Ward Brehm: Democracy can't take root without altruistic leadership

  • Article by: WARD BREHM
  • Updated: January 5, 2008 - 4:18 PM

Few realize the exacting toll that the recent mayhem and killings in Kenya will have on an entire continent. Nearly all the news that comes out of Africa these days is based on the notion that "if it bleeds, it leads" -- thus the front-page attention. The events in Kenya are a tragic example of democracy gone amok, with elections hijacked and literally fought over. The violence stokes many people's preconceived stigma of Africa as a continent of tribal warfare and wanton killing.

And the angels weep. As the African saying goes: "When the elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers."

Democracy is a difficult transition for inexperienced nations. The winners do not know how to win and the losers do not know how to lose, making transitions extremely difficult and prone to violent recourse.

Add corruption and rigged elections, and for the countless poor and disenfranchised in the horrific slums in Kenya you have the perfect recipe for revolutionary chaos.

The real problem is not tribal, although lines have certainly been drawn by tribal affiliation. The real problem is greed and avarice among leaders who act in their own interests rather than as patriots building a future for Kenya.

The "cure" for Kenya, and indeed for all of Africa, is to democratically elect leaders with good hearts. There are wonderful bastions of both hope and promise in Africa. Rwanda, Ghana, Liberia, Tanzania and many other nations have tasted democracy and now have elected leaders who put the interests of their nations and those citizens ahead of personal gain and power. Recent history in these countries demonstrates that it doesn't take generations or even decades to transform nations but rather a few years. Good governance and stability of servant leadership have allowed these nations to go from wastelands of war and poverty to examples of remarkable financial and societal transformation.

My heart breaks with sadness and frustration over the opportunity lost in Kenya as well as the stigmatic impact it will have all across Africa. But the sorrow is greatest for those among the poorest of the poor, who will ultimately pay the largest price for the failings of the leadership of their nation.

Ward Brehm, chairman of the Brehm Group Inc. in Minneapolis, also is chairman of the United States African Development Foundation in Washington.

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