Stemming the tide, the need for ethical leadership

by Kelly Alexander*

A recent conversation with João Bosco Monte, president of Instituto Brazil Africa, highlighted the importance of a return to ethics and values. Brazilians and Africans need to shift to a values-based society. This has major implications in addressing some of the recurrent challenges — such as corruption — which blight the country and continent. Recently, in South Africa, Ahmed Kathrada passed away. As an anti-apartheid struggle veteran, he epitomised the importance of living by the values he believed in, and fighting for a better society. This kind of society can only be achieved through a rational consideration of the alternatives and options available in terms of development. Debate and discourse is key in diverse societies, characterised by multi-culturalism and complex histories — seen across Africa and in Brazil.

A number of recent events in South Africa have brought to the fore that debate is no longer welcome in society. Similarly, across the world the shift in the global political mood and rise of the Right are felt in the limited space available for intelligent and critical debate on a variety of issues. Kathrada himself was unafraid of speaking candidly to those in power. Blind loyalty to leadership has no place in a world with an abundance of tools, resources, and information. These elements can be used to bring about an improvement in the quality of lives of citizens and advance the developmental agenda.

Without debate, developing nations are threatened with being forced to assume and adopt ahistorical views that limit our understanding of the past. This tempers our ability to move forward, avoid the pitfalls of the past, and capitalise on the learnings that are available to us. Leadership is not limited to a select few. It is something that we can all exhibit in our communities, business places and friendship circles. Fear of critique should not prevent sensible debate from regaining ground from the polemic evident on Twitter and other social media platforms. Developing nations should forge a new model of development, divorced from the populism evident in West. South-South Cooperation should extend to the creation of value based leadership at all levels of society.

The place for critical debate is being diminished as we find individuals being increasingly aligned with two divergent points of view. We need “A triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness”.

*Kelly Alexander is sociologist, conducting research as an independent consultant.