Covid-19 Crisis Leadership in Lesotho: When a crisis calls for an introspection on Leadership

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Introduction

What could be the world’s most pervasively tragic scientific, technological, political, legal, cultural, socio-economic, religious problem after the European War of 1939-1945? Could it be the Cold War between the United States of America and Communist USSR or the 2007-8 Financial Crisis?

No, it ought to go tremendously beyond psychological and purely economic spheres to permeate every sphere of influence. The most viable candidate is the novel Coronavirus alias nCovid-19 which has threatened the whole foundations and essence of human existence on earth from the East to the West, North to South with alarming ramifications in all spheres of influence.

United Nations is also of the opinion that Covid-19 is the worst crisis humanity has faced since World War II. As astutely noted by Marwan Bishara in his article, The Coronavirus crisis: How Trump is failing successfully, there are predictions that “this pandemic will be a turning point for anything from globalisation, statehood, liberalism, economic and social systems to the environment, economic and cultural habits and even music.”

Most probably, nothing in the last 100 years since the Spanish Flu has indeed, as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders retorted during a Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate with former Vice-President Joe Biden, “exposed the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current healthcare system.”

The virus has not only exposed the inefficiencies of the system in the health sector in the US but has cut through the whole spectra of the world health, governance, research and development, education, and religious systems. The novel Covid-19 has also placed question marks on the utility of capitalism and globalisation.  

Beyond its tragic personal cost and debilitating socio-economic burdens, Covid-19 has thrust into the forefront of world’s attention socio-economic and medical problems which politicians instead of addressing turned into objects of political correctness and divisive vindictive politicking.

With Covid-19s dark cloud stirring in the eyes of politicians, the world economy reeling under a shortage of and in dire need of leaders – crisis leadership rhetoric has been propelled to the forefront of world politics. Warren Bennis in analysis of Bill George’s 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis notes that “Bill indeed views crisis as serendipity—as an inestimable gift that frees leaders to reinvent themselves and their organizations for the long haul.”

The crisis has provided politicians an opportunity to project leadership and a sense of stability in the deepening crisis while also providing the electorates around the globe an ample opportunity to screen politicians for leadership qualities in times of crisis. This essay takes cognisance of Stepen R. Covey’s proposition that Leadership is not a position and Takatso Kumi’s idea in his book, The Unstoppable Youngsters promotes an idea that all are leaders and those at the highest echelons of power are chosen among the rest. However, it has to be noted that this essay principally focuses on leadership of those at the highest echelons of power during a crisis.

As noted by Lee Iacocca in his seminal book, Where have all the leaders gone, “Leadership is forged in times of crisis.” Deemed “the Dean of Leadership Gurus” by Forbes magazine, Warren Bennis, the renowned author of On Becoming a Leader has also persuasively argued that leaders are not born—they are made. Bill George in the 7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis also acknowledges crisis as the ultimate test of leadership and notes that “there is nothing quite like a crisis to test your leadership. It will make or break you as a leader.”

Lesotho

Covid-19 ascended into the cosmopolitan geopolitical arena when Lesotho was locked in petty polarised confrontational politics of mudslinging, exclusion, anger and vindictiveness. This polarity has been brought to the forefront of our political literature by an article by Advocate Rapelang Mosae entitled Politics of Mudslinging. Politicians, mostly those in positions of power, use the state power at their disposal to further their overly cynical ambitions ready to sink the country like the Titanic if only they survive even if it is at the expense of the whole nation. The electorates were no longer able to recognise the crowd in August House and the Executive as the lot was apparently living by a code engineered to hurt the populace.

Faced with the possibility of greatest tragedy, the cost of human life, Basotho have been forced to introspect. The introspection transcends the cataclysmic political apocalypse the politicians are willing to drive the nation through divisive politics to seeking a reassuring voice of a leader to inspire, engender an optimistic perspective without underrating or overstating the magnitude of the situation and inspiring confidence of their triumph despite the obviously weak health system.

For the first time, reality stirred in Basotho’s eyes and it dawned on them that before they are affiliates to a political party, they are Basotho. For a moment Basotho were reminded that the cult status of a politician would not cure Corona but a LEADER with the right qualities can reassure, bring hope in times of anxiety and awaken faith in the midst of the worst crisis. Coronavirus showed that in the midst of death, political affiliations are irrelevant, politicians running off their mouths are useless and religious beliefs are ineffective.

Coronavirus made Basotho realise that romanticising politicians when politicising issues of national interest like infrastructure development, increasing/upgrading the capacity of health centres and hospitals, access to health care and funding scientific research and development has been counterproductive. This often unjustified romanticism creates blind following which does not critically assess the leadership qualities of the politician under the radar. It creates an echo chamber effect in which mostly the congress and national parties have contradictory versions of downplayed historical facts.

In this case, blind affiliation to politicians as long as they are under the banner of the party one believes in has been the order of the day. This explains why there are individuals or rather intransigents who would deny and go on a defensive mode to justify when their idolised politician declares war on the constitution and on the nation.

Subjected to an onslaught of unending pounding of frightening statistics of deaths, economic havocs and the rapid spread of the virus in developed states, Basotho looked up to the confidence that the captains of the ship would engender during this terrifying passage. The overarching question has been and is, where have all the leaders gone. Where are leaders of King Moshoeshe I’s competence, communication, character, charisma, courage, creativity, common sense and conviction to unite and inspire a spirit of unity in the eyes of darkness, fear, uncertainty and possible destruction? By the way, the eyes of darkness in this context have nothing to do with the novel by Dean Koontz.

Between 1850 and 1869, the then pandemic came threatening Lesotho’s sovereignty and existence as a nation. There was panic and fear in the face of death and destruction from a foe from Europe. Basotho needed a competent, courageous, creative and charismatic leader to assure them ultimate victory despite the loss of human lives and land to the invading army which was ruthlessly genocidal, better equipped and organised.

Moshoeshoe I was that leader who overcame insurmountable obstacles in numerous crises to leave his name engraved in history books. By 1840, Moshoeshoe I had united Bakuena and Bafokeng under his control in his attempt to build a stronger state.

Among a host, the current Covid-19 crisis is a call to leadership in circumstances where even a minister on national television conceded that Lesotho’s health system does not have the capacity to deal with Covid-19 and would be overwhelmed if the virus is full-blown into the country. Except for a politician occupying the Prime Ministerial seat who has engineered divisions, created smokescreens, declared war on the constitution and democracy during times of great crises, is there a leader with qualities to control the chaos, project honesty and confidence through communication in this time of fear, insecurity, anxiety, uncertainty and uneasiness?

This is a politician whom at para. 26 of ABC & 6 Ors and Prime Minister & 4 Ors Constitutional Case No. 0006/2020 the Constitutional Court notes the Applicants amply describe as a politician who “has the propensity and has persistently displayed some modus operandi to damage critical arms of government” and demonstrated a “persistent behaviour of indulging in unconstitutional decisions compromising the Kingdom of Lesotho.”

As espoused by Warren G. Bennis in Transparency: how Leaders Create a Culture of Candor honesty, candor, integrity, ethics, clarity, full disclosure and legal compliance are terms encompassed in transparency. Against the aforementioned qualities, where is a leader with cautious, decisive and adaptable qualities as aforementioned in this paragraph and the previous one, accompanied by a strategic plan to weather down the storm?

Noted by Simon Sinek in Start with why: how Great Leaders inspire Everyone to take Action, the ability to inspire breeds loyalty which goes beyond mere manipulation intended for short term accomplishments. These qualities should apply beyond Covid-19 to the next election and the next. Even through the fiscal, monetary and macro-financial relief measures conceived to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19, only the citizens bear the ultimate prize while politicians who should be leading are not sharing in the sacrifice.

Global (Selected Individuals)

In a society increasingly dependent on strong leadership, influence and power, a weak response to the disease risks loss of unrealised socio-economic capital. In the US, on the 15th day of March 2020 in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC, the Democratic presidential hopefuls former US vice president Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate blasted President Donald Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus outbreak and touted their own approaches to dealing with a widening crisis that upended the daily life of Americans.

Since the advent of the 21st Century, the US has needed strong leadership at least 3 times: First during George W. Bush’s reign on 11th September 2001; secondly during Barack Obama’s Administration in 2008 when the US and the world faced a financial meltdown; and thirdly in 2020 during Donald Trump’s presidency when Covid-19 invaded and transcended the US health system while claiming the highest number of lives. Of the 3 crises, Donald Trump is faced with realest test to leadership with Covid-19 ultimately wreaking havoc left and right. The US is crying out for a leader to hold her hand and provide her with confidence amidst ultimately reawakening her from her ashes like Phoenix Fire Bird.

However, President Trump was accused by both Joe Bidden and Bernie Sanders of understating and minimising the magnitude of the situation before declaring a national emergency on Friday, 13th March 2020. In a column entitled “A Deadly Lack of Leadership Charles M. Blow says “this is what it looks like when a crisis of leadership makes its way into our health and our homes, when lack of prudence induces panic, when the president himself cannot be trusted.” Charles M. Blow also attributed the catastrophic soaring of numbers of infections and death recorded to President Trump’s trivialising the matter and not exercising caution and not treating the case with urgency.

Blow further accused President Trump of “dodging blame and claiming glory that he has consistently attempted to bend the truth to his better.” President Trump blamed China and the World Health Organisation for the spread of Covid-19. As has been President Trump’s modus shadow boxing Obama’s legacy, he also took jabs at Obama’s administration and blamed it for lack of protective clothing and gears. His European allies were not spared as he accused them of failing to stop the virus. To this, the World Health Organisation Director, Dr Tedros urged President Trump to stop politicising the crisis and ensure that he dealt with it expeditiously to ensure that the virus does cost more lives than it already had claimed. Blow attributed Trump’s failed approach to incompetence.

President Donald Trump’s leadership qualities in this time of Covid-19 have not been the only ones scrutinised but also those of Dr Tedros Adhanom, the Director General of the World Health Organization. President Trump and the Deputy Prime Minister of Japan accused the Director General of focusing more on China to the detriment of the rest of the world. An online petition initiated by one Osuka Yip echoed the same sentiments and further sought the resignation of Dr Tedros due to their belief that he is incompetent to man the position of one of the United Nation’s biggest organizations.

Covid-19 crisis has also placed a lot of politicians’ leadership qualities in responding to a crisis of this magnitude under the spotlight. However, only a few will be considered for purposes of brevity. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Rwandan President Paul Kagame have been praised for their empathy in sharing the sacrifice in solidarity with the citizens who are suffering by pledging salary cuts and forfeiture of salaries for given periods.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a physicist by profession, has received widespread applauses for her calm leadership amid a global crisis as reassurance that triumph over Covid-19 would be a collective effort which needs everyone to share in the sacrifice. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda was not only quick but also took calculated quick precautionary measures and his competence in dealing with the crisis was applauded. President Cyril Ramaphosa of the Republic of South Africa also showed much character and courage by being decisive on the measures to take to curb the spread of the disease.

Conclusion

The Covid-19 crisis has the capacity to make and break leaders. Like Lee Iococca, this essay submits that “leadership is forged in times of crisis.” This crisis will crown leaders and expose charlatans. In the same way it will be a stepping stone for emergence of new leaders or propel those already on stage, this crisis will reveal impostors who should be discarded by the electorates because they lack leadership qualities to guide a ship in raging seas to a destination. According to John C. Maxwell’s Law of Navigation in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.”

This crisis has also presented an opportunity for leaders to acknowledge that there is a widened and deepening economic inequality, that a large majority of people are vulnerable to poverty, that there is no food security, that there is lack of infrastructural development, and exposed a host of other technological, socio-economic, cultural and political problems. Leaders will take ownership and guide their countries to the other side of the river and effect the necessary change. However, in terms similar to those of Lee Iococca, this essay has a question for Lesotho and the rest of the world, in these Covid-19 times, “where have all leaders gone?”


Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Selibeng.com.

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