Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is a leader still a good leader if his team is sucktastic?

So long as we are chewing some political fat... Deep in discussion at the dinner table last night about leadership, ideology and politicians, we got to the usual generational impasse. I believe that every individual only gets the one President to love beyond rational thought. My opponent got Nyerere (lucky girl). While I am very fond of the incumbent, it is actually someone else in his government who is the object of my political affections. As we battled back and forth (I called Nyerere a dictator, she scoffed at the impotence of the so-called 'young turks') we hit on that most baffling of arguments: "It is not the President who is ineffectual, he is surrounded by people who let him down." If I had a thousand shillings for every time I heard or read this statement I would be...well, not rich exactly but my entertainment budget would be well padded.

Look. I know that there is a taboo against holding the President accountable for any mistakes, but must we pretend that Tanzanian leaders are exceedingly inept at picking their executive team? The President's executive powers are vast- and apparently in no danger of diminishing anytime soon. He personally appoints ten MPs at his leisure, as well as innumerable Heads of Stuff. Parastatals, government organs, central bank, military generals, regulatory bodies, utility companies, you name it- his almighty finger is in that pie. His word is law, even in times of peace. The Parliament is tame in his mighty grip, he pretty much yeas or neas the head of the judiciary. Checks? Balances? Are you kidding? This is no-nonsense executive superpower at its finest- not quite despotic but certainly close.

And this is the guy who is apparently above reproach because anything can be explained away with the convenient notion that he is 'let down by his team.' I don't think so. Of course the political reality is finely nuanced and full of bizarre compromises, and any president has his work cut out for him if he wants to squeeze good performance out of an institution as big as government. Still, there is something sinister about this habit that prevents us from holding the President responsible for failures of his establishment while celebrating his apparent successes. A bad workman blames his tools.

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