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The Tapestry of Change - Leaders, Society and Individuals

What is it that frightens so many Americans about having Donald Trump as their president? The hair? Unlikely. His propensity to tweet the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s because it causes them to look in the mirror.

Donald Trump makes America examine its society. Are they really brash, aloof, petulant and dismissive?[1] The same applies to Theresa May. The United Kingdom visibly battles with the idea of a society that is perceived as aimless, stiff, severe and uninspired.[2]

Our leaders are supposed to be a mirror of our society. Often, when we look in the mirror we see what is best about us. In Barack Obama, many Americans saw a hopeful, tolerant and vibrant society.[3] In Winston Churchill, many Britons saw an adroit, strong and resilient society.[4] In these leaders citizens saw the apex of their society, that’s what made them beloved by so many in their countries.  This is not to say these leaders did not have flaws and detractors but by and large, they were a fair and accurate reflection of the norms and culture of those they led at the time.

The root of the pushback against the Trumps and Mays of the world is simple, large portions of their constituents fear they are a fair and accurate reflection of their society. Our leaders are reflections of our society, not the other way round. The question then becomes why, as Africans, do we bemoan the corruption of our leaders, of their lack of foresight and ignorance of the general good without bemoaning the same characteristics in ourselves?

The answer to the question of the continent’s ails, especially corruption, has long been, “it’s our leaders!”. Well if these leaders reflect us, is it not high time to look within ourselves for a solution to this cancer? I have often heard the accusations leveled against the police always accepting money (to not be hypocritical, I am one of the loudest voices in this chorus), however is the corrupting agent not as culpable as the corrupted?

The problem of corruption is not a leadership issue, it is societal at a macro level and individual at a micro one. For us to really tackle corruption into submission, we must stop looking to our leaders to enact laws and guidelines to stem the flow of this poison, but rather look within and wrestle our own demons. We must resolve not to give that 5 cedis to get away with that illegal u-turn or that 300 cedis to falsify that car document. Tackling corruption has often been viewed in the wrong light, much like the selection of leaders. We often think once we select the leader who embodies who we want to be as a society, without addressing what we don’t want to be, their qualities will trickle down to us as we see their example. This is however not the case. If we do this, we merely paper over the cracks till they reappear. Tackling corruption is the same thing. In order to subdue this ravenous beast, it must first start with each individual accepting their responsibility to battle their own demons.

I know, this all sounds very optimistic. I myself struggle with the idea having long held quite a cynical worldview. It is easy to look at the enormity of getting 29 million Ghanaians, 281 million West Africans, 1.29 billion Africans and 7.6 billion human beings[5] to take personal responsibility for overcoming the scourge of corruption and scoff at the very idea or be discouraged. It is easy to hide behind the long held belief of “it’s the way things are” and “my corruption isn’t as great at the minister’s” but that is not true. To mold the society we want to see, one free of the disease of corruption, it starts with you and I! Don’t concern yourself with the duty of others, do yours.

Societal change lies not with our leaders, but with us. We show them the path and they lead the way. That is the contract we sign with them but have long neglected our duty of showing them the correct path. It is high time to assume our rightful place and show our leaders the way, one person at a time, don’t you think?

Samuel K. Owusu-Baafi writes this article in a personal capacity and the views expressed are his own and do not reflect the views of his employers.






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Samuel Owusu-Baafi

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