Saturday, July 19, 2008

Leadership vacuums

Leadership vacuums
By Editor
Saturday July 19, 2008 [04:00]

LEADERSHIP vacuums in our political parties are a sign that parties are not managed in an efficient, effective and orderly manner. Patriotic Front president Michael Sata says there would be a leadership vacuum in the party without him, that PF is not an exception on this score. If this is so, it means that collective leadership is very weak, or nonexistent, in our political parties.

If a political party’s progress and survival is totally dependent on one individual, then it may not be worth supporting, investing in. We say this because if that individual collapses from a heart attack or a stroke, that may mark the end of that political party and any investment in it would be lost.

And asked what he was doing to ensure that there was no leadership vacuum without him in the Patriotic Front, Sata’s response was far from being satisfactory. He says, “You can take a horse to a river but you can’t force it to drink water.”

Our political parties need to initiate and invest in cadre and leadership development programmes. Leaders can be nurtured, leaders can be developed.

We have witnessed the absence of political education, cadre and leadership development programmes in our political parties. There should be continuous educational programmes for members, cadres and leaders. And most members, cadres and some of the leadership are not involved in the daily lives of their political parties.

There must be collective party leadership, and individuals should be prevented from monopolising the conduct of affairs.

It appears to be the habitual practice of our party leaders to monopolise the conduct of affairs and single-handedly decide important programmes.

Solutions to important problems are not decided by the central committee or national executive committee but by one individual. This situation must change. A sound system of central committee or national executive committee meetings must be instituted.

All important problems - of course, not unimportant, trivial problems, or problems whose solutions have already been decided after discussion at meetings and need only be carried out - must be submitted to the central committee or the national executive committee for discussion, and the members present should express their views fully and reach definite decisions which should then be carried out by the members concerned.

Furthermore, there is need to take care and ensure that neither collective leadership nor personal responsibility is overemphasised to the neglect of the other. In a political party, the president should have the right to make emergency decisions when circumstances so require.

The party president must be good at being a “squad leader”. To lead means not only to decide general and specific policies, but also to devise correct methods of work.

Even with correct general and specific policies, problems may still arise if methods of work are neglected. To fulfil its task of exercising leadership, the central committee or the national executive committee must rely on its “squad members” and enable them to play their part to the full. To be a good “squad leader”, the party president should study hard and investigate thoroughly.

The party president will find it difficult to direct his “squad” well if he does not take care to do organisational work among his own “squad members”, is not good at handling his relations with committee members or does not study how to run meetings successfully.

Of course, the relationship between the party president and the committee members should be one in which the minority must obey the majority.

There is need to place problems on the table. This should be done not only by the “squad leader” but by the committee members too.

There shouldn’t be any talking behind people’s backs. Whenever problems arise, a meeting should be called and the problems placed on the table for discussion, decisions should be taken and the problems will be solved.

The “squad leader” and the committee members should show understanding in their relations with each other. Nothing is more important than mutual understanding, support and friendship between the party president and the committee members.

There should be continuous “exchange of information”. This means that members of a party’s central committee or national executive committee should keep each other informed and exchange views on matters that have come to their attention. This is of great importance in achieving a common language.

It is a mistake to think that a single individual can manage to organise and develop a political party that will last long, that will outlive them.

It is important to realise that the prestige of any political party is judged by how many credible leaders it has in its ranks.

And where there are many credible leaders in a political party, one cannot talk of a leadership vacuum. It is therefore important for those leading our political parties to surround themselves with strong and independent personalities, who will tell them when they are wrong.

The mark of great leaders is the ability to understand the context in which they are operating and act accordingly.

Sata’s Patriotic Front is presently facing serious challenges, and in particular they need to confront head-on the danger of intra-party factionalism.

This danger has its roots in several factors: the rough handling and marginalisation that many outstanding party leaders have experienced at the hands of Sata has left a strong legacy of bitterness and resentment - the walking wounded.

This has cultivated tendencies towards excessive defensivism, and also habits of counter-factionalism in some cases, with party leaders running the danger of falling excessively into the same type of politics they have been criticising in the ruling MMD - of palace manoeuvres.

There are also some warning signs of the dangers of disciplinary measures being used to settle political differences.

And like we warned UNIP before, experience has repeatedly shown that a party divided into hostile groups loses its militancy. Protracted intra-party strife inevitably results in party members’ concentration on discords.

The party becomes distracted from political struggle and day-to-day work among the masses and loses its influence. If the Patriotic Front does not take adequate time to resolve the current intra-party strife, it may get into 2011 very weak and lose the good performance it put up in the 2006 elections.

There should not be a leadership vacuum if the Patriotic Front tomorrow were to wake up without Sata.

There are many potentially capable people in that party who, if given a chance, would in no time develop into very good leaders who may increase the party’s chances in the next elections. But individuals perform well in a good political party and environment - and this has to be created by the “squad leader” - Sata himself.

There is no doubt Sata is currently the strongest personality in the Patriotic Front, and if he doesn’t moderate himself, accommodate others and build collective leadership, there will certainly be a leadership vacuum in the party when he ceases to lead.

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