Leadership and Self-Determination 97
It is an undisputed fact that every leader needs followers and every follower needs a leader. If leaders and followers need each other and we have so many of both, why is it that we cannot find leaders who can represent our interests? Why are the majority of us disappointed and disillusioned with the ones we have? Do we expect too much of these people? What makes a leader? How does leadership relate to Self-determination? (see definitions).
What makes anyone want to be a follower? Some leaders are called teacher by their followers but what is the distinction between a teacher and a leader? These are some of the questions which we will be exploring in this updated article, which is based on a series of interviews / discussions with various prominent African people, most of whom are considered leaders in their fields of endeavour and in our community.
Crisis of Leadership
The discussions ranged around this question of a crisis of leadership in the Global African (Black) community. A crisis which we all agreed, cannot be ignored any longer. We found it impossible however, to agree on a definition of the word leadership. Nor could we find a mutually acceptable term or phrase to describe the functions and responsibilities of a leader.
For example, Dr. Mwalimu I. Mwadilifu (Curtis Alexander, Watoto World: ECA Associates) says: "The duty of the leader is defined by the people they represent. And the duty of a leader first and foremost is to represent the aims, aspirations and needs of African people." A statement which is supported by the dynamic Dr. Patricia NewtonPatricia Newton (see GAP News #4), who says: "... any leadership that is going to be effective in the next millennium for African people is a leadership style and quality that needs to not embrace the Eurocentric approach of being the HNIC (Head-Nigger-In-Charge). In other words, a leader simply becomes an expression of the will of the masses, not a dominating director of the will of the masses. When you step forward as a leader then, you must step forward as the person that simply represents the views of the masses."
The problem with such a statement is a problem of representation. How does one person represent the views and aspirations of a disparate mass of people whose leaders, academics and intellectuals themselves do not have a common view of what a leader is or should be. No entity can represent the interests of another better than that other entity itself. If it were possible, would a person with her or his own views, aspirations, needs, and aims, be able and willing to represent accurately and earnestly those of any other person which may well be in contradiction to their own views, etc.? Would that representative be able to make decisions in the interests of those whom he or she represents, where such decisions may be against her or his own interest? Either way, should such a person be called a leader - or a delegate?
For example, if you instruct someone in what you want them to do on your behalf, they cannot possibly be your leader. They may, at best, be your delegate but by no means would they be your leader - at least not in the modern day literal sense.
No entity can represent the interests of another better than that other entity itself.
On the other hand, if he or she represents their own interests, i.e. views, aspirations, needs, and aims, which may incidentally just happen to coincide with the needs of the majority of the people, would they be seen as representing the people? And when inevitably, the representative's circumstances in relation to the rest of the group change and hence their views, aspirations, needs and aims change, would he or she still be seen as a leader? Or would representation of the people's views, aspirations, needs and aims no longer be a criteria for he or she to wear the mantle of leadership?
As Tony Browder (see GAP News #6 page 20) observes: "Many of our political leaders, many of our church leaders, are self-serving individuals who do not represent the interests of the masses. One sign of an effective leader is their ability to lift up the masses of those who are following her or him, such that it is no longer necessary for them to serve as a leader."
But that does not happen, it will not happen because leaders do not equip themselves with built in obsolescence. They are not famous for committing leader suicide. Not even their followers would expect a leader, one who is placed at the head and privileged by the title and position, to do anything to hasten her or his departure. Only a teacher, who gains nothing by teaching, except perhaps the satisfaction of seeing their seeds bear fruit, can afford to nurture their own replacement.
The reason why we cannot find leaders who can represent our interests is that on the issue of Self-determination (see definition) , the interests of the "leader" are essentially incompatible with the interests of the people, especially those who are not her or his followers.
As part of an entity seeking self-determination, each individual's interests lies in the achievement of that objective, not only for the group but equally important for its component parts where each individual part comes to recognise that he or she is equally as important to the achievement of that objective as every other individual part. At which point each individual would then choose for its own sake to be or not be an integral part of the group.
However, as the leader of a group seeking self-determination, that individual's interests will lie in securing her or his position which will be threatened not only by other aspiring leaders but by the very idea of self-determination for all other individuals within the group.
So what is a leader? A leader is all the things my interviewees have said and more. There are obviously good leaders and bad leaders, but regardless whether they are good or bad they are usually apart from rather than a part of those whom they are leaders of.
What makes a person want to be a leader? And why would anyone want to be a follower? Power. Yes, the answer is power, pure and simple. It is the same natural urge, the desire for Power Over Self (POS) which creates both the leader and the follower. Every one of us have an instinctive desire for control of our lives, a natural thirst for freedom or power over self. In other words, we need self-determination.
In the past couple of millennia, culminating in today's Eurocentric society, this power instinct, the desire to control our destiny, has been misinterpreted and misdirected into a drive for Power Over Others (POO).
It is the same natural urge, the desire for Power Over Self which creates both the leader and the follower.
The person who actively seeks to be the leader is always someone with a seemingly unquenchable and unfathomable thirst for power. He or she is a person who has a sometimes uncontrollable desire to control others. This is just one of the manifestations of the non-fulfilment of the POS instinct which we just spoke of. This person somehow recognises the difficulties inherent in the pursuit of self-determination in a society which is built on the POO principle of subjugation, exploitation and oppression. He or she at some stage in their development eventually abandons the POS idea of freedom for themselves and all others and seeks to exercise POO instead because, not only is power over others easier to achieve, it has material and social benefits in this society which are more tangible than power over self.
How "leaders" recruit "followers"
The leader type knows about the power instinct . He or she knows also, that society places greater value on external, rather than internal control. They know that whether it is an individual, a disenfranchised, dispossessed group of people, an oppressed minority or majority, or even members of an oppressor group, we all have this same innate need for power - and again I stress, it is power over self (POS). So the leader says: "I will make you powerful - if you follow me. Follow me and I'll set you free".
They convince you that they have the secrets to economic, ideological, material, political, religious, social or spiritual power. They say, you can acquire the power you need if you follow them. They may even say they represent a God who, in its unquestionable wisdom, chose them as its sole representative here on Earth.
Usually, they do have the knowledge, the information which you need to utilise your own power for your own benefit, to set yourself free. But they use this information to tie you to them in subordination. So, in the process of being a follower you catch yourself following a path which takes you away from self-determination and following a leader who has a vested interest in making sure you never find yourself. Because once you find the path to self-determination you would have no need to follow anyone.
The direction of travel on the road to self-determination is the opposite direction to every ideology, religious doctrine, political philosophy, and social theory which compels or requires you to defer to any external power in determining your destiny.
Whether that external power is called the law, the masses, the majority, the party, the nation, the common good, or even God (where God or Allah or Oludumare or the Supreme Being is a separate entity from the Self), there is always a person or a group of people who claim to have some kind of special relationship with that external power, which qualifies them as your representative. They say that as your leader, they can represent your interests far better than you can, either as an individual or as a group. That is a lie. No other entity can represent your interests better than you can. From the moment you accept this person as your leader and they assume the position, you give up your right to decide, your right to chose and your right to question.
We are disillusioned and disappointed with our leaders because what we expect of them can not be delivered. Since, as the song says, "expectation is the mother of disappointment", we end up with a mother of a problem.
The problem is not just how much is expected but what is expected. Most African people expect a leader to be someone who knows best, has all the answers, makes all the right decisions for us, leads the way and tells us exactly what is the right thing to do at the right time. When that does not happen we blame the leader for not living up to our expectations. Expectations which we knew in advance in our hearts could not be satisfied.
We are disillusioned and disappointed with our leaders because what we expect of them can not be delivered.
That kind of cop-out attitude, the Messiah mentality, is an abrogation of our responsibility for and obligation to ourselves, our children and our children's children. It also places a burden on those unfortunate individuals, which no human being alive can carry and no Ancestor could accept, to take the responsibility to do everything for you.
But what about those individuals who do not seek the mantle of leadership yet have it placed on their heads? I hear you ask.
Can we get away with blaming those who have leadership thrust upon them, for grabbing it or reluctantly embracing it? The leader is as much entrapped as the follower. We cannot blame the reluctant leader for wearing the crown that is placed on her or his head. Nor can we blame the megalomaniacs for chasing down leadership. A leader without followers is like an ocean without water. So it is the followers, people like you and 1, who make leaders, (who are themselves people like you and I, albeit with a specifically different character defect).
The fact that there are leaders at all is down to their followers. Global Europe (White people), through their media, could offer us any number of individuals such as Garry Franks, USA, Nelson Mandela, South Africa (Azania), Bernie Grant, UK, Eugenia Charles, Dominica, to name but a very few, but whether they are leaders or not depends entirely on our acceptance of them as such.
"Some people", according to Dr. Molefe Kete Asante, "declare: 'I'm a leader' for their own ego's sake, but they have no followers. So you're right. Followership really determines whether or not that person's a leader. Take the US, for example, the press give us the names of people who they say are our leaders. But none of these people can attract as many people as Louis Farrakhan, who can bring 50,000 people out to hear him talk. The people that the press would make you believe are our leaders can't do that."
The best qualities of a leader, which everybody seem to agree on, are the ability to lead and to make decisions on behalf of their followers. The greatest qualities of a teacher are to inspire in the student the desire and the ability to learn and the need to question everything, even that which he or she teaches.
Some of these teachers come to accept, albeit reluctantly, the label and paraphernalia of 'leader' and in time, begin to act in the repressive, domineering manner that a leader is expected to behave, eventually commanding obedience without question from their followers. Where as a leader, questions are seen as undermining their authority, and attempts to debate are seen as acts of insubordination therefore forbidden or at least discouraged, as a teacher, he or she encourages questioning and debate.
Of course, there are many teachers who are also called leaders because of the fact that a lot of people follow their example, adhere to their teachings and, in some cases, even choose to serve them. Their generosity of spirit, their immense capabilities, their willingness to teach others what they know and the exemplary way in which they live their lives is what attracts people to them. In the face of great temptation to mislead, they continue as teachers, doing the works which they know must be done, with no desire whatsoever to lead anyone anywhere. Such teachers, remaining true to the POS principle, refuse to wear the crown of leadership or accept the "benefits" and privileges which accrue from it. They also refrain from encouraging or assisting anyone to relinquish their responsibility for themselves.
A leader without followers is like an ocean without water.
But most followers true to their conditioning, would not want to be treated with mutual reverence by those they see as their leaders. If they are not treated as they would expect followers to be treated, they soon abandon such a teacher and continue searching for a "real" leader.
Kwame Ture, one of our greatest living political teachers, would say: "We don't need leaders, we need organisations". His organisation, the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party, is not necessarily the model of organisation for all African people but, he says, we must all either join an existing organisation or, if we cannot find one which suits us, which speaks our language, form our own. He says: "A bad organisation is better than no organisation at all." With the greatest respect for the elder Brother, I can't agree with that. But whether it is true or not, we can deal with the question of organisations later. It is clear to me, however, that no leadership at all is preferable to bad leadership, and self determination is better by far than the best leadership. Freedom is kinder than the most benign enslavement.
On the question of whether we need leaders or not, nearly everyone interviewed said: "Yes, we do need leaders". A notable exception, along with Kwame Ture, was Ntum Lester Lewis, who said: "The question is not one of lack of leadership but lack of organisation. This question of lack of organisation was identified by Marcus Garvey and it is still the problem which faces us today."
Dr. Mwadilifu on the other hand was most emphatic. He said: "That is a bogus statement," referring to the question's inference that we do not need leaders. "Human nature requires leadership and we're no different from any other people."
No leadership at all is preferable to bad leadership and self-determination is better by far than the best leadership
The greatest leader of the twentieth century, of any nation.
There have been many great teachers who have fallen prey to the hypnotic, intoxicating attraction of the noble idea of being the person who would lead our nation out of bondage. Many of those teachers who have assumed the role of leader, such as the incomparable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, managed in the process to do some great things and inspire generations of revolutionary teachers who in their turn helped to determine the course of history. People like Elijah Muhammad, Kwame Nkrumah and many, many more, including the great non-African teachers Ho Chi Min and Mahatma Ghandi, were all inspired by Garvey, who was arguably, the greatest leader of the twentieth century, of any nation. A distinction which, it can also be argued, was his greatest failing.
As a leader, Garvey did what every great and not-so-great leader would do, have done and do do. He surrounded himself with lesser beings and sycophants to ensure that there was no one close enough to him who was able to challenge and defeat him as leader.
Apart from the fact that Garvey, as a teacher, reached into the core of the African psyche and articulated many of our thoughts, our deepest feelings, our aspirations, his success as a leader was partly due to his ability to consolidate and protect his position from other potential and aspiring leaders within his organisation.
It was failure on his part as a teacher, not to have nurtured in his followers that element of self-determination which would have made it possible for any of the six million members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to be able to replace him and fulfil his functions as a teacher when Global Europe moved against him and left his people leaderless to flounder in the ocean of hope, waiting for another Messiah.
It is a wicked irony that Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who as a teacher stressed the importance of organisations, as a means of guaranteeing the continuation of the struggle into future generations, was not able to leave behind such an organisation capable of continuing with his great works.
Whereas the quest of a teacher is to produce a student that is her or his better the quest of a leader is not to produce a follower who is her or his better or even their equal. That is why after the death or elimination of a great leader there is usually a vacuum which takes, in most cases, many generations to fill. In the case of a great teacher, there are usually, even during her or his own lifetime, a number of students who would be greater exponents of the particular discipline than the teacher ever was.
The right to information is one of our basic human rights. Information is the raw material of enlightenment, which is one of the three fundamental human needs, along with nourishment (food, drink, medicine, etc.) and shelter (clothes, protection from the elements, etc.). Providing we have access to the relevant information, we will always make the right decision for ourselves, regardless what others may think of our decisions.
In a society which trades information as a commodity, not as a right, the leader is usually someone who has information or access to information, which, inevitably, they use to give them an advantage over the rest of us. Any information which is likely to threaten their position, even where it would clearly increase the power of the people, would be kept from the people. It should not be surprising that cabinet meetings, executive meetings, "high level" negotiations and other such conspiracies are all secret affairs which always exclude the people they are supposed to be about. Anyone who will only discuss your business in your absence is not dealing with your business in your interest.
Even though the vast majority of our people believe that we need some kind of leadership in order for us to function as a nation, the exact opposite appears to be true. Human beings appear to function better, be more productive, have more harmonious relationships and make greater progress as communities, when information is open and available to all; when decisions are made collectively, instead of by executive cliques or leaders; when individual initiative and responsibility are encouraged, respected and rewarded as a matter of collective policy and everyone of us are actively teaching each other.
We could not have the slaughter of the Ogoni people by the Nigerian hoodlum government and the Shell Corporation or the genocidal attack on the Tutsi people in Rwanda by the gangster government on behalf of Global Europe, if the people themselves were in control, if they were not being directed by "leaders".
Aspiring leaders will spend most of their time competing against one another to reduce or negate each other's best qualities and perceived advantages, while as teachers, much of our time is spent learning, building and increasing each other's knowledge.
Leadership and self-determination are irreconcilable contradictions
With the mass export of "democracy", (the latest Global Europe export commodity in the exploitation war), many Global Africans (Black people) are now feeling proud and elated that we have finally had the opportunity in South Africa (Azania) for example, to officially give up control of our lives by voting.
I have nothing against Nelson Mandela and little doubt about his, and maybe one or two of his comrades', sincerity. They mean well, but even with the best will in the world, how can a man (or woman) who lives in a mansion with every single one of her or his needs catered for by any number of people and makes secret deals with former (?) enemies, represent the interests of a person who cannot even afford to feed her or his child?
I had nothing against Nelson Mandela when this article was first written at the beginning of 1994 and I still don't. The man is only doing what he thinks is in his best interest. But I am angry. I am angry at myself and all those millions of Africans world wide who did not pay attention to or question what he was really saying as a teacher but accepted him as a leader instead because our enemies told us he was a great leader.
Giving someone else the right to make decisions on our behalf may free us from the burden of possibly making the wrong decisions but it also removes any possibility of us making the right decisions for ourselves. It does not make us freer. If we retain the right to make and execute all decisions about our lives we also retain the right to correct our own mistakes.
Some of our people see the dangers inherent in relinquishing our power to another person, so they propose safeguards for leaders to be made accountable to the community. "In most cases," says Haile Gerima, (see GAP News #5) "our Haile Gerimaintelligentsia, who have historically articulated the struggles, the pain and the interests of the people, sometimes opt for the easy, personal material gains and they have not been able to combine the personal needs with the collective interests. So in the years to come we have to make this class of people accountable to the community. And if [when] they are not accountable they must be displaced."
But none of these "safeguards", including regular elections, threats of premature removal from office, auditing of books, even possible execution for malpractice, actually give the people more control over our lives. They may restrict the scope and depth of possible misrepresentation and misappropriation by the leaders but, they also remove the freedom of the individual "leader" to be a self-determinate member of the community, if at all that is likely.
The Way Forward
It is clear to me that leadership and self-determination are irreconcilable contradictions. They are incompatible lovers and like all such mismatches, someone always ends up getting shafted. Guess who!
Before I am accused of trying to destroy our nation or to discredit the great works of some of our "leaders" and leader-based groups and organisations, let me put the record straight. I am not saying that little or nothing has been achieved by leaders. On the contrary. I salute all of them and their immeasurable contributions in their capacity as teachers and where they have been positive role models as examples to follow. I am however, saying that those great things were, and still are, being achieved in spite of, not because of, the leaders. Maybe greater things would have been possible if those leaders employed and exhibited their more valuable teacher qualities, which undoubtedly they must have had, as primary assets.
Nor am I suggesting that Global African people should abandon wholesale our respective leaders or make a hasty exit from whatever organisations we happen to be members of. No. I recognise that some teachers live aspects of their lives in a manner which, if we were to follow, our whole nation would benefit. But not everything they do would be beneficial to our nation. We must look closely at what all our people do and commend or criticise, accept or reject as appropriate, take the goodness that they offer and build on it and at the same time not be afraid to recognise and throw away the badness that comes as part of the package.
So I am suggesting that we become more discriminating in what we emulate and why. As Dr. Asante says: "Leadership in the African community must not be declared, it must be won. And people who want to be leaders in the African community have to propose new visions, new thoughts and new ideas and be willing to be activists. You can't be a leader and not be an activist." We must ask ourselves, what has each individual leader done, what are they doing and what will they do that is of benefit to our local community and/or to our global nation. We must then have the courage to take whatever action is necessary according to the answers we receive.
We must also teach those we call leaders to value their own freedom more in order that they may value our freedom. We must learn to recognise the "ostentatious cripples" as Ayi Kwei Armah calls those who are, or aspire to be, slaves of our enemies in their quest to fulfil the POO drive before they get a chance to cripple the minds of future generations.
I am suggesting that we treasure teachers who help us to become freer, more fulfilled human beings. Above all, I am suggesting that we help ourselves to do for self. As Dr. Newton reminds us: "We need to get away from a single leader that people look up to as their guide, like they're some kind of God. That position has never worked for us."
I was speaking recently with a community activist and teacher on the subject of leadership and self-determination. His position was: "Where would a body be without a head?" Unfortunately, that is more or less the position of most people in our community. It is the kind of sentiment which makes reasonable sense in a hierarchical society which places no value on freedom. But when you consider self-determination, you begin to see the human body as a harmoniously balanced machine with interdependent, reciprocating parts whose vested interest is a healthy whole. You see a body where no part, however large or small and regardless of its function, is more or less important than the other. My response to my friend's question was: "The same as a body without blood."
Finally, while some of us are still able to think and question the status quo, we still have a chance to transform the world and make it a more humane environment for the benefit of all, not just a few or even a majority. We have the power. We are the power. Let us use it.
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Entity: an entity is a body of one or more people who are identified as a body or unit by any common link, whether real or imagined.
Self: Self is the identification of an entity from its own perspective. It could therefore be an individual or a group of people of any size.
Self-determination: Self-determination or freedom is the right of every entity to determine what happens to it, i.e. to make and execute all decisions about its existence. There is no freedom where decisions about your food, clothing (shelter) and enlightenment are made by external forces.