history that make people common and force people to focus on their cosmetic history.

The systematic design of “big men” makes one group astronomically rich and the masses poorer. It also perpetuates conflict. And it is this very nature of their governance system, unlike what is presented in theoretical and practical best cases, that is reflected in public discourse.

It is saddening to realise that we are just a prefix to their falsehood. Even more worrisome is the fact that we are letting them destroy our social capital.

I, therefore, believe ethical leadership and committed governance are important to get out of this sorry state. Yet, such leadership can emerge only from thoughtful nationalism, reliable institutions and knowledge.

By Eidmon Tesfaye
Eidmon Tesfaye has a Master's Degree in Agricultural Economics & Rural Development (AERD). He can be contacted at

Published on Nov 23,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 812]



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